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The Difference between Customer Intelligence, Data, and Insights

Written by Alida

Published December 13, 2018

It used to be that traditional methods of market research, typically slow and costly, were the only ways customers could help companies better understand them. The market research department was often isolated from the rest of the business and the speed they operated at rarely gave them momentum to deliver actionable insight.

Read now: The definitive guide to customer centricity

It’s now everyone’s job to understand the customers as businesses strive to be customer-centric organizations. Collecting and analyzing customer information are done in several business areas, but does everyone understand the nuances between customer intelligence, customer data and customer insight?

Customer Data

Data is the raw material of information about customers. It can be biographical information like age and education level, a single response to a survey question or a discrete record of a single purchase.

Data is essential but on its own largely useless – it’s backward-looking and can’t predict how customers will behave. Context gives data meaning.

For example, the fact that a customer bought your product twice this month is uninteresting by itself. The fact that a customer bought your product twice this month but only once last month is more interesting. The fact that a 30-year-old customer with a master’s degree bought your product once last month and twice this month is more interesting still, and so on.

The more data you can contextualize, the more your data can deliver intelligence.

Customer Intelligence

Intelligence is the holistic and flexible understanding of customers that comes from gathering, contextualizing and analyzing data. Intelligence is data studied and scrutinized to produce actionable insight. Customer intelligence means placing information into context, so we learn that our 30-year-old grad-school-educated customer has recently moved into the neighborhood and has a young family.

To gather customer intelligence, you need to draw on data from multiple sources and analyze it at the speed of business, in real-time. This intelligence tells decision makers “who”, “what”, “when” and “where”. 

Customer Insight

Insight is the deep understanding of customers that comes from gathering, analyzing and synthesizing customer intelligence. Insight goes beyond the “who”, “what”, “when” and “where” to tell us “why” customers behave as they do, guiding better business decisions and delivering results.

Arriving at insight means learning that our well-educated 30-year-old customer with a young family is buying your brand of diapers because the family includes a baby. We learn that the family is also occasionally buying a competitor’s diapers because they’re cheaper and the family is on a tight budget after moving into a new house. Perhaps we decide to build loyalty between this customer and our brand by offering coupons for our diapers to lower their cost and help the family through a financially difficult time.

Customer insight takes your intelligence, made up of data you’ve collected from various sources, and delivers actionable insight guiding towards opportunities you may have otherwise not been aware of. It’s the crucial element needed to be a customer-centric business.

Understanding these differences is only part of the challenge of surviving in the era of the empowered customer. Check out our guide and learn how you can help elevate your business to a new level of customer-centricity.