Unify Your Data in Customer Insights

Follow this series to explore Dynamics 365 Customer Insights.
For an overview of Customer Insights, read the first post in the series here. The second post covers the topic of getting started and connecting your data to CI and can be found here.

After bringing in your data and making sure that the types of data have been correctly categorized, the next step is to unify all your data sources. To do this, you need to tell Customer Insights what represents a customer across different systems, how they might be matched up, and then create a “merged” customer profile from your source data. Unifying your data consists of three steps:

  • Map – Map your ingested data to a common model (CDS entity, for example)
  • Match – Determine what consists of a match from one data source to another
  • Merge – Create a unified “customer” entity for use in CI
Map

Let’s consider a scenario where we have brought in data from four different data sources. Two of them have the idea of a contact – one is an eCommerce system that has a Contact entity, and the other is a Loyalty Card tracking system which refers to them as customers. The other two data sources have data about purchases and activities.

I want to determine how many unique people we interact with across the two systems that have data that represents people, and find out how many of them are in both systems. Then I will use that data to understand them more deeply.

I’ll start by going to “Map” under the Unify area and select the two tables that represent people:

Select the tables from your ingested data that represent people or customers.

Mapping at this point is a simple exercise. The system is intelligent enough to make some assumptions about the data types that have been brought over. For example, it will automatically assign model types to the DateOfBirth field of Person.BirthDate and the PostCode field is identified as a Location.PostalCode type. The main thing I need to do is to let CI know which field from each source represents the primary key:

Setting the primary key for the customer tables
Match

In the matching step, start with the data source that represents the most complete and accurate representation of your customers. In this example, our eCommerce system has the most customer information, and the loyalty program data source is more of a subset. We’ll include all the records from both systems so we have a union of both data sources to work with.

Matching starts by selecting the data source that has the most complete info about customers

If you have a third or fourth dataset that represents customers/contacts, you can add these. CI will first check for matches between the Primary table and Entity2 and come up with a list of matches. It will then take that list and check for matches in Entity 3. From the resulting list it will then check for further matches in Entity 4, and so on.

After establishing that hierarchy, we want to specify a rule to match each customer that appears in both systems. You can match based on one or more conditions. For example, we want to look at the full name and email across both systems to find matches. You have some options for each condition:

  • Precision: Exact will only match precise matches, high/medium/low give you increasing levels of fuzzy matches. If you are going to create a segment for a marketing list, you might choose a lower match precision where customer records from the two systems are matched with a lower level of confidence, but if you are going to run financial analyses, you might choose a higher precision.
  • Normalize: The normalize option can be used to ignore whitespace, capitalization, numerals, or to only match if the fields are of the same attribute type
Set up rules that will determine how matches will be made between your data sources

After creating the rule, it will run against your data and you can see a preview of the different matches based on the confidence level that CI has in the match it has determined.

Merge

The last step in unifying your data is to create a “merged” Contact record in CI. The purpose of merging is to create the meta-customer record that you will see in CI and to instruct CI on how to reconcile conflicting matches. This merged contact is represented in CI as a “Customer Card”, also referred to as a profile. A merged attribute is an attribute that exists in more than one data source and represents the same piece of data. For example, both of our data sources have a FirstName attribute, but the rank shows that we will give preference to the FirstName field from our eCommerce data source in case they differ.

Merged fields from different data sources can be ranked to determine which source is the “truth” for that field.
Next up

The end result of mapping, matching and merging will be a Customer Card representing each person’s profile in Customer Insights. In the next article, we’ll take a look at the Customer Cards and some of the other ways you can configure Customer Insights to gain deeper understanding of your customers.

Getting Started with Customer Insights

Follow this series to explore Dynamics 365 Customer Insights. For an overview of Customer Insights, read my previous post here.

Customer Insights (CI) allows organizations to consolidate data from disparate sources in order to build a unified customer profile. It also applies pre-built AI models to help with matching customers across those data sources, and can provide views of business and individual customer health.

To try CI, start a trial here. Note that if you scroll down on that page, you can get started right away and provision an instance of CI within minutes. Your trial will include a demo environment that is pre-populated with sample data, as well as an empty environment where you can begin working with your own data.

Once your trial is provisioned, the first step will be to set up your data. CI includes a number of data connectors that allow you to easily configure CI to ingest CSV files, SQL data, and even data from your Customer Engagement or CDS instances. (See the documentation here for steps on connecting your data.)

Customer Insights comes with a variety of data connectors

Connecting to many sources simply requires entering a URL and your credentials. In the future, it will be possible to configure a data gateway to connect to on-premises data sources, but the easiest and quickest to work with are obviously the online sources, whether it is CDS, a file stored in an Azure blob, or another online provider. Once connected, CI uses Microsoft’s Power Query to allow you to select and manipulate the data before loading it into CI.

If your data source has more than one table, you can choose it from this screen.

After selecting your table(s), you have all the tools of Power Query at your disposal to manipulate the data. For example, if you are connecting to a CSV, you can set the first row as the column headers, or change the data types.

CSVs

If you have connected to a CSV, make sure to set the data types for each column since they will be brought in as simple Text type columns by default.

You will need to set up at least two data sources before you can move on to the the “Unify” steps to map, match and merge your data.

Be careful! Once you have done some mapping and matching in the Unify area of CI, it becomes very difficult to edit or remove a data source because of all the inter-dependencies that will will have been created.

