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The five customer insight basics to drive engagement

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What are the five principles that firms must consider to successfully land insight to profitably engage with their customers? Will Beresford explains.  

5th Feb 2010
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Many businesses have bought into the idea that they have access to a great source of intelligence about their customers that they can use to support their business planning and decision-making. Understanding who your customers are, what their needs are and how your business can meet these is the obvious way to increase your chances of success.

More so than ever, this has become critical as consumers move away from traditional marketing models and choose to engage with brands on their own terms. As the reach of new media channels expands, knowing what is going to capture your customer's imagination and being able to act on this on their terms, makes this knowledge even more important.
Despite this, many businesses still struggle to get to grips with how to make this work and to realise value from their investments in customer insight.
 
This article looks at how businesses should be thinking about customer insight and how they use it to engage their customers to deliver value. Specifically, it answers the following two questions:
 
  1. What is the base level of requirements a business should have in customer insight?
  2. What are the five principles that an organisation needs to consider to successfully land insight in their organisation so that they can profitably engage with their customers?

What are the base level requirements for customer insight?

This is the easiest part of the answer and starts with the fundamentals. Believe it or not, most companies still do not know some real basics about their customers. Worse still, they often believe they have good ideas, which often turn out to be myths born from another era of business history.
 
The first thing any insight function should look to deliver is some absolute basics. In a business that is not used to looking at the actual behaviour of its individual customers there is a tendency to think of the customer as an average.
Not all customers are equal
 
So immediately it becomes clear that the business has very different sets of behaviour from its customers. Why is that? What is driving this? It's almost certainly because they have different needs and different levels of demand for the products or services they are offering.
 
Understanding these differences is therefore crucial to knowing what to offer each customer and when to offer it to them.
So what is the base level of insight? As a business you need to be able to answer the following questions as a minimum:
  1. Who are the most attractive customer segments for us?
  2. What are these customers' needs? Are we meeting them? If not, can we serve them?
  3. What are the purchase and decision patterns of customers and so what are the key levers and triggers to capture them?
This answers the most fundamental question a business has - 'what is the most relevant proposition for our business, that we understand meets the needs of our customers and will therefore encourage them enough to choose us over someone else?'
Considering your customers by their needs elevates business thinking away from 'how do we keep selling the products we have always sold' to 'how do we meet our customers' needs'.
 
However, being able to understand your customer and their needs is probably only half the battle. Getting this information into the hands of the business, and using it to create value is the real challenge. Using insights to engage your customers can only really happen effectively when the organisation is in a position to use, accept and adapt to them.
 
There are five fundamental pillars or building blocks that a business needs to get right if it is to successfully use insight to profitably engage with its customers.

1. A customer plan

A customer plan takes the answers to the core level customer insights and translates these into a strategic plan to provide the business with one common set of customer objectives, customer led KPIs and targets. The plan becomes the glue that clearly articulates to all parts of the business the needs of the customers and how the business intends to meet them. In world-class customer organisations these become part of the business DNA and tie in with the company's brand values and customer promises. We find that one quick way to identify the organisations that are really putting the customer at the heart of their plans is a quick word count of the annual report to see how often 'customer' is mentioned.

2. Organisational alignment

This is the leadership behind a customer-centric business philosophy that delivers the impetus and intent to successfully land a customer perspective into the business to drive value. This kind of leadership is demonstrated in a number of ways starting with strategic intent and a top-down culture of putting the customer first. This translates into common practices such as a common customer language adopted by all of the business, teams and individuals that are rewarded on customer performance measures and great internal communication and training permeating across all levels of the business. 
 
Expecting the business to suddenly adopt a customer-centric philosophy over night however is a big ask and unrealistic. Successful organisations focus the deployment of insight onto a small part of the business where a few key senior stakeholders can appreciate and take ownership of it. This facilitates the change required where it really matters.

3. Measurement and reporting

Landing customer insights successfully requires its integration into core business processes such as implementing key measures into the core performance KPIs of the business. This brings to life the size of the opportunity successfully engaging customers presents and provides a quantifiable impact of the changes the business is making. 
 
To do this successfully the business needs to be measuring what matters to its customers, which means developing KPIs that relate to the needs of your customers and integrating these into the regular measurement and reporting processes of the business such as a balanced scorecard. The most successful approach we have seen to this is to find one to two key measures that really matter and the business can relate to, avoiding trying to get people to adopt a whole host of new metrics which they will often push back against.

4. Insight and insight deployment

Central to success is also relevant and timely customer intelligence provided to the business. This means that insights developed need to directly relate to key customer priorities and fit in with the business decision-making cycle. All too often insights are developed that may be powerful, but fall on deaf ears because they are not relevant to major strategic initiatives or they have simply missed the boat in terms of key decisions they could have affected. The business users need to be confident in the use of insights such that they demand them to feed into every possible decision. 
 
A critical success factor here is to ensure that the business provides enough support for busy commercial functions to understand and integrate insights into their day to day activities. A common challenge we see is information overload, where insight teams add to the workload of the commercial team by presenting insight and customer research from different sources independently. A key strength of the insight team needs to be in the syndication of insight into manageable and digestible bites.

5. Data and tools

Obviously, the right data and appropriate tools are needed if the business is to be able to develop insights and track customer performance. However, it is often easy to slip into the trap where the data and the tools used to manipulate it start to override the requirements for the business. The most successful implementers of data driven customer insights have taken a pragmatic approach to this and allowed the customer insights and the priorities as determined by the plan to dictate the investment approach to this. 
 
This is key as it establishes the right focus for the business when it comes to implementing insight, i.e. what it can actually use to drive value. Businesses, in their haste to start developing customer insights from their data, often start in the belief that they need to get their data perfect and all the right tools in place before they can start adding value. More often than not this means more time is spent cleaning and managing the data than developing the insight that is going to change something. This can lead to the business becoming disillusioned with customer insight as they are not getting what they want fast enough.
 
Finally, all these five pillars need to be in place, without one the structure develops fundamental weaknesses that will jeopardise the success of the customer engagement and the profitability of the whole exercise.

Will Beresford is strategy director at Beyond Analysis. Will has extensive C-level experience in strategy and media; he works with clients to bridge the gap between their business challenges and what the data is telling them. Will divides his time between advising the Boards of some of the biggest blue chip companies and developing innovative approaches for the application of data. He previously held senior roles at McKinsey, Cap Gemini, eBay UK, dunnhumby and Leo Burnett/Publicis (Australia). Will is a regular blogger for MyCustomer.com on his blog Unlocking the Value of Human Behaviour.

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