Build an Integrated 360-Degree View of the Customer

See how big data helps personalize marketing, business strategy, and the customer experience

Product Marketing Manager - InfoSphere, IBM

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from the IBM ebook, “Enhance your 360-degree view of the customer,” IBM Software, June 2014.

Recent customer-focused research affirms that an organization’s biggest asset is waiting within reach to be discovered, understood, and serviced. Consider also that a significant number of consumers receiving a quick brand response on social media generally agree they are likely to recommend that brand to others. Clearly, the importance of developing a 360-degree view of the customer becomes essential for success.

However, knowing a customer today is not as easy as it may seem to be. Customers may share their likes on Facebook, tweet their opinions on Twitter, shop online, and call in or walk into a store to be serviced. As well-ensconced as many people find themselves in the digital revolution, the touch points between an organization and its customers have increased many times, and organizations require a specialized solution to effectively manage them.

An enhanced 360-degree view of the customer is a holistic approach that takes into account all available and meaningful information about the customer (see Figure 1). After analyzing large sets of structured and unstructured data from multiple repositories, this information can be derived to help foster enhanced engagement, increased revenue, and long-term loyalty. It also represents a combination of good data governance, data access, integration, and analytics in an accessible form. All this technology can be delivered in an IT solution that harnesses the volume, variety, and velocity of big data.

Build an Integrated 360-Degree View of the Customer – Figure 1

Figure 1. The enhanced 360-degree view of the key customer data domain

An application that delivers a 360-degree view of the customer provides all the relevant information about a customer so that an action can be taken. That action may be answering a support call or making an up-sell or cross-sell transaction. This unified view enables line-of-business users, customer service representatives, and executives to quickly identify information such as products purchased, warranty information, billing information, recommendations, support tickets, and recent conversations—all within a single application and without having to move data from one system to another.

Understanding customers

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV)–provided study,* as the business landscape changes, 90 percent of C-suite executives foresee deep collaboration with customers within the next three to five years. They also expect to rely on digital technologies to boost engagement, create one-on-one dialogue, and provide a superior experience. In addition, the study found that outperforming organizations are 54 percent more likely to collaborate deeply with customers than other organizations. That collaboration is likely to only increase because 60 percent of chief executive officers (CEOs) expect customer influence to go beyond developing products to shaping business strategy.

The first step in gaining an enhanced 360-degree view of customers is to identify the available information as well as its location. The basic customer profile that exists across various internal systems provides a baseline of information, including name, address, and contact details.

Next, a view into sales transactions, support history, and other interactions that exist in financial systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, customer support systems, and other key applications is required. Further, consider incorporating contracts, correspondence, and other information stored in email, PDF files, and other unstructured documents.

Then, look beyond the enterprise into social media to create a complete picture of customer preferences and sentiments. Social data can be full of useless noise, so organizations need to be precise and thorough when evaluating information sources for trustworthiness. This effort helps for building a complete, well-informed picture of the customer.

When considering all these information sources, recognizing the level of confidence in each one is also important to consider. Which information is suitable for financial reporting? Which is appropriate only for trend analysis? Which can provide possible insights into a customer’s behavior? And which is sufficiently trusted that it can be used for important decisions?

Bolstering business value through a comprehensive view

The enhanced 360-degree view of the customer enables organizations to transform their digital touch points with the customer into sources of invaluable information on evolving customer needs and their sentiments. It converts this information into contextually relevant insight that lets the organization deliver personalized service to its customers (see Figure 2).

Build an Integrated 360-Degree View of the Customer – Figure 2

Figure 2. Efficient customer information for multiple audiences

Organizations across multiple industries are taking advantage of the benefits of 360-degree views of customers, as evidenced by the following examples:

  • Retailers are more effectively cross-selling to their customers
  • Telecommunications companies are helping reduce customer churn
  • Insurers are offering personalized coverage
  • Governments are delivering enhanced services to communities
  • Travel and transport organizations are creating targeted loyalty programs

For another detailed example, see the sidebar, “Rapid Insight for New Opportunity.”

Building an enhanced 360-degree view


Case Study
Establishing an enhanced 360-degree view of customers or other key entities can be accomplished through implementation of the following requirements:

Rapid Insight for New Opportunity

• Avoid duplicates and rationalize conflicting information through matching, linking, and semantic reconciliation of master data to create and maintain a golden record. Onvia, Inc. tracks data on over 160,000 businesses, 90,000 agencies, 3 million people, and on average 500,000 projects each quarter.† The content collected is massive—totaling more than a terabyte in active memory—and includes 3 million document attachments or 18 billion words. As Onvia created its next-generation platform, it needed advanced discovery capabilities for big data.

Onvia embeds IBM software in its platform so its customers can easily find relevant information across 12 million records—equivalent to about five years of data—and receive search results in less than a second. Federated navigation and discovery across applications, data sources, and file types enable Onvia to provide clients with a single view of data across their subscriptions.

“Our platform can now sustain hundreds of thousands of searches daily with sub-second performance and publish over five million pages per week,” says A.J. Lambert, senior technical program manager at Onvia, Inc. “And we can offer all searches from a single location, providing a unified view of information across all our products.”

For Onvia customers, the insight gained has helped increase revenue and reduce the cost of doing business. “Using the Onvia platform, powered by [Watson] Explorer, allows companies to spend more time going after new business, than looking for it,” says Lambert. “Customers have attributed up to USD50 million in increased revenue to having this data available.”

And for Onvia, this scalable, flexible solution has helped reduce operational costs and increase subscribers. “[Watson] Explorer was a huge win for our customers and our business,” says Lambert. “It helps us reduce our costs, launch new products more cost-effectively, and improve our win rate by a third.”

• Integrate high-quality data across multiple enterprise systems.
• Manage new data types and navigate quickly through massive amounts of both structured and unstructured data from within and beyond the enterprise to find highly pertinent information.
• Create a single, up-to-date view of customers or other key entities that can be used throughout the organization.
• Leverage Apache Hadoop systems so that information of all types, in any volume and at any velocity, can be incorporated into the single view.
• Assess streaming data sources to analyze perishable data quickly and to select valuable data and insights to be stored for further processing.
• Collect all customer data at one central location from which it can be easily managed, analyzed, and shared.
IBM combines these technologies for an enhanced 360-degree view of the customer (see Figure 3). † Onvia, Inc., IBM professional services case study, April 2014.

 Build an Integrated 360-Degree View of the Customer – Figure 3

Figure 3. Advanced technologies for managing data types on a master data foundation

Watson Explorer enables organizations to capitalize on MDM investment by integrating trusted master data with other enterprise data. The capabilities of InfoSphere Data Explorer help simplify connections to the MDM repository, enabling 360-degree applications to capitalize on trusted master data as the foundation for consolidating and indexing additional sources of relevant data.

Engaging businesses through multiple platforms

In the digital age, customers are adopting new and multiple platforms to engage businesses. IBM big data solutions allow organizations to tap into this source of customer information and generate valuable customer insights that enable them to personalize offerings and optimize the customer experience.

Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments.

*The Customer-Activated Enterprise: Insights from the IBM Global C-Suite Study,” IBM Institute for Business Value, October 2013.