What Isn’t a Customer!

August 11, 2011 by
Filed under: Data Quality 

The other day I posted an entry at the Informatica Perspective blog in which I mentioned that I thought the most dangerous question to ask a data professional is “What is a customer?”. I got a number of comments, including a blog post by Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen that all seemed to focus on the gag, but not the point of the post.

As opposed to what Henrik suggests, that Informatica “hired me to find out” the answer to the question, I was basically setting out to explore the ubiquitous passion to create a “single source of truth,” “single view of the customer,” “golden copy,” or whichever buzz term your favorite analyst and/or consulting firm is telling you that you desperately need in order to solve all your business problems.

The issue I was pointing out is not that we have to answer the question of the definition of “customer,” but instead that the fact that we call 20-30 things “customers” does not mean they are all the same thing. More explicitly, I said:

“If we have so many different definitions of “customer” and so many different terms used to mean “customer,” what does it mean to have a “single view” of the customer?”

That is the real question I am using to motivate the blog series.

PS: If you thought I was trying to answer the other question, you didn’t really get the joke 😉


3 Comments on What Isn’t a Customer!

  1. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen on Thu, 11th Aug 2011 2:57 PM
  2. Thanks David for reacting on the banter. May the defense rest until we learn about what it does mean to have a “single view” of the undefined customer?

  3. Rich Murnane on Fri, 12th Aug 2011 8:28 AM
  4. Hey David,

    I really enjoyed hearing your joke first hand a couple months ago and I’m glad you’re writing about it and people are making jokes (and comments) about the joke!

    I’ve learned over time to avoid using the word customer in my reply back when answering the “how many customers do we have” question. I typically answer this “silly little question” with what I do know for sure, an answer such as “we have X number of distinct account billing locations, Y number of people who use our applications, Z number of blah-blah-blah, etc…”.

    This response usually gets people to gloss over and wonder why they invited me to their meeting.

    Maybe I should just answer this “silly little question” with the “silly little answer” – “It’s complicated”.

    Executives are busy these days with their red/yellow/green dashboards just as everyday people are busy with iPhones/iPads/Facebook and I’m tempted to go back to the behavior I exhibited when I was fresh out of college – just give them a number like which they are expecting.

    The big difference between now and then? When I did it back then I didn’t know any better and when I give it to them now I’d fully recognize that I’d be supplying them with a “silly little number” to their “silly little question”.

    If the person asking the “silly little question” can’t recognize that the answer might be “it’s complicated”, then perhaps the “silly little answer” with a very large margin of error is all they deserve.

    Hope to see you again soon and best…Rich

    p.s. notice how I avoided the “single view of the customer” here in my comment. I did this because, well, it’s complicated… 😉

  5. Doug Newdick on Sat, 13th Aug 2011 10:17 PM
  6. Hi David,

    I reacted to Henrik’s post, and perhaps should have read your original first. I think that you are right, and that we need to understand when we are producing “single-views of x” what we mean by “x”, and perhaps more importantly to understand the many different meanings the organisation attributes to “x” and why. Just because you fix on a certain definition of “customer” (or any other term) doesn’t mean that those other definitions were unimportant.



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