The True Role of Insight Teams in Customer-Led Transformation

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The role of an insight team is shifting. Historically, those who worked in market research were there to question customers and consumers on their experiences, take the data to businesses and that was that. Then, it evolved to sorting through the data, analysing it to generate key insights, organise a debrief in which they would present a report to stakeholders, and that was that.


The common factor of these two historical roles was that there was an end involved in the research process, where insight teams would back off and start a new conversation with new stakeholders on a new piece of research. But with new technology, methodology and changing business practices, the role of insight experts is shifting to focus more on the communication of insights rather than a data generator. Insight teams are now more like strategic insight partners, or shepherds of insight, ready to guide stakeholders in their decision-making processes with high-quality insights. There is no ‘end’ to the research process, only continual conversations on how the insights can be used.

With insight teams taking this new role in stride, they are facing some significant challenges; even as stakeholders claim to be ‘strategic insight partners’ and use insights to lead their businesses to success. Getting stakeholders to pay attention to insights is becoming easier as they slowly acknowledge the power of those insights, however, getting stakeholders to act on them and attain a working level of customer salience continues to hinder businesses’ attempts to be anywhere close to customer salient.

So, for those insight experts who need a bit of help on their path to persuading stakeholders to become more customer-led, let’s look at a business case for customer-led transformation.

The Case for Customer-Led Transformation

As the world changes, so do customers, and so too should businesses. PwC put it quite succinctly, in that “customers have changed. They work and consume in new and different ways. They have less to spend and demand sustainability, security and a brand they can trust to behave responsibly”.

This desire from customers is nothing so new as to be a surprise, yet it is still a concept that most large organisations industries find hard to act on, opting to keep on with ‘business as usual’ simply because it would require major costly change to current business operations and processes. Those businesses who embrace customer-led transformation will benefit from higher profitability after carving out more of the market for their own, better customer experiences, more engaged staff and operational teams, and a future at the forefront of their industry.

As it is, building business strategies is a tricky task; building future-proofed business strategies in line with the changes in customer behaviour, where operations are more sustainable and transparent, is trickier still when you don’t know how. Doing this successfully requires one thing: customer insight. And that is where insight teams come in.

How Insight Teams Fit into This

Insight teams hold the answers, not just to what customers are thinking and doing at this moment in time, but also to how stakeholders can use these insights to guide organisational changes and business strategies to best fit in this new world. In an episode of the MRX Lab podcast, host Chris Martin explores how insight teams can aid customer-led transformation with Customer Insight Consultant and industry leader, Debra Walmsley.

Debra has significant experience in turning insight from a routine, mundane process into a driver of transformative change and competitive advantage for businesses; she is often consulting with both insight teams and stakeholders to navigate these murky waters and aid in developing insight into a much-needed and relied-upon resource in businesses.

To prove their worth in a business where this worth is constantly being questioned by those in charge, insight teams need to do more than show that they can generate the right insights. Insight teams need to support business in their transformation efforts, but also in their daily operations.

To start this journey, Debra recommends thoroughly understanding the current business strategies and goals in play, figuring out the resources that are needed to attain them, and then filling in the gaps with customer insights. That will start to prove to any sceptical stakeholders that insights are the key to competitive advantage, that insight teams are the key to successful customer-led transformation, and that this type of transformation is the way forward for their organisation.

This shift from insight generators to business partners and key advisors in a company will be the driving force behind change. So how do we do this? Insight experts need to understand stakeholders’ historical experience with market research and insights, and use this to help position themselves into the what is essentially their stakeholders’ strategic advisor. This is the position the insight industry has been fighting to take hold of for decades now, so what is changing to let us finally take this place? Two things: firstly, the role of insight experts has changed enough so that we can now position ourselves as advisors – as stated in the introduction to this article. And secondly, stakeholders are starting to understand the power of insights and their need for those insights in daily decision-making processes.

They are starting to grasp that predictive customer behaviours and insights has the potential to guide organisations to a better place to take advantage of future opportunities. But with this shift, comes a new set of skills that insight teams sorely need. Technical data analytical skills are still required as much as they have been so that we can truly make sense of the insights we present to stakeholders, but we also need more business skills like commercial acumen, natural curiosity, creative storytelling, critical thinking and the ability to communicate in language of business.

In the podcast episode, Debra discusses this in detail, saying that “as researchers we can often be idealistic… we really have to get close to stakeholders and understand what’s troubling them, what’s their drivers to actions.” There is a reason that stakeholders aren’t actioning the insights as much as they should be; either the stakeholders are not engaged, we’re not communicating insights in the right way, or it’s difficult to understand how they need to action insights and we need to break it down into smaller actions for ease.

Future-Proofing Customer Salience

Becoming customer-led requires a continuous level of Customer Salience throughout an organisation. So, if this customer-led transformation starts at the top table, the c-suite or senior management, and no where else, this is the next step to future-proofing business strategies and the role of the insight team. Reaching out to more stakeholders at every level is the key to embedding customer salience in businesses and driving customer-led change.