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March 3, 2015

Customer Insight: 4 Ways to Sway C-Suite

Summary:

To start with, DON'T try to raise your own agenda topics, based on current work from the customer insight team. Fit into their agenda.

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As more and more customer insight leaders rise in influence within blue chip companies, it seems timely to consider this question: How can they use their insights to influence senior management?

My last search on LinkedIn turned up nearly 50 customer insight directors (CIDs) in the UK (excluding research agencies, where this job title does not have the same seniority) and more than 700 of their American cousins, chief knowledge officers (CKOs), in the U.S. Whether or not you have risen to the seniority of being called a CID, you are, I hope, finding that your executives want to hear from you. So, when you get that call or regular appointment at the top table, what should you do?

Here are four tips I learned through getting it wrong to start with:

Find out what is on their agenda. To start with, don’t try to raise your own agenda topics, based on current work from the customer insight team. Instead, find out what is on their agenda. Bringing extra insight to one of their current dilemmas, a customer perspective that can be acted upon, will increase your influence. This is akin to Stephen Covey’s classic advice to focus on your circle of influence, not your circle of concern.

Bring a regular customer update. Being the voice of the customer at the top table is almost a moral responsibility for any organization’s customer insight leader. However, it’s important to focus on where you can add value to what they know already. I found one approach was to take responsibility for the existing customer metric that they track (whether that be net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSat) or customer effort score (CES)) and then enhance that program to bring a more granular understanding, which enables follow-up actions and evidence of impact. For example, additional questions captured in line with your learning of top concerns from qualitative research, plus analytics about what happens when the experience is changed. If your data and controls are sufficient, you may even be able to evidence retention rate impact from customer experience improvements and, as a result, provide direct financial benefit.

Bring a regular commercial update. While not as expected from customer insight teams, an update on the performance of our targeted leads, direct marketing, etc. helped changed the perception of customer insight to being a commercial team. This was further improved by taking responsibility for measuring marketing effectiveness (with a combination of econometrics and other methods) and by sharing commercial targets. Once the top team realize how much of top line performance and retention impact is actually driven by targeting and insight-led media mix, the demand for updates on these parts of balanced scorecard increases, as does the team’s reputation.

Update jointly with marketing and operations. Most of the CEOs I have known over the years are looking to see the kind of behaviors from their leadership population that give them confidence in their leadership pipeline. One of these is the ability to take a cross-functional view, to not just be concerned with achieving your targets or the reputation of your function, but looking to the good of the whole organization. Updating jointly with marketing and operations and allowing them to take some of your glory is a way to demonstrate this. It focuses, rightly, on what you do with insight and shows your collaborative approach. I recommend taking this risk.

I hope that helps. What have you found helps you have most impact at your top table and get those big business decisions to be increasingly led by customer insight?

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About the Author

Paul Laughlin is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, which helps companies generate sustainable value from their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improving customer retention and demonstrating to regulators that they treat customers fairly.

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