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Overcoming the Cold Start Problem of CRM using a Probabilistic Machine Learning Approach


Journal of Marketing Research



Authors / Editors

Padilla N;Ascarza E


Publication Year



The success of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs ultimately depends on the firm's ability to identify and leverage differences across customers — a very diffcult task when firms attempt to manage new customers, for whom only the first purchase has been observed. For those customers, the lack of repeated observations poses a structural challenge to inferring unobserved differences across them. This is what we call the “cold start” problem of CRM, whereby companies have difficulties leveraging existing data when they attempt to make inferences about customers at the beginning of their relationship. We propose a solution to the cold start problem by developing a probabilistic machine learning modeling framework that leverages the information collected at the moment of acquisition. The main aspect of the model is that it exibly captures latent dimensions that govern the behaviors observed at acquisition as well as future propensities to buy and to respond to marketing actions using deep exponential families. The model can be integrated with a variety of demand specifications and is exible enough to capture a wide range of heterogeneity structures. We validate our approach in a retail context and empirically demonstrate the model's ability at identifying high-value customers as well as those most sensitive to marketing actions, right after their first purchase.

Available on ECCH


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