Battling an Inside-Out Perspective of Customer Experience

By Roy Barnes, Bob Kelleher

Odds are, nobody in your organization sees the entirety of your customers’ experience. Everyone in your employ is like a horse racing with blinders on. His field of view is limited to what is in front of him. “Race your own race!” people say. “Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing!”

While that advice might apply if you’re running the Kentucky Derby, it’s terrible for someone in business trying to holistically manage customer experience.

These blinders explain why, when employees at the front line are asked how well they deliver customer experience, they often answer something like this: “My part of the process is fantastic. It’s like Christmas morning over here!” Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But generally speaking, people think they’re doing pretty well in the experience-delivery department.

And yet, when their customers are asked the same question, they give a completely different answer. One aspect of the experience may indeed be fantastic, but others may well be miserable.

Why this difference in opinion? Simple. Most employees just don’t have a broad view of customer experience. They can’t see how their work contributes to the overall experience of the customer, either directly or indirectly. They see themselves merely as part of a small team, department, or functional area rather than as part of a larger, enterprise-wide process. In other words, they have an inside-out view rather than an outside-in perspective.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Roy Barnes.]

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Roy Barnes.

An inside-out perspective focuses on an organization’s own internal functions — its efficiency, processes, and so on. While all that is important, organizations must temper this internal, inside-out view with an external, outside-in one. Organizations that take an outside-in perspective seek to grow and nurture their customer base by providing an excellent customer experience. They put themselves in their customers’ shoes and view everything from their perspective.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Roy Barnes.]

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Roy Barnes.

Take Blockbuster. Blockbuster didn’t go under because its stores operated poorly. Blockbuster went under because it failed to recognize that a different method of distribution — the delivery of DVDs via the U.S. Postal Service, as offered by Netflix, rather than a physical storefront — could provide a superior customer experience.

In other words, it was doomed by an inside-out view. For its part, Netflix was more nimble. Thanks to its outside-in perspective, it soon recognized that streaming video content over the Internet offered an even better customer experience than mail delivery and adapted accordingly.

There is a big difference between the traditional inside-out view prevalent in most organizations and a customer-experience, outside-in perspective. The former view has traditionally focused on driving greater and greater efficiency, while the latter is about thoughtful, integrated, and impactful experiences.

A lot of people’s working hours are spent refining services, products, or processes, stripping away absolutely everything that is deemed unnecessary in order to improve efficiency and reduce cost.

This inside-out approach is a sneaky trap, however. In their attempt to improve efficiency, they sometimes eradicate those parts of their business that appeal to their customers’ human side — the things that interest, surprise, delight, and engage them. And this could cost the business in terms of customer experience, loyalty, and repeat business. In the end, you must foster an appropriate balance between designing transactions that are efficient and effective and retaining humanity.

In the past, product-focused companies viewed their customer-service function as a secondary, inconvenient expense. Taking care of customers was just a cost of doing business. These days, customer experience has emerged as one of the few sustainable competitive differentiators in business.

Organizations that deliver an excellent customer experience are thriving. It’s no coincidence that industry leaders such as Zappos, Nordstrom, and Southwest Airlines are also leaders in customer experience! It’s easy to spot organizations whose perspectives haven’t evolved with the times.

These inside-out companies are the ones that go gaga over their latest product innovation but see customer interactions as mere transactions. They operate on their terms and hours. They read from canned scripts and quote company policy. They may hear the customer talking, but they aren’t really listening. And they aren’t building customer experiences; they’re killing them.