Book Review: DVL Smith: The High Performance Customer Insight Professional

07 Oct 2019 | Research & Business Knowledge

DVL Smith. The High Performance Customer Insight Professional. July 2019. Amazon.

Kindle edition £9.95, Paperback £14.95

Reviewed by: Keith Meadows, Health Outcomes Insights Limited. UK

One of any organisation’s most valuable assets is to gain insights into customer behaviour – what they expect and aspire to. However, while the new insight paradigm retains many of the traditional skills centred on disciplined thinking, it also calls for an enhanced set of skills and a mind-set that is comfortable with handling ambiguity and dealing with limitations in the data.

This book is not the first to be written on the subject. Indeed David Smith himself has written an earlier book with John Fletcher (2004). However, the earlier book concentrated more on demonstrating how to integrate different types of evidence into a holistic way of thinking.

While primarily for newcomers to customer insight, this book should also benefit more experienced insight professionals. The book brings together best practice from the industry and combines this with the newer skills in order to make sense of imperfect evidence. Structured in three parts it takes the reader on an excellent practical guide from ways of seeing patterns in a vast ocean of data, through to how to construct engaging customer insight narratives, and finally, how to make sure customer insights are actioned.

Part One: The Insight Sensemaker

The first part of the book opens with a first class explanation of how the insight professional can make sense of multiple sources of evidence with a Seven Analysis Frame approach to analysis. These are: One: Identifying the true business question, Two: Review the data and identify key evidence, Three: See the big picture at the start of the analysis, Four: Establish the evidence is robust, Five: Apply judgement to the analysis, Six: Apply creativity to the analysis, Seven: Build the holistic picture. This Seven Frame approach enables the breakdown of the holistic analysis process into accessible bite-sized chunks. Also by looking at the evidence one frame at a time will enable the analyst to examine complex evidence from specific perspectives before arriving at the integrated business story.

Each of the seven frames is clearly and comprehensively described first, by outlining a number of Guiding Principles underpinning the frame. This is followed by the Key Actions to apply to the frame. Next are some Frequently Asked Questions which is followed with a Top Tip. Then there is the Best Next Move – ideas on applying the frame to a different project. Each frame concludes with a Summary reiterating the key guiding principles and key actions.

Part Two: The Insight Story builder

Part Two focuses on getting over the message by moving away from presenting silos of data to building a compelling holistic narrative. To do this the author introduces the Insight Story Builder which comprises Seven Story Tools. One: Audience, Two: Purpose, Three: Message, Four: Evidence, Five: Structure, Six: Narrative, Seven: Impact.

As with the Insight Story Builder Part Two is structured around Guiding Principles, Key Actions, FAQ’s etc. Let’s illustrate this with an example. For instance, The Audience Tool provides a step-by-step guide to ensure the analyst has a detailed understanding of what the audience’s expectation of the presentation are. Part Two opens by demonstrating the power of storytelling in getting over the message to the audience and how stories can make sense of the world we live in. This is followed by three Guiding Principles which are: One: Knowing what the audience expects from the presentation, Two: Tailoring the presentation to the audience’s likely receptivity or resistance, Three: Making sure the presentation resonates with the audience. The next part is the six Key Actions that illustrate the importance of getting a real understanding of the audience. These are: One-Profiling your audience, Two: Identifying the precise expectations of the audience, Three: Establishing the audience’s involvement with the project, Four: Identifying any hidden or conflicting agendas, Five: Touching the audience’s world, and Six: taking personal responsibility for fixing unresolved issues. The Top Tip, Best Next Move and Summary concentrate on stressing the importance of doing the homework on your audience – putting yourself in the audience’s shoes – and that you do not walk into a presentation without a comprehensive understanding of the motives and expectations of the audience.

Part Three: How to make sure customer insights are actioned

The final part of the book centres on building the customer insight professional’s capability to influence, persuade and ensure action is taken to implement the insights that have been presented. Here the focus is on overcoming the different resistances that stand in the way of persuading stakeholders to take action. Seven strategies are proposed starting with ‘Being Influential’ by gaining leverage by operating from an influential platform and concluding with High Performance Habits -how to turn the ideas and techniques into fundamental habits.

Finally, the book concludes with a useful list of relevant literature for further reading specific to each of the three parts of the book.

To conclude, this is an excellent book and anyone who reads it will without question come away with a much better understanding of how to communicate the insight message to stakeholders in a way that will achieve actionable outcomes.


D.V.L. Smith and J.H. Fletcher. (2005).The art and Science of Interpreting Market Research Evidence John Wiley and Sons Ltd.