Generating customer insights can be too slow

Synopsis of this post
Generating customer insights is still too formal, too slow
and built around an old fashioned model of decision making.  To get more growth, we must look for new entrepreneurial ways to understand the changing customer needs, so we can respond more quickly

Recently I was reading an interview with Gary Hamel on innovative management and the ways businesses need to adapt to a world that is shifting away from hierarchical control based organisations to a more interdependent network based style.  So instead of teams just following the orders of the boss and using the company’s own internal resources, we find self directed people and motivated teams proactively seeking opportunities that will benefit the business.  They do this using a mixture of internal resources and alliances with customers and suppliers.

This has become possible as businesses have moved from manufacturing products dependant on large scale capital and organised labour to creating value through ideas and services that are more thinking intensive and less dependant on these rigid manufacturing scale economies.  See this link for more discussion on this.

Our earlier discussion about the role of the internal entrepreneur highlighted how growth is often driven by a few committed individuals who have the vision to ensure their idea will succeed and are prepared to kick down the doors and constraints of the organisation to ensure the new product or service is launched.  These people seem to be in the vanguard of this change and are prepared to try out new ways of working to get things done.  These internal entrepreneurs know that they need to deploy the entrepreneurial drive of the smaller business but must harness the financial, brand and system resources of their company to get the idea off the ground.

But for some reason, the subject of asking customers what they think and what they want often seems stuck in the "old world" of formal decision making processes.  The discussions we have witnessed often suggest that it must be done using "proper" market research techniques. Or people feel it is essential to get external experts to ask customers what they think or you might not understand it correctly. 
This pushes "insight" into a protected box that cannot be accessed by everybody.  Whereas in the modern knowledge based economy, this insight needs to be gained, understood and acted on by everyone.
On the other hand internal entrepreneurs seem to appreciate the value of all types of customer feedback and are prepared to experiment with new faster, less formal and less expensive ways to find out what customers think.  They are willing to get out there and do it themselves.  They see the benefit of being in touch with the customer.

This is no different from the ways successful entrepreneuers operate.  They see the need to find out what customers think and do it all the time.  Anyone who has seen Stelios on an Easyjet flight or Richard Branson on a Virgin plane will know that they talk to the people on the plane.

Some specific things we have tried and seen other people try

  • Fast turnaround online survey tools using something like
  • Internal surveys to capture the organisations’ experience of customers
  • Spend time at your internal meetings gathering customer experiences  (encourages people to get some customer experience of their own if they know they are expected to contribute).
  • Creating your own panel that you can invite in to react to new ideas and give feedback.
  • Set up self managed product or concept testing in venues where the target market congregate e.g.  university canteens, gardening clubs, trade shows.
We are not saying that formal research is a bad thing.  Well structured quantification and professional qualitative digging for insight is very powerful.  It is just that there is a role for informal quick methods.  We believe that any form of getting closer to the customer and doing it more often is a good thing.
We would be delighted to hear about the experiences of any of our readers and clients on using less orthodox self managed research techniques.  Placing insight at the heart of decision making will stimulate growth orientated thinking.  Conflicting insights may create some chaos, but who said it was easy.