Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #130

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Customer Data - Stop the Bleeding
by Craig Bailey

In our prior article in the series Customer Data – Are You Neglecting a Key Corporate Asset, we covered the topic of promoting awareness to customer data integrity problems. In summary, we reinforced that, while personnel in most firms know that there is a problem, it is only spoken of anecdotally. To ensure that you are able to rally the support (and resources) you need to address the issue, you need to make it painfully obvious to senior management that something must be done (NOW) or risk remaining hamstrung in your ability to achieve corporate objectives.

Once you have the attention of senior management, it is time to "stop the bleeding," the topic which we will cover in this article.

Form a Customer Data Quality Group & Governance Council

To ensure success, you will want to assign an individual who will drive the program forward and "own" Customer Data Quality on an ongoing basis. In addition, you'll want to form a virtual team, consisting of the fewest possible people who represent stakeholders of customer master data. This typically includes (at a minimum): Sales, Finance, Service and IT.

One of the first objectives of this group is to define the program charter, major objectives and next steps, which include (at a minimum):

  • Preparing an organization-wide announcement
  • Identifying points of customer data maintenance
  • Interviewing groups performing customer data maintenance
  • Establishing customer data entry standards
  • Restricting access

A key outcome of promoting awareness of the problem is securing an executive sponsor for the initiative. Upon doing so, you'll want this senior executive to publish the organization-wide announcement prepared by the team. The announcement should name the team leader and cover the project charter and the major objectives. Doing so provides you the necessary "air support" for what may become "difficult conversations" with organizations that may need to be restricted (in whole, or in part) from updating customer data.

Identify points of customer data maintenance

Now that the organization knows of the initiative, the next step is to identify all points of customer data maintenance. This is two-fold as you determine:

  • What screens or forms in your ERP, CRM, etc. system allow personnel to add or modify customer records?

  • Who has access to the screens identified above?

Helpful hint: When evaluating the above, don't forget about your website. In a recent client engagement, we thought we had identified all the customer maintenance points only to learn of an online form which enables customers to add their own profile, which was a significant source of data corruption (duplicate records, data not meeting customer data entry standards, etc.).

Interview groups performing customer data maintenance

Once you have identified the above, you will then want to meet with each group that has access to perform customer data maintenance. The objectives of this meeting include:

  • Learning the nature of the customer maintenance that they perform, and why.

  • Determining the volume of activity.

  • Determining how they define a customer (key data elements, when they "think" they need to create a new customer record, how they flag key accounts and meet other business requirements to effectively manage the business and customer expectations).

Helpful hint: When interviewing folks on their customer data maintenance practices, you must use tact and diplomacy. That is, you will undoubtedly uncover practices that "seem", well…stupid. However, they were put in place for very good reason (in their minds) because of some business requirement that they were asked to support, or their lack of training on the ERP system. Give them a break; listen and seek to better understand the "why." Once you have done that, then you have an opportunity to provide coaching on how they might meet the business requirements in a way that is more in line with maintaining high quality customer data.

Establish customer data entry standards

The "starting point" for establishing standards for customer data entry is customer name and address information. To minimize elongated discussions and debate on this subject, it is suggested that you simply adopt the United States Postal Service standards (or the standards that exist for the countries you do business in). The key reason (in addition to minimizing debate on this subject) is that there are numerous utilities and services that can help you standardize your customer data, based upon USPS standards and the USPS's extensive database containing ALL valid US addresses.

In addition, you'll want to define the key data elements that make up a complete and accurate customer record, based upon the interviews conducted in the prior step.

Restrict access

So far we have covered steps that will be met with little to no resistance from the organization. This step (restricting access to maintaining the customer master file) will be met with a variety of responses, ranging from acceptance to total resistance. Some tips that we have found to be very useful include the following:

  • When interviewing groups that perform customer data maintenance above, MAKE NO MENTION that they may be a target for restricted access. If they ask, certainly don't lie; indicate that at this stage you are simply learning the various customer maintenance practices and nailing down the "definition of the customer." You will then review this information and make recommendations on where restriction would benefit the organization.

  • Identify and address the "low-hanging-fruit." That is, during your interview process you will undoubtedly find groups that are more than ready to hand over the task of maintaining customer data, to the Customer Data Quality group. Tackle these groups first. You may find that out of 7-8 groups that touch the customer master, 4-5 are "ready and willing" to let it go.

  • Once you have restricted access for the 4-5 groups and the Customer Data Quality group has demonstrated that it can effectively meet the demands (for customer data maintenance) for the organization, it will be an easier (didn't say simple) sell to complete the "lock down" of the remaining groups.

Helpful hint: In order to lock down the customer master, you'll need to define a Customer Maintenance Request process. For the purpose of brevity, we'll exclude covering that here as this could range from the very simple (email based) to a tracking system with reporting capabilities, all based upon the size of the organization and available tools.

Now that we have stopped the bleeding, in future articles we'll share strategies that you can follow to improve customer data quality, including:

  • Getting well (cleaning up existing data)

  • Prevention

  • Inspection

In the meantime, if you are fed up with your customer data quality issues, please don't hesitate to give us a call. We'd be happy to expand on the strategies we've discussed here and explore how we might be of assistance to you.



+ Customer Data - Stop the Bleeding



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