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Catching the Winds of Change: Book Review of Outside-In

To the CX laggard:

In the book Outside In, by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, the authors recount an anecdote told to them by a mutual friend who happens to be an avid sailor. This friend recounts how when she’s out on the water she’ll often pick another boat at random, put on the speed, and leave it in her wake. As she passes the other craft she likes to tell this joke: “How many boats does it take to make a race?” Answer: “Two.” She then asks, “How many captains need to know they’re in a race?” Her answer: “One.” (206)

Your company’s management may or may not understand the importance of a positive customer experience (CX) in the “race” for commercial success. Industry recognition of CX has arisen only recently—until a few years ago, companies were likely to focus mostly on other aspects of business strategy. While innovation, an efficient supply chain, lowered costs, and other major issues within a business should remain key concerns, success in today’s business world requires outstanding customer interaction management. Your company’s CX excellence may be just the wind you need to sail past your competitors. It doesn’t matter if they’re aware of the race – but it’s crucial for you to be aware of your CX.

Authors Manning and Bodine suggest six capabilities that customer-centric business need to develop:

STRATEGY – “Great customer experiences don’t happen by accident. They’re the result of countless deliberate decisions made by every single person in your customer experience ecosystem on a daily basis” (77). Decisions should be made in accordance with this consideration, which should be aligned with the corporate strategy as well as with that of your brand.

CUSTOMER UNDERSTANDING – The act of consistently obtaining insights about your customers can spare you huge amounts of time and money. But your efforts to understand your customers need to be more than one-sided research. Customers will interact with you, but you must show them the value that they can gain from these experiences, record the insights you gain, and show them that you are acting on their feedback to improve their next interactions with your company. A mutual understanding will yield greater customer loyalty. Said one customer in a Virgin Mobile research project, “If you give me the best deal, and make me understand why it’s the best deal, I feel in control.”

DESIGN – Once you’ve collected research from the customer, it’s time to put that data into action through a process of analysis, ideation, prototyping, and testing. Systematic changes are planned with both customers and employees in mind to ensure purpose-driven buy-in to the program from all staff. In order to create a consistently positive experience, “customer interactions need to be designed, not left to chance.”

MEASUREMENT – Implementation of good CX design is, of course, the crux of the entire process, and therefore must be carefully monitored for quality. If your customers’ experience doesn’t improve after your planned changes are put into action, make more changes. If the changed program achieves your desired results, continue using it and continuously evaluate for further improvements to be made. But measurement isn’t just a tool to assess the effectiveness of the CX design; it can also help rally the employees around what matters. As part of another case study within the book, Bonny Simi, VP of JetBlue, said, “Sharing positive customer feedback directly with the crew members is a fantastic motivator, and a far better way of reinforcing the JetBlue experience than a supervisor providing negative feedback,” (125). Proper measurements, properly cultivated and analyzed, can tune employees to the same frequency as the customer.

GOVERNANCE – Following up with newly-implemented procedure is the next step to successful program integration. In order to carry this out, each moving part of the program must be managed and maintained by qualified personnel. Individual touch points must work together to solve problems throughout the customer journey, rather than being compartmentalized by function. Just think what a mess it would be to have not only angry customers pointing fingers at the company, but internal employees pointing fingers at other departments for mistakes that will inevitably occur. Governance is a key discipline that many organizations overlook on their way to customer centricity. But without proper internal communication and leadership, the efforts will altogether fail.

CULTURE – Workplace signs and mission statements are good first steps to creating a customer-centric business, but changing the culture of a company takes a lot more. Paul Hagen, Forrester Research’s expert on customer-centric cultures, asserts that “customer-centric values are the building blocks for reprogramming your corporate DNA. And behaviors are how you turn all of the practices from the other five disciplines … into habits that your company just can’t kick,” (153). So if you’re interested in changing your culture, you might want to start by changing what your culture values.

To truly deliver the experiences customers want, companies need to develop all six of these CX capabilities. And because living these concepts isn’t easy or convenient for most individual roles, it’s important to frequently remind ourselves the consequences of failing to run your business from the outside-in.

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Winning in a Customer-Centric World

CX laggards suffer the threat of high customer turnover and acquisition costs, higher customer dissatisfaction rates, and negative reviews.

Customer-centric companies, however, have shown that they consistently outperform their laggard counterparts, over a six-year study on cumulative total return and ROI. Businesses that develop the capabilities described in Outside In can expect to taste the fruits of loyal customers: “better retention, greater wallet share, lower acquisition costs, and more cost-efficient service,”

Every company has gaps to fill in their approach to customer experience. Effectively using these best practices will yield positive results in a customer-centric market. After all—whether your company knows it or not—the race is on, the winds are blowing, and you determine which way the sails face.