Connecting with the customer when data is king

Aug 23, 2017
  • sales, marketing and service
  • retail
  • SAP
  • internet of things

In the 1990s came the ERP systems. Then, the 2000s were the golden age of CRM (customer relationship management) software. Nowadays CRM software has become mainstream in all companies of a certain size.

What are the business benefits? It seems that a CRM solution alone is not enough to bring any kind of competitive advantage. 

Let’s take the example of the retail sector, where well-established brands are now under fierce competition from online retailers with an international presence and generous return policies. 

Janssen Mode clothing shops (fictitious name) has been flourishing for three generations: friendly service, good advice and recently a successful web shop and an attractive loyalty card program. But even the best retailers like Janssen Mode now need more to survive in an era where it is no longer cash but data that is king. And by that we mean data concerning customers’ behavior. Data to turn knowledge into actions that generate revenues. In this age, we need to be able to integrate data from different internal and external data sources, building up a fuller picture of our customers and enabling us to connect with them in a personalized and very convenient way.

How can retailers like Janssen Mode continue to flourish?

1. Build a community

A respected retail brand like Janssen Mode should maintain its old recipes and cherish the DNA that made it successful (friendly customer service, happy employees, long-term investments, appealing product range, etc.), while investing in new customer connections. Increasingly, CRM needs to evolve from a (rich) contact database to a data lake that gets the most out of all you can find out about customers. Fed with Big Data, ‘customer profile stores’ will spot trends and provide you with insights into customers’ behavior (or into groups of customers showing similar behavior).

These ‘profile stores’ then help retailers to build communities and create a personalized experience, both online and offline, for their customers. In the future, strong customer connections will increasingly depend on the ability to invest in a community that creates some sense of belonging with the brand. That community will ideally include other retailers you may have synergies with, in the food or entertainment industry for instance.

2. Use GDPR as an opportunity

When we speak about data, the question of privacy is just around the corner. The privacy will be further safeguarded by the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which is due to come into force in the EU in May 2018.

With the customer’s permission, use this GDPR deadline as a transparent way to collect data and show the customer what is in it for him, namely a personalized shopping experience. This means turning data into actions, special events (online and offline) or targeted promotions. For instance, targeted on summer clothes when the weekend weather forecast is excellent. Of course, any business should strike the right balance in terms of data usage. A ‘customer profile store’ is not Big Brother.

The GDPR does, however, put the spotlight on data, so it provides an opportunity at last to think about what you do with it. Most retailers do not know what customer segmentation is about. They have no idea of their sales costs in comparison to the customer profitability of specific segments. By using customer profile stores, retailers can gain this insight and consequently reallocate their marketing expenditures.

Coming back to the community building mentioned above, data can also be a source of new revenues. Some of the world’s leading e-commerce brands are already making more revenues from selling profiles (not customer identities!) to third parties than from selling products and services.

3. Do not wait for ages

The time to bring data analytics into your customer connection equation is now. Technologies such as cloud computing, mobile solutions, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence make it possible for any company to make huge strides in the digital transformation, at an affordable price. You no longer need huge investments in hardware infrastructure to build deep connections with your customers. Petabytes of data can now be rented in the cloud on the basis of a ‘pay as you query’ model.

The countdown to the future

On June 13, we started the countdown to the future. During this unique event, we focused on how companies can  leverage on real time data to grow to right time companies. Wouldn’t it be great if you could look back from the future and be satisfied with the path you are following right now? 

In this blog series, you will find out how to build solid foundations today, and learn how the decisions you are currently making can lead to success.



  • Sven Arnauts. You can follow Sven on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn
  • Valerie Decoene. You can connect with Valerie on LinkedIn
  • Matt Nys. You can connect with Matt on LinkedIn