EXPERT ADVICE

Data Integration and the Elusive 360-Degree Customer View

The contact center has become the focal point of the customer interaction. Customers spend more time researching products, managing account and order information, resolving issues, and utilizing self-service than they do within the traditional brick-and-mortar storefront. This requires contact centers to have a 360-degree view of the customer. In order to enable this, integration of data from across the enterprise has become a must for a contact center.

Aberdeen Group’s benchmark report, “The Intelligent Contact Center: Increasing Multi-Channel Visibility,” (July 2007) reveals that 62 percent of Best-in-Class companies are in the process of providing their agents with increased access to customer data. The ability to integrate and utilize data in an effective manner will separate Best-in-Class companies from others. This new benchmark report, titled “Data Integration in the Contact Center: Providing a 360-degree View of the Customer,” (May 2008) will document a road map for Laggard and Average companies to attain Best-in-Class status. Best-in-Class companies will see an improvement in customer satisfaction and first contact closure rates.

Improving Customer Satisfaction

From the end user’s perspective, the key benefits are the opportunities to improve conversion rates; reduce negative customer experience and improve customer retention. Other benefits include improving both the use of collected data and access to collected data.

Aberdeen hypothesizes that the predominant pressure for contact centers is improving customer satisfaction. We believe that this pressure will be alleviated by integrating back-end systems and providing customers with access to data via the channel of their choice. To support these actions, around-the-clock access to standardized customer and product data is imperative. This should be supported through centralized front-end and back-end systems. Data shows that 79 percent of Best-in-Class companies have already started a data integration project. This is a clear indicator that this is top-of-mind for leading companies.

Customers are looking for access during what are typically off-hours. However, 24×7 access does not mean that an agent is always available during this time. Off-hour access can be accomplished via multiple channels available. Channels such as the Web and phone self-service make ordering, status checking and account updates available without utilizing an agent. For inquiries that do not require an immediate response, customers can use e-mail. In the future, customers can use wikis and blogs to interact with the corporation during off-hours.

Adding a Humanistic Quality

A key strategy being used to improve the customer experience is to track the customer interaction data. The top two types of customer interaction data companies collect are issues (71 percent) and needs (70 percent). Managing and tracking customer issues is the No. 1 priority for a contact center. Also, tracking and understanding the needs of the customer is critical to maintaining and improving the customer relationship.

Understanding the customer need adds a humanistic quality to the interaction. At the same time, utilizing this data in a timely manner to impact change is a capability used by 64 percent of Best-in-Class companies, compared with 40 percent of Industry Average and 31 percent of Laggards. Understanding the “why” a customer has contacted the company as opposed to just tracking the “what” allows the contact center to better address customer issues.

Significant Planning Required

Data integration requires multiple methods of data retrieval. Best-in-Class lead the way with implementing these key knowledge management technologies to access data. The key trait across these top retrieval techniques is their flexibility and customer focus. Each is aimed at providing the correct answer in a manner the customer requires. Here are a few examples:

  • Decision trees. A structured hierarchy of questions aimed at providing increasingly finite responses.
  • Ad hoc queries. Non-structured requests.
  • Natural language queries. Customer-initiated questions in everyday language.

Data integration is a process that requires significant planning and follow-through. If you would like to provide additional insight into your experiences, please feel free to take this survey. Your feedback will be included in the benchmark “Data Integration in the Contact Center: Providing a 360-Degree View of the Customer.”


Alan Hubbard is senior vice president of customer management at Aberdeen Group. He can be reached at [email protected].


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