How to choose a customer intelligence platform

Joel Passen
October 24, 2022
15 Min Read
Customer Intelligence

Despite customer intelligence still being an emerging field, there are already many incredible CI platforms that can help you get the most out of your data. Utilizing customer intelligence data will not only help improve your overall business strategy, but it’s also a powerful way to improve customer satisfaction and customer experience. 

Data on its own isn’t beneficial. What matters is understanding the customer journey of your users and analyzing data, customer feedback, and customer behavior to make better decisions.

But as with most things in business, not all customer intelligence platforms are created equal. Depending on your goals, the size of your company, and your budget, each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Whether you’re already sold on the value of customer intelligence or looking for ways to take your business to the next level, this article will cover everything you need to know about choosing the right customer intelligence platform for your needs. 

Choose a customer intelligence platform that works well with your tech stack.

Businesses today, on average, use 37+ tools across their teams and departments. Every department has its “go-to” tools. Yet, keeping track of all that data collected by these tools can take time, and it only gets more challenging the more systems your business uses. With so many silos, it can be impossible to understand all your data in aggregate.

When choosing a customer intelligence platform, the platform you select must integrate deeply with the critical components of your current GTM tech stack.

For example, at Sturdy, many of our customers use Salesforce, so we began focusing on Salesforce integrations for our customers who rely on using the most popular CRM in the world. A customer intelligence platform can have flashy dashboards. Still, it will be challenging to realize game-changing value if it doesn’t pull the full payload from your CRM. 

At a minimum, buyers must choose a system that integrates directly into your CRM, email, and ticketing system. Be skeptical of CI tools that claim to integrate with hundreds of tools “out of the box.” Chances are these systems are using a third-party integration platform. While third-party integration platforms are great for some things, they can be limited when ingesting data from custom fields. And otherwise, they represent another failure point on the reliability daisy chain. 

Many CI platforms, such as our platform, Sturdy, become more valuable with more data they access. To that end, it’s essential to identify your largest customer feedback channels. For most of us, it’s likely email. Our research has shown that over 60% of B2B customer-to-business conversations are over email. This makes a tight integration with your email platform imperative. The right CI tools analyze email, and then and only then can they give you predictive customer intelligence data based on the bulk of your everyday customer interactions.

Pro tip: When considering customer intelligence platforms, integrations matter. Choose a system that has authorized integrations with your other vendors’ marketplaces. Avoid systems that rely on third-party integration platforms. And, if email isn’t a core integration, you’ll likely be missing the lion’s share of insights about your customer relationships. 

A secure, privacy-first customer intelligence platform

Let’s face it, there’s a consummate conflict of interest in businesses today. Business units must leverage data to turn raw information into actionable insights. On the other hand, InfoSec and privacy teams must ensure compliance with a myriad of regulations relating to collecting and using data, mainly when it contains PII.  

Personally identifiable information or PII is any information that permits an individual’s identity to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information linked or linkable to that individual. But, if you collect someone’s name and email address, you are collecting PII. For this reason, you must choose a CI platform designed for the privacy-first era. Anything less is asking for trouble. Here are some tips to get started:

First, ensure your potential partner maintains an information security program certified by yearly SOC2 Type II audits. This protects the security, availability, confidentiality, integrity, and privacy of their services and your customer data.

Next, understand each provider’s approach to processing PII. Being SOC 2 Type II isn’t really about privacy. Otherwise, it’s essential to know if a vendor’s employees, consultants, or sub-processors have access to your customers’ PII. If they do, this is a problem. Look for a solution that offers a virtual data clean room. This way, you can ensure that data from different systems, including email, ticketing, and customer relationship management (CRM), is securely funneling into one spot. This data is encrypted and then anonymized, making it impossible for anyone in the data clean room to access PII. 

Choose a customer intelligence tool that gets buy-in across all your teams. 

