Customer insight might seem like the latest buzz phrase. Corporate life has a talent for jargonizing fundamentals as though the notion that you might want to understand your customer is a new thought, created by the questing pioneers of business thinking. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. You don’t often get a chance to quote Gandhi in a business context but, as he rightly put it: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
What has given customer insight new impetus, however, is the triumph of data and the discipline of the metric. We can see, we can know, we can measure and from that we can understand. Companies can now develop ecosystems which give them invaluable insights into the lives, attitudes and behaviour of customers and from that the products and services they are likely to need and the terms on which they would like them to be provided. And they can keep up too with changes in those attitudes, lives and behaviours.
For companies, customer insight should help guide decision making, from well informed marketing decisions, enhancing the customer journey or smart product development around customer needs, the question of insight should always be on the agenda. To implement customer insight takes investment and leadership from the board, a champion to bring together knowledge and functions, working towards agreed objectives set out in a strategic insight plan.
So how about a jargon-free definition for what should really be a jargon-free principle? Helen Edwards - columnist for Marketing Magazine defines customer insight as: "A revelatory breakthrough in our understanding of people’s lives that directs us to new ways in which to serve our customers better. ” by “revelatory” she means that moment when we say “oh yes - now I understand!!” A further definition offered by Laughlin Consultancy is “A non-obvious understanding about our customers, which if acted upon, has the potential to change their behaviour for mutual benefit.” Both of which head in the right direction without ever hitting the bulls eye, nor vaulting the jargon-free bar.
So my alternative:“A customer insight, or consumer insight, is an interpretation of trends in human behaviour aiming to increase effectiveness of a product or service for the consumer, as well as increase sales for mutual benefit. ”Mutual benefit, behaviour, understanding. The common threads which can be woven together to understand why customer insight is developing. The reasons for the development of insight are manifold. They lie in ‘the trust deficit’ which has tainted big business for years but was accelerated by the financial crisis. They sprout in the notional austerity that followed it. They come from a world occupied by an increasingly savvy consumer with the means to express views and unite sentiment around them, very far and very fast. They smoulder in the remains of businesses which have favoured the quick buck over the long-term investment in relationships and now lie by the roadside. They lay at the feet of disruptive technology which has set about old models and brand loyalties and sent them to the canvas. And, as previously mentioned, companies are increasingly able to draw on resource which helps them respond more intelligently to these developments. Addressing customer anxiety, moving to customer delight is, as discussed, mutual in its benefit. Making a customer should always trump making a sale. Confident customers are returning customers. Repeat business is good business. Customer insight on the board agenda is now becoming common place and can significantly help steer the future of organisations.