Introduction to customer insights

What are customer insights?

Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In the early 1900s, customers knew they wanted something safer, cleaner, sturdier—and of course, faster—than their horse-drawn carriages. These were customers’ unmet needs but, if asked directly, customers could not possibly have envisioned a completely new invention, the car. Instead, they may have suggested that Ford breed stronger, faster horses. By understanding customers’ underlying needs, Ford gained real customer insights and provided not a better horse, but the Model T.

Customer Inisghts

Customer Insights led to the development of the Model T

Customer insight has been defined as “a deep truth about the customer, based  on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, and underlying needs or desires” Customer Insights transcends market research and analysis, although they are core tools in its delivery, and focusses on the true meaning and value customers are really looking for – whether they can articulate it or not.

So customer insight is more than just raw data or research. It’s a multi-dimensional view of customers derived from a strategic analysis of a  variety of qualitative and quantitative data. We use information that businesses collect about their customers, including: demographic data, surveys  and consultation, actual operational data, front line staff feedback, formal and  informal correspondence and customer feedback to draw out the true issues, attitudes, and motivations. Customer insight has been described and defined in many ways from ‘Gaining Perspective’, ‘Finding the naked truth’ to ‘the ability to perceive clearly or deeply about customers wants, needs or desires’  In the charity world gaining this clarity of insight leans strongly on understanding the psychology of giving which lets us as marketers design appropriate propositions and products that tap into the real underlying drivers of support.

I hope to revisit the subject of customer or supporter insight in future posts, there are so many interesting areas of debate. What is the insight generation process?, How do you integrate operational analysis with market research to gain insight?, what skills does your team need to truly act upon any insights.


March 2013


Shaun Williams

I am Head of Data & Insight for a major UK Charity having worked in the non-profit sector for nearly twenty years. I have a real interest in marketing strategy, innovation, data analysis, customer insight, and behavioural science.

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