CDS Entities

Since CI is part of the Dynamics 365 family, it understands the Common Data Model entities that live in CDS/Customer Engagement natively. This means that even before you leave Power Query, you can map the chosen CDS entity from your source, automatically letting CI set the column types for you. For example, if you are bringing in the Contact entity, use the “Map to Standard” button at the top of Power Query to let CI know that this is the same Contact entity that exists in the Common Data Model.

Entities

After your data has been ingested by CI, each table will create an “entity” in the Customer Insights system. If you are familiar with Customer Engagement customization, this entity is similar in concept. It is basically the description of the fields and field types that you have connected, and provides a preview of the data that was ingested.

Make sure you are completely satisfied with your data sources before you move to the Unify steps. You might be tempted to go straight into the Map/Match/Merge process to begin unifying your data. Be careful! Once you have done some mapping and matching in the Unify area of CI, it becomes very difficult to edit or remove a data source because of all the inter-dependencies that will will have been created.

Up Next… Unify Your Data!

Stay tuned to this blog for the next entry on unifying your data, where I will describe for you what is happening under the covers. Unifying is the key step to building your customer profile, so you’ll want to get it right!

Dynamics 365 Customer Insights: CDP + AI = Huge Potential

Microsoft’s Customer Insights promises to democratize the power of artificial intelligence to create a holistic view of the customer.
An example of a customer profile pulling data together from website visits, customer service, CRM, online orders, and retail purchases

If you have not yet heard the term “CDP”, get ready to start hearing it a lot more in your conversations with customers and others in the CRM space. CDP stands for Customer Data Platform, a term that describes the ultimate goal of most customer relationship and marketing platforms: providing a unified, holistic view of your customers, regardless of where information is stored about them and their interactions with your business. Once unified, businesses – and especially marketers – want to use this data to define more accurate segments to target for initiatives like lead acquisition and retention campaigns.

For example, many businesses will have siloes of data that represent customer purchases and payments, website visits and marketing interactions, customer service requests, relationships to other customers and vendors, social profiles, and more.

It is not uncommon for traditional CRM deployments to make a valiant attempt to provide this 360-degree view of the customer through a combination of data migrations, integrations and mashups. But this approach involves a high level of complexity to implement and requires difficult decisions about which system will be the “system of record” for a customer. It also means that data quality issues in each silo and legacy system need to be addressed before a reliable and useful view can be cobbled together. Further complicating this effort, the mapping of customer data between systems is often difficult since each system may have different identifiers like customer numbers, email addresses, and other record IDs.

Enter Dynamics 365 Customer Insights

Microsoft is uniquely positioned to address the challenges that CRM and CDP systems face in presenting a truly unified view of the customer, and launched Customer Insights in 2019 to showcase their unique take on the CDP problem. By using a pre-built AI model, Customer Insights can ingest massive amounts of data from separate systems and leverage fuzzy matching strategies to show total lifetime value, churn risk, and more. The AI behind Customer Insights will automatically make decisions for you about whether Bob J. Anderson, who completed a “Contact Us” form on your website last year is the same person as r.anderson@contoso.com who had a customer service ticket this week about a widget purchased months ago in your brick-and-mortar store using a loyalty card with member ID #003498.

Few other CDP vendors can match Microsoft’s AI capabilities that make smart decisions to pull together customer data from your different sources. And Microsoft also layers on proprietary data to enrich the customer profile.

A dashboard in Customer Insights showing aggregate measures based on data from many different systems

Beyond unifying your disparate profile data, Customer Insights can be configured to automatically enrich it using brand or category keywords, pulling from an enormous stock of Microsoft-proprietary data that consists of sources like social media and web activity. The profile is further enhanced through a timeline of activities drawn from your transactional and relationship systems, so instead of just unified demographic data, you can have a bird’s eye view of the customer’s interactions across your business landscape.

Measures can be defined to give a view of the health of a customer relationship or to score their interactions across platforms. Customer Insights unlocks the ability to create segments or lists of customers based on parameters from any of the connected data sources. Segments can be exported as CSV files so they can be used in, for example, an external marketing application, or directly to an instance of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement for Sales.

The process of adding new data sources to continually build out the customer profile has been simplified to a point and click approach, eliminating the need for costly, complex and error prone integrations. And the user can schedule periodic refreshes of source data to keep Customer Insights up-to-date.

Customer Insights choosing a data source
Choosing a data source in Customer Insights

In the initial release of Customer Insights, Microsoft provided a pre-built model for profiling individuals, or Contacts, making it a natural fit for B2C scenarios. But their plans for the second release wave of 2019 include expanding this same type of functionality to the company/account level to address the compelling use cases that B2B scenarios present.

Already, Microsoft has provided an integration with their CRM product, Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE), so profile cards can easily be inserted on the Contact form in CE. Extending the functionality of Customer Insights can also be accomplished using a connector for Power Apps and Flow, meaning that changes to the unified customer can easily be incorporated in nearly any business process. And a Power BI connector allows the profile data to be analyzed and visualized in ways that previously would have required massive enterprise-wide reporting efforts.

Conclusion

Over the last decade, many CRM projects relied on integrating and migrating data from ERP and other systems of record in order to provide useful information for sales, service and marketing users. But CRM systems are not well-suited to also serve as data warehouses, even if that is how they have often been deployed. I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when Customer Insights replaces a lot of this complex, heavy data moving work that currently goes into CRM deployments. The holy grail of getting the “true” picture of your customer and leveraging that for intelligent business may not be so far off after all.

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