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Reinforce the Customer Relationships Team with Outside-In Thinking

  • Annette Franz
November/December 2017

Inside-out thinking describes a focus on processes, systems, tools and products that are designed and implemented based on internal reasoning and intuition. The customer’s needs and perspectives simply aren’t taken into consideration. Rather, company leaders arrive at conclusions and choices based on what they think will be good for the business. Sometimes, these decision-makers think they know what’s best for customers and therefore just move ahead without getting confirmation.

In contrast, outside-in thinking means taking the time to look at the business from the customers’ perspective and using the information and discoveries gleaned to design processes, systems, tools and products. Because customers are truly listened to, decision-makers understand them, their needs, their perspectives and what they’re trying to do.

Outside-in thinking, when implemented holistically, will reduce complaints; increase satisfaction, referrals and repeat purchases; improve the ease of doing business; and lead to fewer lost customers. All of these things, of course, translate to reduced costs and increased revenue.

Taking a look
So, which type of thinking is in use at your organization? Identifying the differences between inside-out and outside-in thinking is fairly straightforward. For example, inside-out thinking occurs when company leaders make the conscious decision to enact process, system, tool and product changes that

  • don’t improve the customer experience
  • are about maximizing shareholder returns, not about benefits to the customer
  • improve internal efficiencies, but to the detriment of customer interactions
  • are cost-cutting measures that negatively affect the customer experience
  • are the wrong processes, systems, tools and products to change.

By contrast, outside-in thinking flips each of those points on its head and looks like this:

  • Any changes being implemented are designed to also improve the customer experience.
  • Business plans center around maximizing benefits for the customer.
  • Leaders are focused on improving pain points when working on customer interactions.
  • Any cost-cutting measures are designed to also significantly improve the customer experience.
  • The right processes, systems, tools and products are in place because customer feedback has been listened to and considered thoughtfully.

Following are some tips for adopting an outside-in thinking approach:

  • Work to understand customers, and use that understanding to develop processes, systems, tools and products for them. These offerings should solve their problems and help them accomplish their goals and desires.
  • Listen to customers at all key touchpoints.
  • Close the loop with customers on their feedback, and act on that feedback.
  • Share customer feedback to guarantee that it will be used throughout the organization — particularly when making decisions and designing the best possible customer experience.
  • Before making any changes, ask, Is this best for the customer?
  • Reduce customer effort at all times; never make their experiences more convoluted or confusing.
  • Take a cue from Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and leave an empty chair at the table to represent the customer’s voice.
  • Map customer journeys, and make sure all employees — from the frontline to the back office — have clear visibility into how they influence the customer experience.

The customer’s voice must be incorporated into all decisions related to processes, systems, tools and products. Make the effort to weave the customer throughout the organization's DNA, and just watch what happens.


Annette Franz is founder and CEO of CX Journey. She may be contacted at

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