There are very few teams in a SaaS business that don’t need more insights about customers. Customer intelligence is something your entire company should be involved in. Everyone in your organization will benefit from your chosen customer intelligence platform, from engineering to product to marketing. 

When choosing a CI platform, consider the following:

  • Insights for various teams: Customer Intelligence isn’t just for customer success teams. Product and engineering teams can immediately benefit from learning more about customer frustration, confusion, and wants directly from the voice of the customer. Marketing teams can transform positive insights into customer references. Rev Ops and the BI team can create new analytical frameworks from previously unavailable data.   

  • Fast time to value: Let’s face it, we’ve all bought platforms that were oversold, hard to implement, and even harder to administer. Look for solutions that can deliver insights to your specific use cases quickly. Understand the resources required to start receiving value and what resources are needed to maintain the program in the future. 

  • Tech stack: When choosing a customer intelligence platform, the platform you select must integrate deeply with the critical components of your current GTM tech stack. And don’t forget email. 60% of customer-to-business communications start with an email. 

  • Avoid duplicate functionality: CI platforms often have similar functionality to systems you already have, like customer success platforms and CRM systems. Look to compliment your existing system with rich data from a customer intelligence solution. 

  • Security: Does the platform have a clear and transparent take on data security? Ensure that any system you choose is SOC 2 Type II ready.

  • Data privacy: How does the platform handle data privacy? Is the vendor using anonymization, pseudonymization, and de-identification techniques?

Customer intelligence is not a magic bullet: Avoid platforms that make incredibly bold claims.

It’s essential to have realistic expectations when choosing a CI tool. Just as AI-driven content marketing can be helpful for copywriting and content marketing, it won’t do all the legwork for you.

This advice applies to customer intelligence platforms and any SaaS tool your business might use. Many “all in one” tools or “magic bullet” solutions claim they can do everything. But remember, the more the vendor tries to do, the more likely they, too, have “soft spots” where the technology isn’t good. 

At the end of the day, a customer intelligence solution should help you operationalize your practices and programs and get your entire organization enthusiastic about using insights to improve products, drive growth and expansion, and, ultimately, increase your NDR. Find solutions that demonstrate a clear path to value in the shortest time. These are the solutions that the C-suite can fund. 

Finally, customer intelligence is a hot topic. But it’s not exactly new. So with the tremendous growth in the CI world, some organizations have failed with products that don’t deliver value. The good news is that integrations, data sciences, and privacy tooling have all dramatically improved in the past 3-5 years. This has made products more powerful and easier to maintain.

Turn customer feedback into actionable insights. Get clear on your CI goals.

Customer intelligence tools continue to innovate incredibly quickly, but choosing a tool that serves your specific needs will make or break your experience. 

Perhaps you’re really focused on reducing churn. You may want a platform that streamlines your data points in one easy-to-read channel. Improving your customer experience is your number one goal. Increasing customer lifetime value, for example, is a common goal regarding competitive intelligence.

Of course, you’re almost certainly going to have multiple business goals. Still, it’s critical to have a clear idea of what you’re hoping the CI platform can help you accomplish from the start. Before you schedule a demo or request more information, have 2-3 specific goals in mind. 

Invest in both the now and the future with customer intelligence

There are significant gaps between what customers think about your products, the level of services you provide, and the execution of the journey you’ve outlined. The question is, “how seriously are you taking their feedback”? How closely are you listening to your customers? Churn doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a culmination of feature requests, “how to” questions, executive changes, response lags, unhappy sentiment, and more. The right customer intelligence must deliver the insights to help teams create more enduring relationships with arguably the most significant cohort of humans outside your employees — your customers. 

While customer intelligence 2.0 is still in its infancy, businesses that utilize modern CI solutions effectively have a clear competitive advantage over those that do not. Nothing speaks louder than the voice of your customer. Today’s customer-obsessed teams make better decisions based on insights into the data customers generate for us with every conversation.

Interested in seeing around the corners? Learn where customer intelligence is going. Schedule a demo with Sturdy today.

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