Customer Insight Director used to be a title that you would find in research agencies, often the senior sales role. However in the UK this role has begun to appear on the “client side” across a number of sectors, including companies as diverse as Lloyds, eBay, RSA and John Lewis. American readers may also recognise Chief Knowledge Officer.

But this change is not just about a name, such roles are beginning to appear at more
senior levels in some of our biggest companies. Why?! I suggest at least three drivers for this change:

Competition: The well trailed greater consumer empowerment, through online reviews
social media and greater ease of switching in most markets.

Regulation: Increased powers & scrutiny, for example the role of the Financial
Conduct Authority, requiring firms to demonstrate suitability of products for customer needs, as well as considering how people make decisions.

Fad: As ever there will also be companies taking this route because of the desire to emulate Amazon, or CEOs just thinking they need a “big data strategy”.

Whatever the reason for these new Customer Insight (CI) leader roles in each company, their success will surely be linked to delivering insights that make money. Over 12 years with such a challenge, I’ve found two things are crucial, including all the potential sources of insight and converging their evidence effectively.

The first of those challenges is often influenced by the organisation’s definition of customer insight. Progressive CI directors have seen the benefit of integrating customer data management, analysis, modelling, research and database marketing. This gives ownership of the value chain all the way from raw data to action.

Encouragingly, over recent years I have seen more and more firms expand their
definition of customer insight and structures in this way. A poll is still running on, tracking both definitions & responsibilities for today’s CI leaders.

The second crucial challenge I mentioned was successfully converging the evidence
from these different disciplines. This is often called “insight generation” and is more routinely practiced by FMCG firms or marketing agencies. Converging data, analysis and research evidence to uncover deeper motives, it can be very powerful in designing propositions that really resonate with consumers.

However, in different companies I have seen the customer data team be viewed as the
“cinderella service” amongst these other parts. Data roles viewed only as a stepping
stone towards roles within the “sexier” teams (analysis, modelling, database marketing).

This is concerning. Data expertise is more valuable than ever now, with the demands on other teams to access a wider set of data with both quality and relevance, faster than ever. Consider the “big data” challenge of learning from wider sources, plus the speed of reaction needed for complaints, low NPS or incomplete transactions.

Such flexibility & speed of data provision has already outstripped what can be provided by most internal IT departments. This often drove the creation of business-side customer data teams in the first place.

Even more important is the need to ensure compliance with regulation and internal data policies. Whether it is the latest guidance from the ICO, adherence to the DPA or internal data retention policy, an internal team who understand your customer data and ensure it is used compliantly is arguably more important now than ever.

For all these reasons then, I would urge new senior CI leaders to remember and valuetheir data teams. Appropriate use of data is still key to their new found power, especially during the limited time they will have to prove customer insight delivers measurable value.

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