3 steps to get you on track for a 360-degree view of your customers

Joe Thomas Profile picture for user Joe Thomas April 28, 2020
Up-to-date information on your customers is paramount in today's economy. FinancialForce's Joe Thomas outlines 3 essentials for a 360-degree view

Business man and woman stand in front of virtual 360 degree customer view © Sergey Nivens - shutterstock
(© Sergey Nivens - shutterstock)

Getting a 360-degree view of the customer is all the more important at a time when demand is unpredictable and engagement with customer need is paramount. But is it possible to do that in the midst of everything else that's going on today? How do you quickly gather all the information you need about your customers in order to make better decisions and provide better service?

The reality is that it's almost impossible to do this if you're using cumbersome technologies like data warehouses and data marts. No one has time for that stuff anymore. Those technologies typically take two years and millions to implement — and that's not the kind of investment or turnaround time that any business wants to commit to at the moment.

Without a viable alternative, many businesses still rely on spreadsheets for their analytics. But can spreadsheets really help you identify your most profitable customers and devise effective strategies to retain them? Can they really tell you how much you're spending to keep those customers? Probably not.

In today's fast-moving economy, business decisions have to be driven by accurate data, and an over-reliance on spreadsheets for this critical resource is an unsustainable model. Spreadsheets are not only extremely time-consuming to maintain but also rife with potential errors. They quickly become problematic as you add more users, data sources, formulas and questions. Microsoft Excel, for instance, was designed to be a personal productivity tool, not an analytics tool. Organizations have forced Excel into unnatural acts that it was never built to do.

The alternative is to do this reporting and analytics within the core ERP or financials platform. Modern ERP solutions are making it easier and quicker to perform analytics and make data-driven decisions without the burden of expensive data warehouses or unwieldy spreadsheets. Even if this means adopting a new ERP solution, cloud implementations are relatively short projects and can be done in stages to deliver some early ‘quick wins'.

But you need to choose wisely. Here are three things you should look for in an ERP solution if you want it to give you a 360-degree view of your customers.

1. An open ecosystem

Many companies today use different ERP vendors for different parts of their organization—from finance and HR to sales and marketing. However, these solutions were never designed to work together. And without the seamless sharing of data among systems, you'll never get a 360-view of your customers. Unless, of course, you make a commitment to an open ecosystem.

There are plenty of application ecosystems out there from vendors like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce, and even Google. Do the research to learn which platforms offer the most open ecosystems. Find out which ones allow best-of-breed vendors into their ecosystem, instead of limiting the selection to their own products.

In a closed ecosystem, you're relying on just one company to deliver innovation and you're tied to that company's schedule. But in an open environment, you can take advantage of innovations by many different vendors, including those hungry start-ups that almost always deliver innovation faster than their larger, less nimble competitors.

2. Data visualization

These days, organizations generate a constant stream of valuable customer data, which resides in spreadsheets and all sorts of different applications. The question is, how quickly can you gather it all and combine it in a way that makes sense? How large an effort does it take to get that data into a form in which you can understand it and take beneficial action?

You're no doubt collecting great information all the time. But if it requires a Hadoop data lake and an expensive data scientist to generate a handful of insights per year, what do you really have? What you need is a tool that makes your data quickly consumable by the average business analyst. This is extremely valuable.

That's why data visualization needs to be a core component of your ERP solution. As humans, we can process data so much more effectively if it's laid out visually, rather than in rows and columns. If I'm trying to figure out where to open my next office and I'm looking at 26,000 post codes, my eyes will quickly start to bleed.

But if my ERP solution can make that data visual and present a compelling story through the use of colors, graphs, maps and other such representations, suddenly everyone in my organization can start to make strategic decisions based on that data.

3. Help with core metrics

Data can and should play a powerful role in helping you measure your core metrics better and achieve your goals. Take sales goals, for instance. If I'm a customer service agent and the data tells me that every time I spend an extra 5 minutes on the phone with a customer the odds of that customer churning decrease by 10%, then I'm more likely to spend that time. If I'm a CEO and I see that same data, I'll probably want to tie employee compensation directly to that metric.

Data is the most valuable currency in the digital economy, as companies like Amazon and Netflix can attest. Being able to use that data becomes even more important when business conditions are evolving quickly, and you need to make informed decisions in the midst of change. By having an open ecosystem, leveraging your ERP solution for data visualization, and taking a focused approach to the metrics that make a difference to your business, you too can get a 360-degree view of your customers and deliver the value they need.

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