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Rewiring Customer Insight to Generate Growth

Forward-looking companies are turning customer insight into a source of competitive advantage.

Companies today face rapid changes in both technology and consumer behavior. Mobile apps are generating large streams of data from online behavior patterns, social media, user reviews, geolocation data, and mobile payments. Shopping is now fully integrated into daily life, and millennials have far different shopping habits than older consumers do. Consumer demands for information, “newness,” and interactions with brands are increasing, as is the ability of brands and retailers to anticipate the needs of individual customers. As a result, sectors that once were predictable and stable—and could survive a more internal focus—have become more volatile and uncertain.

In this challenging environment, companies must rewire their customer insight (CI) capabilities and teams—and they know it. In a 2016 survey conducted by BCG's Center for Customer Insight (an update to the 2009 benchmark), respondents cited CI and business development as the top two capabilities they needed to foster.

The Four Stages of CI Development

. Those that succeed in elevating CI to a strategic position and source of competitive advantage do so only with the commitment of top executives.

CI functions at companies can move through four stages of maturity:

Service Provider

Business Contributor

Strategic Partner

Source of Competitive Advantage

Getting Started on Improving Customer Insight


  1. Conduct a diagnostic. Interview stakeholders and quantitatively benchmark against peers. Observe the "life” of an insight through the parts of the organization and processes in which it is identified, is amplified, gains influence, and has impact—or is dampened and dies out.
  2. Attend one or two creative workshops with the executive team. Apply practical creativity techniques to achieve shared self-awareness. Identify conditions of “magic points,” in which the CI function delivers on executives’ aspirations, and “tragic points,” in which CI falls short.
  3. Craft an action plan. Develop a strategy for changing executives’ individual and collective action.

Executive leadership must actively champion the consumer insight functions, particularly the anticipatory and forward-looking ones.

Christine Barton
Senior Partner & Managing Director

Companies whose CEOs and executives are not committed to a fundamentally different CI operating model should not undertake a CI transformation. For companies whose CEOs do support the transition, senior executives should be updated regularly on the progress with regular reports from a steering or strategy committee. They should create an activist project management structure that ensures functional transformation through transparency, a “single source of truth,” a focus on results instead of the completion of activities, accountability, accelerated decision-making, and interventions when change initiatives are off track.

The Introverted Corporation

How companies can renew their approach to capture customer insights and use them to create a long-term information advantage.

Featured Expert

Center for Customer Insight
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