Headlines: April 29th, 2010

Good customer insight provides a rich understanding of customers’ behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and desires. But councils need to sharpen up their act if they are going to use customer insight to cut costs and improve frontline services. This is the conclusion of a report from Communities and Local Government on the way customer insight was used in the Total Place pilot projects.

The report found evidence of unevenness in the use of customer insight approaches between the pilot projects. Management responsibility was generally at a junior level indicating a failure to recognise its strategic importance. It was used overwhelmingly as a tool to deliver service improvement, not necessarily efficiencies. There was no systematic analysis of groups of customers. A particularly worrying feature was a failure to share insights across organisations and between partners, with the result that managers had partial and often different views of the same end customers.

Although customer insight practitioners were enthusiastic about their work and committed to continuing it, they struggled to articulate to others the value of the approach in concrete terms.

Customer insights were gained through population models to quantify the different groups within a population and through surveys and focus groups to identify needs, attitudes and opinions.

Councils and their partners are urged to make better use of their understanding of customers by finding out more about their needs, intentions and behaviours. This would allow them to devise delivery plans from the perspective of the customer.

The report argues that customer-focused, cross-partner policy formation and service design should be adopted by all councils and their partners so that they can establish a consistent view of who their customers are, their wants, needs and service usage. Common categories should be developed so that data can be used across all partner organisations to give a common base for comparison, such as types of young people.