In a number of recent tutorials and training sessions, I have incorporated a little joke into some of the material to help motivate understanding. It isn’t really *that much* of a joke, but here it is:
Q: What is the most dangerous question to ask data professionals?
A: “What is the definition of customer?”
Of course, this always gets at least a little chuckle (largely out of courtesy), although it does resonate a lot with most of the attendees, mostly because they have suffered through the effort of countless meetings and endless hours trying to boil down fuzzy, undocumented assumptions about the term’s semantics into a single sentence.
The root cause of this confusion is partially historical and partially presumptive. It is historical in relation to the evolution of transactional processing applications developed to meet the needs of siloed business functions. Each of these functions had an interest in dealing with the customer, but in different ways for different reasons.
It is presumptive in that the concept of a “customer” is so ingrained into our culture that we never sit back to think about the specific characteristics that make a customer a “customer.” The term is so overloaded that it fades into the background and we infer meanings from context or experience. Some examples:
- “customer” = person who gave us money for some of our stuff
- “customer” = the person using our stuff
- “customer” = the guy who approved the payment for our stuff
- “customer account manager” = salesperson
- “customer service” = complaints office
- “customer representative” = gadfly
- “customer care” = triage and remediation
- “satisfied customer” = didn’t complain
- “customer loyalty” = bought twice
- “customer lifetime” = bought once or twice, then stopped
I could go on, but I am sure you see the point, and so have a lot of other people who have seen through the overuse of the word and decide to use different words to mean the same thing (although sometimes not the same thing):
- Account holder
- End user
So we have some semantic confusion here. And this leads to the next challenging question: 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? More to follow…