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It’s 2016. Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?

Ammonite_lamp_post_at_dusk,_Lyme_RegisNot many years ago, a British utility launched a December promotion designed to recognize its very best customers by mailing each of them a holiday greeting card.

To the amazement of the company’s marketing managers, however, in January nearly a quarter of the cards were returned to the company unopened. The reason? Many of the “most valuable customers” on this utility company’s holiday list were actually lamp posts. And lamp posts, of course, don’t read holiday cards.

The utility company made a classic mistake by equating electric meters with customers, a mistake many other companies are still making, even today. My wife and I bought two different cars at different times from a local car dealer, for instance, but despite the fact that each of us dealt with the same salesperson, the company’s CRM system still sends us entirely separate mailings – complete with overlapping offers and repetitive messaging.

Identifying customers is the critical very first step in setting up and managing a customer relationship, and it is absolutely essential if you plan to make any progress in improving your overall customer experience. But if you manage your business solely in terms of your own outputs, as this utility and car dealer did, you’re likely going to miss that step.

For some businesses, of course, identifying customers is more difficult than for others. But all businesses need to undertake some basic activities in order to “know” each of their customers individually.

Specifically, six different activities are required, with respect to individual customer identities, if you want to implement any type of robust customer experience initiative:

  1. Define.
    Decide what information will comprise a customer’s actual identity: Is it name and address? Home phone number? Account number? Will you include householding information? In B2B, will customer identities be defined in terms of users, specifiers, approvers, influencers, or all of the above? At its heart this is an intellectual exercise. You can’t embark on any kind of customer experience initiative if you don’t have a solid agreement on how you’re going to define what a “customer” is.
  1. Collect.
    If you don’t naturally come into possession of individual customer identities, then you could collect them by using frequent buyer programs, credit card data, online interactions, or other, more exotic things such as radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips (like ExxonMobil’s Speedpass). In B2B, LinkedIn itself is an especially powerful tool for aiding your effort to identify your “customers within the customer.”
  1. Link and integrate.
    Once a customer’s identity is defined and collected, it must be linked to all transactions and interactions with that customer, at all points of contact, and within all your different operating units and divisions. Think “omnichannel.” If a customer shops online but then calls your contact center to order, you need to be able to link the customer’s phone call directly to her online interactions, and there are several ways to do that. Linking up the transactions and interactions of an individual customer implies that you are integrating each customer’s identity into the information systems running your business, as well. Frequent-flier identities must be integrated into the flight reservations data system, for instance, and household banking identities need to be integrated into the small business records maintained by the bank. Customer integration is at the heart of the true definition of “integrated marketing communications.”
  1. Store, update, analyze.
    Customer identities need to be stored and continuously updated, improved, revised, and verified. And the identities themselves are key inputs when it comes to analyzing individual customer differences, including the value each customer represents to your business, as well as each customer’s individual needs or preferences.
  1. Make available.
    A wide variety of people and functions within your firm need access to customer identifying data, especially in a service organization, or a company that delivers service as a part of its overall customer offering. Front-line access to customer identities and the information linked to each identity is vital.
  1. Secure.
    Individual customer identities are both competitively sensitive and potentially ruinous to individual customer privacy, so it’s absolutely critical to secure this information. So take all appropriate steps to ensure that your customer identities are protected from unauthorized use (internal threat) and from hacking attacks (external threat).

About Don Peppers

Recognized for more than 20 years as one of the world's foremost thought leaders on customer-focused business strategies, Don Peppers is an acclaimed author, speaker, and a founding partner, with Martha Rogers, Ph.D., of Peppers & Rogers Group, a leading customer-centric management consulting firm. In 2015, SatMetrix ranked Don and Martha as the world’s #1 most influential authorities on customer experience management. Don is a world class speaker who presents on a broad range of strategic topics across a wide variety of industries. And, as a top 100 “Influencer” on LinkedIn, Don has more than 260,000 followers for his regular blog posts on innovation, technology, customer experience, and corporate culture. You can connect with Don on LinkedIn here.

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