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How to use insight communities to bridge internal silos

Article ID:
April 2013
Gavin Winter

Article Abstract

Many research departments are data-rich and insights-poor. This article discusses how online insight communities are different from MROCs and market access panels and can benefit customer experience professionals.

Editor's note: Gavin Winter is senior vice president, customer experience, at Vision Critical, a Vancouver, B.C., research company. He can be reached at This article appeared in the April 8, 2013, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter. 

Many factors continue to frustrate customer experience (CX) professionals' efforts in delivering meaningful change to their businesses. Some reasons relate to organizational alignment while others relate to the tools of the trade. The latter are, to a great extent, the product of the former (i.e., siloed thinking begets siloed solutions) and overreliance on technologies that accelerate and amplify the voice of the customer risk instilling a false sense of security that data alone - even when there's lots of it - empowers and naturally leads to better decisions and solutions.

The customer experience system isn't broken per se - it's evolving in many useful and necessary directions - but there are some material gaps that urgently need filling or we run the risk of being data-rich and insights-poor.

What typically happens 

Let's look at what typically happens when companies' feedback data identifies a touchpoint or customer journey that needs fixing, either systemically or locally. Companies do one or a combination of a few things:

  • absolutely nothing (not good!);
  • deploy focus groups to figure out what to do (can be slow and costly;
  • conduct an ad hoc custom quantitative diagnostic study (scope limited by current understanding of experience);
  • talk to internal stakeholders to determine how to improve (useful but lacking necessary customer validation).

These approaches are largely driven by lead time, buy-in, costs and resources - all of which are barriers to exploring solutions that could potentially improve the situation. The CX research process often takes place in vacuum, rendering it void of usable customer insights.

A better way 

But there's a better way. The technologies necessary to improve the lives of CX professionals and increase ROI by bridging silos, facilitating alignment and informing better decisions are already available.

What's been largely absent is the vision to reach across the space that frequently separates those responsible for creating the brand promise (marketing) and those who deliver it (operations and CX professionals). So what if we were to take consumer insights techniques, which have been so successful for the former, and redirect their focus to infuse understanding into the customer feedback mechanisms deployed by the latter? Answer: Companies will achieve the ideal insights-and-feedback combo to elevate their customer ecosystem.

Attaining this desirable combo

I would suggest that online insight communities hold the key to attaining this desirable combo. Online insight communities have transformed the speed and quality of insights that companies use to inform their decision-making around brand, product and communications and are poised to enlighten our understanding of customer experiences. To benefit, companies must create a community (or possibly leverage an existing one) with the specific intent of addressing customer experience issues.

Online insight communities provide an essential complement to CX, regardless of the scope of a company's customer measurement and feedback processes and irrespective of where they are in that particular journey. Online insight communities build on the advances made in enterprise feedback management systems and enhance their effectiveness by providing instant access to a pool of customers who can simultaneously play off of the continuous feedback such systems provide. However, some companies may still receive ample CX feedback to make insight communities work for them without needing an enterprise system. These companies may need a more incisive vehicle to drill down and diagnose issues.  

Access target groups

In the online world, insight communities are not alone - think of marketing research online communities (MROCs) and market access panels. MROCs are usually quite small, with members numbering in the hundreds. They are branded and used primarily for qualitative purposes. Market access panels, on the other hand, are unbranded and huge, with participants numbering in the hundreds of thousands. They are used for quantitative research but do not achieve the level of respondent engagement of MROCs. Market access panels enable clients to access target groups of the general population for specific quantitative exercises and are also a recruitment ground for smaller, MROC-style activities, such as online forums or offline focus groups.

Online insight communities occupy the proverbial sweet spot. They often include thousands or tens of thousands of members who are well-profiled so that researchers can invite a specific cohort (based on suitability and profile) to participate in qualitative or quantitative exercises and then validate the findings within the wider community. Insight communities are unique in that they establish a relationship by blending a stimulating, branded environment where empaneled customers (members) are made to feel like insiders and in return become a readily-accessible legion of helpers.

Engagement is the key and insight communities' branded, rich-media environment provides various opportunities to deliver concepts, test ideas and create collaborative conversations with members. These high-engagement activities encourage respondents to participate. Two-way communication is crucial in establishing and maintaining interest and participation (i.e., community health).

Reconcile the disconnect

Insight communities are also designed to reconcile the disconnect between the need for brevity in mobile communications with the hunger for better-quality detail. Whether to talk to customers via their mobile devices is no longer the issue, as it is an essential part of the engagement process. The issue is how to make that dialogue meaningful and informative while also keeping it manageable in terms of the depth and scope of conversation. 

Many companies (not all) shunned the practice of long, tedious, process-oriented surveys some time ago but in doing so, they frequently bemoan the loss of granularity of feedback (whether this was quality feedback or not) to help direct their priorities. 

Insight communities aim to provide immediacy and granularity by deconstructing the experience into more manageable chunks, like snapshots, that can be delivered via mobile and then stitched together to create a longitudinal view.

Beyond the traditional

Overall, online insight communities offer benefits to businesses and organizations beyond the traditional approaches to CX research, including:

  • targeted qualitative and quantitative customer insights;
  • results in a matter of days;
  • robust results based on valid samples;
  • a cost-effective alternative to custom research; and
  • the ability to provide longitudinal insights to track impact of interventions.

An integrated voice of the customer

When companies share assets, insights and understanding across their organizations they achieve an integrated voice of the customer that connects acquisition and retention strategies. Online insight communities are an essential binding agent that bring otherwise-disparate stakeholders together to think and act as one. Because they are infinitely flexible and extendible, online insight communities work at both a strategic and tactical level, suited to a range of discrete and combined needs.

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