Lauren Gibbons Paul’s article, in the September 2005 issue of CMO, The Resource for Marketing Executives, discusses the value of customer insight in making a major leap forward, providing the business with significant competitive advantage.
According to the author, companies are pressured by competition and globalization to better understand the different customer segments and to match their products and services to “unarticulated buyer desires.”
Paul quotes Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune professor of technology and director of the Center for Research and Innovation at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, defining the customer insight as “a fresh understanding about a customer that is not obvious to others,” with the potential to provide competitive advantage and differentiation. This, Paul says, can unlock additional revenue and enhance customer loyalty.
She says Sawhney points out that customer insights come from qualitative rather than quantitative data. She adds that although the analysis of customer databases can be valuable in validating customer insights, these are best captured through intelligent human observation of customers in their natural environment - watching them and listening to them.
As an example, Paul cites the Apple iPod which, she says, was a product of “poring over trend data and observing consumer behavior” and “seeing that a product combining a personal ‘bubble’ with portable digital music would serve an untapped need.”
Paul also refers to Martha Rogers, founding partner of the customer-focused consultancy, Peppers & Rogers Group, as saying that “customer insight isn’t just what you learn about the customer this minute. It’s what you remember about that customer and apply to future interactions.”
As a negative example, the author cites a hotel that may want to score by delivering a free newspaper to a guest’s room in the morning, but fails when it does not remember the guest’s preferred newspaper from previous experience.
Now what does this have to do with business communication? Well, data gathering and feedback are essential elements of business communication that could very well be used in capturing the qualitative data necessary to cull customer insights from. Company communicators will make excellent observers for this task.