Observe, Interact, Listen and Learn

With so much effort now being expended by companies to collect electronic based demographic, customer transaction and usage data, it becomes all too easy to neglect one of the most valuable sources of insight - people. Electronic intelligence may record a choice, but it doesn't provide us with any understanding as to why a person made a specific choice. For this precise reason the human element will always remain as one of the key sources for strategic insight.

These human measures can be separated into passive and active methods.

Passive human intelligence (Observation):

Are you inputting key verbal and notable customer comments into your integrated business intelligence database (assuming that you even have one)? How about your retail attendants? Are they tracking the products that people are showing a greater interest in and those that are being ignored? Why record standard sales data alone when such subtle indicators can provide you with further information as to what changes might be beneficial. These are just a small number of examples in how passive human intelligence can be gathered and utilised. Any organisation that interacts with potentials clients/customers can benefit from this approach.

Active human intelligence (Interaction):

Actions, such as speaking with interested parties and asking questions, are where the greatest potential benefits can be acquired. This also draws out nuances which electronic gathering seldom succeeds at. Such active human intelligence actions also send an important and valuable message: that you value listening to customer feedback in order to better improve your products and services. In addition, as opposed to other electronic information gathering activities which customers may often be uncomfortable with, this is an explicit and open method of information sharing. With the growing electronic monitoring of customer data, a backlash may be forthcoming in this area, so businesses would be wise to to invest in more open information collection methods. Also if importance is to question whether sufficient attention has been given to the design of your retail presence to facilitate such interaction.

Taking these measures into account, it's critical to recognise that personnel traditionally not considered as guiding strategic vision, can be highly valuable sources for situational awareness. Take Indetex for example, the owner of the successful Zara brand. In an unorthodox approach, they use in-store human intelligence from shop managers and employees to influence design and manufacturing activities.

They also monitor customers? reactions, on the basis of what they buy and don?t buy, and what they say to a sales clerk: ?I like this scooped collar? or ?I hate zippers at the ankles.? Inditex says its sales staff is trained to draw out these sorts of comments from their customers. Every day, store managers report this information to headquarters, where it is then transmitted to a vast team of in-house designers, who quickly develop new designs and send them to factories to be turned into clothes.[acp footnote]Suzy Hansen. (2012). How Zara Grew Into the World?s Largest Fashion Retailer. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/magazine/how-zara-grew-into-the-worlds-largest-fashion-retailer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&. Last accessed 3rd Dec 2012.[/acp]

Few if any other companies either take the time to train their personnel to adopt such an approach and to develop sophisticated human intelligence management and strategic guidance capabilities. Instead such personnel are viewed and wasted within the limits of their traditional customer assistance roles.

We must recognise that the human element can be one of the most valuable yet neglected areas of marketing intelligence. In this way traditionally non-marketing intelligence related personnel become the eyes and ears of the company, relaying valuable insights through customer and environmental interaction, that if effectively used can guide a far more intelligent corporate strategy.

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Photo: Melvin Gaal

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