Bring Market Insights Out Of The Shadows

I recently had a discussion with my colleague Richard Evensen about how customer experience (CX) pros draw on the work done by market insights (MI) departments. Our conclusion: In most cases, they don’t. Instead, we often find CX teams doing their own research to understand and improve the experience. This represents a broader phenomenon that we call shadow MI — research commissioned or executed inside of a company without the approval or involvement of MI professionals.

Why do CX leaders rely on shadow MI rather than engage their MI departments for help? Based on our conversations with clients, it’s because MI departments are seen as:

  • Not fast enough. CX pros need quick and continuous feedback from customers in order to actively manage the experience. MI teams aren’t traditionally built to operate at that tempo, and many aren’t comfortable doing so.
  • Not focused on the experience itself. Naturally, CX leaders care most about customers’ interactions with their organizations, but MI teams often focus on other areas, like product development and marketing.
  • Not action-oriented. Due to the previous two points, CX pros often see MI as unable to drive action. In a recent discussion in our online customer experience community, one contributor said, “Customer experience feedback is more operational and immediate than market research.” This perspective leads many CX leaders to treat the two areas as fundamentally different.

Regardless of its causes, shadow MI introduces a number of risks for CX leaders and organizations in general, including:

  • Overtouched customers. When feedback efforts are disconnected, companies have a hard time managing when and how often they touch customers. The result: customer irritation.
  • Fragmented knowledge. Distributed research activities are hard to compile into a full understanding of customers, competitors, and markets. That’s a problem for CX leaders who want to “bring it all together.”
  • Misleading insights. Poorly selected or designed research techniques can lead firms to draw inaccurate or incomplete conclusions from customer data. While CX leaders tend to worry less about precision than their MI counterparts do, they nonetheless need appropriate levels of precision to make smart decisions.
  • Higher insight costs. Individually negotiated research efforts undermine potential volume discounts.

Shadow MI doesn’t just threaten CX leaders. Over time, lack of involvement in key business decisions will reduce MI’s perceived value and influence, just as the MI field is trying to reinvent itself as a key enabler of effective decision-making.  

CX leaders should take this opportunity to help bring MI out of the shadows. How? By inviting MI pros to provide input on existing customer feedback activities like VoC surveys, pull together other existing insights that will help put feedback in context, and develop recommendations for future studies or programs. The point is not to transfer “ownership” of customer insight. It’s to ensure that CX pros benefit from MI pros’ expertise while MI pros benefit from having knowledge of and influence over additional activities. The entire organization will ultimately benefit from having better insight.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and hear about your experiences.


Merging the two

I think the reasons listed here is a big part of why we merged the two functions in our business. I am responsible for customer insights, which includes feedback channels, customer rention, market research/insights, journey mapping, mystery shopping and driving improvements. The concentration of those functions has really helped raise the level of quality and speed for all the work involved.