Optimizing Customer Intelligence Processes

Sep 05, 2012 4:29pm
Posted by: Frank Capek

Companies that are able to sustain growth continually define and refine their market offerings and value proposition in response to changing customer expectations and behavior.

As part of a research program sponsored by The Concours Group, members of the Customer Innovations team, in collaboration with Thomas Davenport, Distinguished Professor in Management and Information Technology at Babson College and the author of “Competing on Analytics” and “Analytics at Work” and Nancy Koehn, who holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, explored how companies gather, use, and transform customer data and insights into actionable customer intelligence.

This document summarizes several of the key findings and recommendations from that research.   These findings and recommendations are described in more detail in a white paper titled, “Optimizing Customer Intelligence Processes.”


Summary of Research Findings

Not surprisingly, the most effective customer intelligence activities are directly linked to business performance, particularly revenue growth and profitability. Although customer intelligence is necessary to act in a customer-centric manner, it is not sufficient unless it is used to apply answers to the right questions. 

High value customer intelligence requires balance and integration among three processes:

  1. Demand is leadership and strategic alignment around customer intelligence priorities.  What do we need to know in order to make effective decisions?  How will this information be used?  What questions or problems will it help us solve?  Who needs the information?
  2. Supply is essentially how customer intelligence is done.  How do we gather the data and insight we need?  What are the reporting and analytical processes?
  3. Application is the business change and value realization that result from the customer intelligence analysis.  What do we do differently as a result of this information?  What type of value can we achieve from using this information and the resulting actions?
Unfortunately, most organization's customer intelligence activities and investments are significantly out of balance.   Traditionally, customer intelligence activities are driven by those who own or gather the information, the technology and the analytical process (i.e., the supply-side), but the value of the activity may be constrained because the focus is on supply as opposed to clarifying demand and ensuring that effective action is taken as a result of the insights.

The most valuable customer intelligence requires the integration of quantitative and qualitative information. The most complete and actionable picture of the customer comes from a combination of transaction-driven data and human-derived insights, which can only come from being in rich dialogue with customers.


Summary of Key Recommendations

The following points summarize the recommendations from our research.  These recommendations are described in more detail in the "Optimizing Customer Intelligence Processes" white paper.

Assess the maturity of individual customer intelligence processes, and develop a strategy for improving the performance and value of customer intelligence.In general, the most effective customer intelligence approaches focus on demand (pull) and application more than supply (push).

Educate senior leaders. Senior business executives can cross functional and political boundaries, promote the sharing and reuse of information, and act as advocates for customer intelligence. Therefore, its not surprising the first step in improving the demand process involves educating senior leaders.

Ensure intelligence activities are driven by well-defined business needs. Providing well-defined objectives of an intelligence activity includes identifying the key questions that must be answered in order to make a specific set of business decisions, and understanding how these answers will be applied to create value for the business.

Create a breakdown. Move beyond the “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality by adopting an “If it ain’t broken, break it” approach. In other words, find a way to create a breakdown that will shake the company out of what might be a comfortable disconnect with market and customer changes.

Leverage intelligence wins to stimulate demand. Nothing succeeds like success. Some of the companies we investigated started doing customer intelligence in a very specific way, focusing on a particular pressing question or urgent need. Performing well and creating value on that small issue created a platform to discuss the expansion of systematic customer intelligence to other areas.

Integrate qualitative and quantitative intelligence. Most companies we studied had a natural bias towards either qualitative intelligence or quantitative intelligence. Some companies seem to know their customers exceptionally well while conducting little or no formal research. Maximizing the value of customer intelligence requires a balance and integration of qualitative and quantitative understanding.

Manage customer intelligence activities as a portfolio. The customer intelligence processes may include several (or many) specific customer-related activities. Each activity can potentially reflect different intents, content, and outcomes. The challenge is in managing these different activities in a portfolio to leverage common processes and resources across the company.


Customer Innovations Can Help

These findings and recommendations are described in more detail in a white paper titled, “Optimizing Customer Intelligence Processes.”  If you need additional help improving the impact of your organization’s customer intelligence investments, please let us know.  Contact us at:  info@customerinnovations.com

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