Insight tools, data and techniques

Customer insight is as much about organisational culture and working practices as it is about specific data sets and new tools. However, there are a number of tools and techniques available to support your analysis.

Analytical techniques for understanding citizens and customers

The following techniques can help you pull together and present customer insight to show who your customers are, as well as their experiences and preferences.

Customer segmentation

Segmentation divides a target audience into groups by common characteristics and needs. Once groups have been differentiated, councils can target and tailor resources appropriately. Segmentation information is often combined with geographic information system (GIS) mapping to show where different customer groups live.

Customer insight guide to segmentation - on the Local Government Association (LGA) website.

Customer journey mapping

A customer journey map is a way to describe a customer's experiences through a life event, intervention or interaction with one or several services, and the emotional responses these provoke. Customer journey mapping can then be used to design service improvements that reflect the customer's experience.

Customer journey mapping resource - on the Cabinet Office website

Customer journey mapping: an introduction - PDF on the Cabinet Office website.

Market research methods for understanding customers

Using specific market research methods can help to generate information about your customers and citizens, how they experience services currently, and how they would prefer to receive them in the future.

Market research tools


Consultation, or directly asking citizens what they need, is a basic source of insight, and is often legally required. Neighbourhood charters and other local forums for agreeing priorities and delivery targets can serve as a way of understanding local preferences that goes beyond formal consultation. As with most tools, consultation is limited as it only reaches a small sample of the population. It needs to be combined with other sources of information to bring about true customer insight.

Connecting with Communities: communications toolkit

Focus groups

Focus groups or panels are a more qualitative form of consultation that brings together a small number of service users or citizens to examine a particular issue or understand detailed preferences. This can provide a rich source of information and examples to support data analysis.


Surveys are a form of consultation and are a useful way of understanding citizens' views in a quantitative way. The Place Survey will give you a starting point but you may want to undertake your own more targeted surveys to understand specific questions. Survey data can be an especially useful input into segmentation exercises - for example, to understand the relative satisfaction of different groups.

Community engagement - for more information on consultation techniques

Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping is an established private sector technique for gaining insight into the customer experience. Mystery shopping does, however, need to be carried out in a structured way to be effective.

How to consult your users - an introductory guide on the Cabinet Office website

Mystery shopping: are you being served? - more detailed guidance on the CityWest Homes website

Social media

Councils are increasingly using tools such as blogs or discussion forums and social networking sites like Facebook to supplement other forms of consultation and to engage with people who prefer to communicate online.

Index of social media tools and methods - on the People and Participation website, sponsored by Communities and Local Government, Ministry of Justice and the Sustainable Development Commission

Usability testing and website analysis

Assessing systems and websites from the customer's perspective can help identify where they are letting the customer down, even if they fulfil technical requirements. Website visitor statistics also provide a source of data about service use and channel preference that can be fed into insight analysis.

Internal sources and repositories of data

Councils and their partners often have large amounts of data already available. The challenge is to use this data to inform decisions.

Local information systems (LIS)

An LIS brings together data from various sources to form a repository of local information for use in policy and decision-making.

LIS community home page - on the esd communities website

Local Information Systems: A review of their role, characteristics and benefits - publication on the Communities and Local Government website

Frontline and customer service staff

Staff are a key source of information on the preferences and concerns of citizens and customers. Holding interviews and workshops with staff helps to capture their views and experiences.


Councillors engage with their communities on a daily basis. They therefore have insights into who lives in the area, their preferences, and where services are not meeting needs.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems

CRMs are an increasingly common source of information about customers and their contact with councils. The more services covered by the CRM system, the more powerful the data source can be. The challenge, however, is to avoid duplication of customer details.

IDeA e-Government briefing paper on CRM (PDF, 4 pages, 51KB)

Service area data

Individual service areas hold information and data about customers. This can include transaction records, which can be combined with other sources of data to gain a deeper understanding of service users.

External sources and data repositories

Data sets from government or private sector sources can provide good base information about a population. Combining these with internal customer intelligence helps form a rich understanding of a community. External data sources include:

  • People and places publication hub - information on population and demographics on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website
  • Externally purchased data, such as MOSAIC or ACORN. This can provide detailed population information to inform segmentation.
  • Places Community - a collection of national and local data sets on the Communities and Local Government website
  • Output Area Classification (OAC) - is another source of external data that can be viewed on the OAC website.


29 January 2015

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