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The nine steps to best practice customer insight

16th Nov 2009
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Nigel Grimes lists the key components of best practice insight, from strategic alignment to integration. Is your organisation executing them all?

“What is essential is invisible to the eye” Antoine Saint-Exupery – The Little Prince
Have you ever found yourself at a party trying to explain what you do for a living? It was fairly easy until I moved into insight. Even people I worked with thought that it meant that my team should have a continuous flow of ‘eureka’ moments to make everything better – I’ve had a few in my time, but if only it were so simple. Some people might have come across some of the more formal definitions of insight, such as: "a deeply embedded set of knowledge to help structure thinking, planning and decision making"; "a penetrating discovery about what motivates human behaviour that can be used to drive growth"; "voyage of discovery"!
But how do I explain it to someone who has never come across the concept of insight in the first place? And does it really matter if they ‘get’ it or not? What does matter is that they understand what insight can do for them and their bottom line. We all strive for best practice and I’ve combined some feedback from a survey among blue chips with my experience across a range of industries to articulate what the key components of best practice insight are.
  1. Strategic alignment – insight goals and activities are aligned to corporate goals and objectives. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but I’ve uncovered a number of instances where companies keep repeating what they’ve done because they’ve always done it that way or because it’s intellectually stimulating for the ‘analytical’ types.
  2. Relevance and applicability – so much insight is ‘so what’ and even where it is actionable, the insights are not acted upon because there is lack of communication, process, accountability or follow up reviews to enforce the actions.
  3. Balance and purpose – what percentage of insight activity is supportive versus directional? A good yardstick is 70% supportive versus 30% directional and ground breaking, but I’ve walked into roles where it’s purely a support function doing management information and report after report.
  4. Timeliness – the greatest strength of insight is the ability to foresee the future and although often built from past behaviours, there is still too much research and analysis that is ‘just too late’ as opposed to predictive. And inexplicable amount of post-research is done to justify poor decision-making regarding advert or product launches that were never properly researched or, even better, tested, in the first place. Testing itself is a dying art and needs to be reintroduced as nothing is as predictive as testing in a live environment. The insights are often unexpected but always valuable and, within today’s online world, instantaneous.
  5. Customer strategy – customer, as opposed to brand or channel, strategy. It is often forgotten that revenue and profits come from customers, not the channel, product or brand itself. Therefore, knowing which customers currently and will going forward drive the profit is key and there has to be ownership, underpinned by insight.
  6. Customer at the heart of the business – the voice of the customer has to be recognised throughout. All employees and ideally business partners should have an idea of who the customers are and what they need, like and dislike. Hands up if your company features customer insight and customer profiles, etc. in its induction programme. Having an ongoing and engaging two way internal insight communications programme across the whole company that is tailored to the different audience’s and stakeholders’ needs sorts the very best from the others. The really customer–centric companies consider potential customer impact in every decision they make and have it as evaluation criteria on business case and project submissions - e.g. would reducing lunch breaks for staff have a motivational or energy impact on them and subsequently impact the customer’s experience?
  7. The insight portfolio should be designed to meet 70-80% of a company’s requirements - as a result it will minimise the time-consuming and sometimes expensive ad-hoc investigations/research. An insight plan must be introduced that foresees what may be required in advance and also ensure the tools you use allow you to dig beyond the prime purpose of the tool and generate as much incremental value as possible from your data. For example, tools now exist (e.g. from Cognicient) that allow you to integrate and aggregate all the research you have ever done. Not only does this allow you to have larger aggregated samples to delve into but it allows exploration that wasn’t available before.
  8. Moving from anonymous research to customer tagged survey data - the degree to which a company does this is another indicator of best practice, and also the extent to which it has integrated this with other customer data sets. For example, rather than knowing 20% of customers actually were, went where and why, it is now possible to capture this (via a small number of tools in the market e.g. Confirmit) at an individual customer level, then use it with numerous other behavioural data fields to target a very relevant win-back message as well as building improved churn and retention models and ‘reasons to stay’ propositions.
  9. Integration – combining research data, customer behaviour and market data (e.g. social media and competitive pricing and performance) and demonstrating relational links between them is what organisations should strive for so decisions are made with a 360 degree view.
In a nutshell, good practice insight can answer the ‘five Ws’ of Who, When, What, Where and Why, but best practice insight pulls them all together to give an essential view that is otherwise invisible to the eye.
One thing’s for sure, best practice insight gives companies a key competitive advantage in the marketplace – but leaves me at a disadvantage at parties...


Nigel Grimes is a marketing change agent with board and executive level experience across many industries who enables companies to become more customer and customer value focussed by building a vision and driving an implementation plan across all areas of the business. For further information on best practice insights and what tools and methodologies underpin it, Nigel can be contacted at [email protected]

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