What is customer or citizen insight?

The following terms are often used interchangeably, which can be confusing: 'customer intelligence', 'customer insight', 'citizen insight', 'customer focus', 'customer-centric'.

The term ‘customer insight' was first used in the private sector to describe firms' understanding of people's emotional 'gut reactions' to commercial products. This meaning has less relevance for the public sector. A common definition of 'customer insight' in government guidance relates to:

"A deep ‘truth' about the customer based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs or desires, that is relevant to the task or issue and 'rings bells' with target people" - source: Government Communication Network Engage.

Customer or citizen?

Customer insight is a well-established term in both public and private sectors. But the emphasis on 'customer' alone does not reflect:

  • a council's role as community leader
  • partnership working
  • the role active citizens play in engaged and empowered communities.

In the wider scope of public service, councils and their partners need to understand both their customers and their citizens.

In reality, customer and citizen insight are linked and the tools and techniques for both are broadly the same. Without an understanding of the wider community, councils may miss the needs of potential users or deliverers of services.

What is it about?

In practical terms, customer insight entails:

  • the use of data about customers to better understand their needs and expectations
  • the application of this understanding in the design and delivery of services.

Insight is not just about:

  • collecting or purchasing data - data often exists already and only needs synthesising into useful forms
  • undertaking demographic segmentation - it takes a broader range of data, tools and techniques to generate a rich understanding of the customer
  • a one-off activity - it is an ongoing journey.

Effective use of insight can help you:

  • deliver efficient and effective tailored services
  • target resources according to priorities
  • develop responsive services that encourage and reflect citizen engagement
  • enhance customer service and improve satisfaction
  • demonstrate an understanding of your community in comprehensive area assessment (CAA).

Insight should also inform strategic-level planning and decision making, community engagement and improvement.

30 September 2009

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