customer intelligence (CI)

What is customer intelligence?

Customer intelligence (CI) is the process of gathering and analyzing information derived from customer data that an organization collects from both internal and external sources. The purpose of CI is to understand customer motivations better in order to drive future growth and improve the customer journey.

Internal customer data can be generated by any customer interaction and is typically stored in corporate databases, call center systems and sales systems. Data external to the organization can be gathered from many different sources. Sales and marketing teams in a variety of industries -- such as banking, retail, telecommunications and consumer goods -- work with this data.

External data typically falls into one of three categories:

  • Personal demographics. This includes data such as age, income level, debt level, educational profile and marital status. Such data might be analyzed to explore buying patterns of people in specific income brackets, changes in sales as people age, or sales comparisons of homeowners and renters.
  • Geographic demographics. This includes data aggregated from specific locations. Such data might be analyzed to explore buying patterns in rural areas, for example, or areas where most residents are young professionals.
  • Attitudinal data. This includes information about how a customer -- or potential customer -- perceives a company. This type of data might be gathered from surveys, focus groups, contact centers or even customer comments about a product or service on Twitter.

How does customer intelligence gather data?

CI plays an integral role in customer relationship management (CRM), which is a business process used to manage an organization's interaction with current and prospective customers. It can also be used by service organizations to manage internal customer information and interactions and to provide a single point of access to customer information. The application of business analytics to customer data is sometimes called customer data mining.

The following CRM systems can be used to collect CI data:

  • Contact center. These platforms help companies not only interact with customers, but also extract useful data from their customer relationships. That data is used to engage with customers, cultivate loyalty and improve customer experience. The data helps build a better marketing picture of customers and prospects. In addition, the contact center can use the information to solicit feedback from customers after a call has ended, such as by sending a customer survey.
  • Mobile CRM. This uses mobile devices to manage customer relationships. As consumers increasingly shift their attention from desktop computers to their smartphones and tablets, businesses seeking to reach these consumers are adjusting their CRM strategies accordingly. For example, they must ensure the mobile versions of their websites are optimized for touchscreens and that customers can easily find and download their apps.
  • Business-to-business practices. CRM systems are used extensively by business-to-business organizations to track customer interactions and help improve efficiency in both marketing and sales. This enables businesses to monitor sales as they move through the sales funnel. A CRM system will reveal at which stage leads are failing, as well as which accounts and contacts are affected, enabling organizations to make changes to their strategy. These tools enable companies to gain more visibility into sales prospects, helping them to better coordinate their efforts to ensure they are marketing and selling to the right leads at the right time.
  • Social CRM. This uses a social media strategy to build, manage and maintain customer relationships. The objective is to nurture and grow customer relationships in a way that considers the need to understand and respond to customer feedback and social media activity. Social CRM is also a way to build brand loyalty by establishing a relatable online presence and encouraging deeper engagement with customers.
How businesses and customers interact with social CRM
Social CRM uses social media to build, manage and maintain customer relationships.

What type of data goes into customer intelligence?

CI data can be collected from the following sources:

  • Speech analytics. This is the process of collecting and examining voice recordings to understand customer sentiment and behavior. This is done by examining the acoustic features of the sound and discerning the words from the sound or by using speech-to-text software to identify keywords and phrases. For example, call center recordings can be analyzed to determine which agents are the most effective or how customers feel about a particular product or service.
  • Click tracking. This method can be used to feed information about a website's visitors. These data sources can be used to produce different types of data, such as page views, visits, unique visitors, time on site and bounce rates. A customer intelligence system takes these sources and analyzes the data in order to extract useful information to help a website owner understand its visitors. As an example, an online retailer can use customer intelligence to determine which of its products are the most popular. It can then focus its site design, content and marketing efforts on the products that are most likely to drive sales.
  • CRM software. A CRM software system helps businesses understand their customers. It can keep track of orders, contacts and customer information. The information gathered can be used to determine which products or services customers are looking for, where the customers are located and how to improve products and marketing methods.
  • Customer satisfaction and market research surveys. These types of surveys help identify what customers like and do not like about a company's products and services. They can provide valuable feedback for product improvement and help show where customer experience gaps exist. Surveys collect data from a wide variety of customers, providing feedback that is both qualitative and quantitative.

Related fields

Relationship marketing can help a company improve and maintain its relationship with its customers by recognizing that each customer is special. It is a simple concept: The more that is learned about customers, the better they can be served. For example, if it is understood that a customer usually buys a certain product in one size and color, a sales associate can try to sell them more products in the same size and color and increase the chances of making that sale.

Customer experience examples
Six ways companies build customer relationships and loyalty by focusing on the entire experience.

Customer experience management (CEM) is a methodology that helps companies build customer relationships and customer loyalty by focusing on the entire experience, including everything from the first interaction between company and customer to the customer's most recent interaction with the brand.

Creating a CEM strategy involves assessing all aspects of a company's interaction with its customers, from the quality of customer support to the way employees interact with customers. CEM is also about developing the technology to measure those interactions and put the results to good use.

Learn the difference between CRM and database marketing and the key components of each.

This was last updated in September 2021

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