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Customer engagement and insight in the digital age

16th December 2010

Customer engagement and insight  in the digital age

Customer engagement and insight in the digital age

When Explain and Better first sat round a table at Seaham Hall in March 2009, the brief was simple; find a way of harnessing the dynamic growing power of digital media with the customer insight provided by market research.

The two companies had been brought together through a long standing relationship between Steven Bell, a board director of The Entrepreneurs Forum and David Shiel, managing director of Explain, a relationship that stretched back over 25 years when they both worked in the supermarket industry.

Better have almost thirty years experience within the team and have won numerous awards for their work within the digital and social media sectors, working with some of the biggest organisations in the public sector as well as blue chip private sector organisations in sectors such as renewable energy, arts and culture, retail, tourism and service.


Explain, with nearly twenty years customer insight experience and outstanding skills in the field of customer, stakeholder and employee engagement has built long term partnerships with leading service organisations across social housing providers, utilities, building societies, the NHS and the public sector; businesses with millions of customers.

The growth of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, along with blogging, has made companies take notice of the way customers and brands interact online. These platforms are now becoming an established part of their communication strategy, however the level of interaction through social media doesn’t tap into the power of communities.

The partnership between Explain and Better has created a completely different way of capturing customer insight and putting them at the heart of brand innovation through engagement and co-creation. The new digital platform allows brands to engage with their customers in a private social community and over the long term discover customer insight that directly influences product & service design, marketing strategy and valuable feedback.

Members are recruited into the communities where they can then engage in a two way exchange of information with the brand and other members of the community, responding to topics and suggesting topics for future debate. But the really powerful bit is the collaboration that takes place one to one and and in focus group exchanges, polls, questionnaires that is constantly monitored by Explain research software, which overlaps with the digital platform. The outcomes represent real time insight in to the likes, dislikes and preferences of every customer, wherever they may be. The model can analyse responses by demographic, geographic or any single profile variable and the timeframe is immediate. It is the ultimate customer insight and co-creation model.

Traditional research has many challenges and the set up costs and inevitable delays while fieldwork is planned means that a project can take several weeks to deliver. A key means of gathering quantitative data is CATI (computer aided telephone interviews) but some members of the public consider them intrusive whereas digital feedback is provided in the comfort of their home at a time they find convenient.

The response has been overwhelming with many companies telling us this is exactly what they have been waiting for. A real time means of customer engagement that uses social media in a private community of customers with in-built research which can feed into product and process development.

David Shiel, managing director of Explain commented;

“In the current climate, companies tell us they want better information without increasing budgets so it would seem the timing is right. Digital media is now well established and such a powerful method of interaction that companies must embrace the opportunity for dialogue that is corporate, not just social.

Having the confidence to let the consumer openly comment and choose who they want to buy from or use, puts the power squarely in their hands and says that the provider wants their business and will taken notice of what they say. The role of Explain is to monitor the online conversation within the community, interpret the findings and help companies improve what they make or do.

The new product will provide a completely new revenue stream for both companies from January 2011 and the product has application across all sectors provided the business talks to a large volume of customers.

We are already building 3 communities which will launch in spring 2011 for Northumbrian water, CE-Electric and Scottish Power Energy Networks and are at the second stage with 10 clients, including a leading motor manufacturer, a national member organisation and several social housing providers. The new product will provide a completely new revenue stream for both companies from January 2011 and the product has application across all sectors provided the business talks to a large volume of customers.”

Mark Easby, managing director at Better said;

‘Engaging consumers at every level, be that through social media touch points that generate buzz through to private online communities that provide a catalyst for mass collaboration, innovation in product and service design through co-creation is a game changer for brands.

Better has been heavily involved in social media from the outset and have long championed its inclusion within our clients’ communication strategies. We’ve seen how the space has been developing and see private online communities as a key tool for brands going forward. The conversation has been online for many years and now we’re harnessing that power within our private communities to drive loyalty, engagement, innovation and co-creation.

We are all excited about seeing the fruits of an intensive nine months of development during which both companies shared a considerable investment to make this digital platform a reality. It’s what the North East business community is built upon and we’re proud to be wining national clients and shouting about a product that has been designed, built and privately funded in the North East. We’re a young brand agency who understand digital and social media and this is the first of many tools we’ll be developing to help brands harness the power of their consumers’.

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