THINK TANK on the role of Customer Insights / Customer Understanding teams in driving C-Centricity


On May 6th, the IE Center for C-Centricity held a virtual C-Centricity Think Tank with its corporate members on the Role of the Insights / Customer Understanding teams in driving & facilitating C-Centricity led by Prof. Niels Schillewaert.

The C-Centricity Net, the model developed by the Center faculty, identifies Deep Customer Understanding as one of the eight key drivers of a truly C-Centric strategy. Going deeper into the role of Customer Insights or Customer Understanding teams play or could play in promoting customer/consumer understanding was identified by the center as a valuable area for reflection.

To lead and inspire this discussion we invited a global expert in the topic, Niels Schillewaert, PhD, co-founder and Managing Partner at InSites Consulting and ESOMAR President ex-officio. He is a research innovator and frequent speaker at international conferences with a strong academic background as a Professor of Marketing at the Vlerick Business School and an ISBM Research Fellow at PennState University (U.S.A.).

His research was awarded several times and published in leading scientific journals such as Journal of Marketing, The International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Services Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Industrial Marketing Management, The Journal of Business Research, Survey Research Methods and Information & Management.

As a thought-starter, Niels shared with us his view on “the business value of the Insights function”, affirming how new ways of doing business and marketing require new ways to insights. The core idea is to advance by moving from Insight to Full-sight to Foresight.

In order to facilitate that forward movement, Niels research revealed 4 focus areas for improvement for the Insights / Customer Understanding teams:


The objective is for Insights departments to develop a strategic advisory role, a role that provides much needed foresight thus becoming indispensable business partners.


It is now time for a new professional archetype in this field. To reach that, there is a need to focus on the development of managerial and business skills, such as business acumen and building relationships, AND also the development of action skills, like whole-brain thinking, story-telling and creativity.
Being able to translate data into actionable insights is another fundamental area of development as “for every data scientist, we need a data translator”

  • SMART RESEARCH OPERATIONS (better, faster, cheaper)

While there is no ONE answers on how to increase the effectiveness of research operations, internalization, automation and in general, new AGILE ways to run research are observed as responses to operate smartly.


Many companies focus on speed when it comes to reaching innovation. But, business needs for innovation lay on NEW insights, insights that hold transformational power.

After Niels’ inspiring reflections, the participants engaged in a rich conversation covering topics like the need to democratize consumer insights and consumer understanding in organizations. We also discussed how organizations are not ideally designed to maximize the integration of customer understanding in the decision-making process.  The discussion was closed with a reference to how the times we are living now present a great opportunity to reaffirm the importance of deep customer understanding,  but also a big challenge to Insights departments who have quite big business questions in front of them.

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