Inside out or Outside in?

A new GM must focus on customers and growing and strengthening their business. One critical means to do this, is by focusing on customer experience and understanding how a customer experiences the business he runs, and in so doing generate insights to use to build a stronger business.

There are two way’s in which you can do this.

You can think Inside-out. Meaning your focus is on internal processes, systems, tools, and products that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer’s needs, jobs, and perspectives do not play a major part in this type of thinking; they aren’t taken into consideration. You make decisions because you think it’s what’s best for the business – not for customers. Or you think you know what’s best for customers.

On the other hand, Outside-in thinking means that you look at your business from the customer’s perspective and subsequently redesign processes, tools, and products and then make decisions based on what’s best for the customer and what meets the customer’s needs. You make decisions because you know it’s what’s best for your customers. Why? Because you listen to them, and you understand them and the jobs they are trying to do.

It might be inside-out thinking when there’s a conscious decision to make process, policy, people, systems, or other changes that:

  • Don’t improve the customer experience at the same time
  • Are about maximizing shareholder returns, not about benefits for the customer
  • Improve internal efficiencies but to the detriment of customer interactions
  • Are cost-cutting measures that also negatively impact the customer experience
  • Might be the wrong process, policy, people, or systems to change

By contrast, outside-in thinking flips each of those points on its head and looks like this. There’s a conscious decision to make process, policy, people, systems, or other changes that:

  • Improve the customer experience at the same time
  • Are about maximizing benefits for the customer
  • Improve internal efficiencies known to be pain-points when executing customer interactions
  • Are cost-cutting measures that significantly improve the customer experience
  • Are the right process, policy, people, or systems because you’ve listened to customer feedback and know how customers are affected

From my perspective and experience it’s clear that outside-in thinking is the way to go. Outside-in thinking leads to a number of things, none of which you’ll get by making decisions that are not based on what’s best for your customers…

  • reduced complaints
  • increased satisfaction
  • increased referrals
  • increased repeat purchases
  • improved ease of doing business
  • fewer lost customers

These then translate to reduced costs and increased revenue for the business.

How can we ensure that we’re operating in an outside-in manner? Here are some tips.

  • Understand customers and what they are trying to do
  • Use that understanding to develop products for the customer, products that solve their problems and help them do what they are trying to do
  • Listen to customers at all key touch-points or contact points
  • Close the loop with customers on their feedback
  • Act on what you hear from customers
  • Share the feedback within your team and business and ensure it’s used throughout the organization to make decisions and to design the best experience for your customers
  • Do right by the customer; ask “Is this decision what’s best for the customer?”
  • Reduce customer effort rather than making the experience convoluted and confusing
  • create an advocate for the customer or the customer’s voice who attends all meetings and who speaks in an informed way in the voice of the customer
  • Map customer journeys and ensure all employees – frontline and back office – have a clear line of sight to how they impact the customer experience
  • Talk about customers and what they are saying

So this is nice, but how can i do it in my company?

Here’s a simple four step process

VOC process

The first step is to engage.  Speak to some customers, passively ask them about their experience. Get into the habit of asking about how people experience your business or products to build up your understanding of the range of experiences.

Secondly, capture this data in a simple way- on an excel spread sheet noting business areas  and typical comments. Also go though the huge  huge amount of customer information already in your business, from e-mails from customers to surveys to web analytics.  You also have live external data from social media and product review sites before you even think about commissioning surveys.  You need to know what you have, read through it to see how rich it is… how much actionable data it provides you.  Now capture this in a simple way to preserve the data.

Thirdly, take the time to interpret the information. Identify positive or negative comments. Categorize these. Find patterns or symptoms or problems. Create a hypothesis of what’s going on

Lastly, using these interpretations to ACT. Change things with a view to improve them. Maybve create a dashboard of comments or results of changes.  And then start the process over again.,.. ask how have we improved or got worse.

The customer and their voice need to be incorporated into all decisions, design, and development. Weave the customer throughout your organization’s DNA and watch what happens.