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Customer knowledge resources

Articles about customer knowledge and pooling and blending data about customers into a generalised customer knowledge systems including tools, software, approaches and issues.

Customer knowledge is the plurality of information a business has about its customers. This can range from atomic consumer market data with simple transactions, to rich and complex business-to-business markets where relationships can be deep and ongoing.

For help and advice on customer knowledge systems contact info@dobney.com

What is customer knowledge?

Customer knowledge refers to understanding your customers, their needs, wants and aims. It is essential if a business is to align its processes, products and services to build real customer relationships. It includes intimate and tacit knowledge such as that of key account managers, and distant or analytic knowledge including database information about sales, web-behaviour or other analytical piece of data.

Obviously companies know about their customers, but frequently this is in a fragmented form and difficult to share or analyse and often it is incomplete or just in the head of one or two people. To be effective customer knowledge needs to be visible throughout the organisation to ensure the voice of the customer is heard.

Capturing and collecting customer knowledge

Customer knowledge exists throughout your organisation, but companies often have the data in a number of separate databases and data silos without necessarily having links between the databases or being able to connect the data sources. In addition, businesses will have information from website use, loyalty cards, CRM systems and customer service and will bring in data for marketing such as list augmentation with geodata, or capturing social media links. As a result the business can struggle to maintain a single view of the customer through all these data sources.

Customer knowledge can also exist outside the organisation in social media monitoring or public databases, but great care should be taken with external customer knowledge due to issues of privacy, consent and data protection.

Customer knowledge - collection issues and solutions

One of the main problems with any form of knowledge management system, even a customer knowledge system where the data is apparently already available is that to make it work, data and information has to be added to the database on a continual basis.

Software, in the form of middleware, and data collection tools can overcome the technical issues. However, organisational challenges can be more important in creating a customer knowledge system, with three well-documented hurdles to data collection that need to be overcome:- knowledge hoarding, apathy and fear.

Sharing customer and competitor knowledge

Customer knowledge started as being related to larger accounts in B2B markets, but is becoming more related to consumer-level data.

In B2B situations, customer knowledge databases are not just for data collection, but also need to be designed so that they can also send out key information to relevant parties, both automated and curated by analysts. So for instance, an account manager sees news about his or her customers.

In consumer markets, sharing customer knowledge is less about news going out, and more about providing customer-facing staff with key summary points and a history for the customers they contact.  In both B2B, and consumer markets, controlling access to private information also has to be built in.

Customer knowledge databases

Customer Knowledge is a generic term for information about the customer. It includes transaction data, browsing histories, CRM and sales systems, and customer service records. It can also include linking social media, external data and modelling and analytic scoring. A database for customer knowledge as a whole links all these elements together for both analysis, but also to present a single view of the customer to sales or service staff.

Information pools will be a mix of tight and loose data - some data in a well-defined and controlled format and others more ad-hoc freeform. Combining the two requires good relational and non-relational database tools to sift and blend the different data sources.

Customer relationships

With a recognition that existing customers are the source of most companies' profits, there has been an explosion of interest in understanding customers from a long-term, relationship view.

Frequently though this "relationship" view just means trying to sell more things to more customers. If companies are really going to embrace the concept of relationships they have to understand more about what their customers need and want to build a "shared future" with their customers.

Relationships in consumer markets

Understanding customer relationships depends on whether you are looking at a direct relationship, such as in a business to business market, or an indirect relationship such as that in a consumer market.

It has become fashionable to describe repeat purchasing behaviour in consumer markets as forming a relationship. But many customers prefer a minimal level of interaction with suppliers and few customers have direct contact with product manufacturers forming unrequited associations with brands.

Business to business relationships

Understanding customer relationships depends on whether you are looking at a direct relationship, such as in a business to business market, or an indirect relationship such as that in a consumer market.

Managing B2B relationships is far more personal than in consumer markets and two companies may find themselves working hand in glove to fulfil the needs of end consumers.

Service segments and customer relationships

Relationships have costs associated with them, consequently, it is often not possible for a company to provide a tailored level of service for each and every customer. However a company can provide differentiated services for different types of customers or moving customers into standard, premium service levels.

The ability to identify where service and relationship adds value, and the form of tailored services requires a deep understanding of the needs of the customer base and an ability to segment and standardise different levels of service.

Defining service and quality of delivery

Service and quality of delivery are strongly related and underpin the softer elements of customer relationships. However, service carries two meanings. The first is a friendly-face type service where staff take the time to be interested and helpful. This is the most common perception of 'good service'. But good service can also be 'no service' - the speedy accurate delivery of what the customer wants, often with no apparent person involved - think of utilities where delivery is reliable and requires minimal interaction.

Customer knowledge analysis

The systematic collection of customer knowledge leads to ability to monitor and perform analysis across the customer base. Monitoring involves developing standardised measures that can be tracked and included in marketing dashboards, while analysis involves using tools like text analytics and statistical analysis or machine learning to look for patterns within the data.

There are normally two types of information gathered in customer knowledge databases, unstructured data such as news reports, or textual feedback, and more formal structured data such as customer tracking, sales and purchasing, questionnaires or other forms of formalised database data.

Capturing and collecting competitor knowledge

Competitor knowledge is distinct from competitor intelligence. The latter is actively gathered, monitored and analysed. However, competitor knowledge refers to the internal awareness and understanding of competitors that exists throughout an organisation. Much of this is either ad hoc or informal, or else it is hard to get hold of or hard to use - lacking structure or existing only in a tacit form. To enable competitor knowledge to be collected in a useful way, so that it can feed competitor intelligence programme, processes for systematically collecting the information are required.


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