With a growing number of companies and organizations striving to deliver superior customer experiences, “outside-in” is becoming a popular mantra. On the surface it seems obvious: organizations ought to put themselves in their customers’ shoes in order to understand how to best serve them. This appears especially straight-forward considering today’s advanced technology that allows organizations to track consumer preferences and communicate with them any time at any place. Yet if it’s really so easy, why do consumers continue to have frustrating interactions with companies that leave them feeling ambivalent at best or completely fed up at worst?

Perhaps you’ve been stranded at an airport facing lengthy flight delays with no status updates or notion of when you’ll make it home. Or you’ve had your inbox bombarded with completely irrelevant promotions. Or maybe you’ve had your patience tried by your bank’s counter-intuitive and dysfunctional website. In one way or another, we’ve all been there.

The problem is that while outside-in concepts are easy to embrace and in some cases implement, they can be tricky to sustain. Driving factors include a lack of customer centricity in core operational values, misuse of technology and misunderstandings about context awareness. The good news is that there are steps organizations can take to get on the outside-in track, and make sure they stay on it.

Put the Customer First, Technology Second

In order to achieve and maintain an outside-in culture, organizations must ensure that technology doesn’t get in the way. While technology is an invaluable tool for building a customer-centric organization, companies should be cautious not to get caught in the vicious cycle of continuously adding more features to their solution stacks without asking themselves, “Why do we (or our customers) need this?”

Also, IT projects can get in the way of customer centricity when they focus too heavily on technological jargon. When projects are referred to as “collaboration initiatives” or “social initiatives” or “BPM initiatives,” they are putting technology first and customers second. Instead, organizations should define initiatives by the value they provide to customers and then identify the technologies needed to make them successful. For example, rather than saying “We want to use BPM to improve our order process,” say, “We want to make our order process more enjoyable for customers and to do that, we’re going to use BPM.”

It’s a subtle difference but an important one. By putting the customer first and technology second, companies can create a conscious shift in focus for the entire organization and implementation team. Technology won’t be deployed because it boasts extensive features or analysts think it’s important, but because it provides value to the customer.

Keep Consumer-Facing Interfaces Simple

As feature overload in internal systems can get in the way of maintaining an outside-in approach, too many bells and whistles on consumer-facing interfaces can do the same thing. The problem is that we often associate compelling user experiences with flashy productions. Simple but compelling interfaces make processes easier and more enjoyable for end users. And if an organization has customers that don’t spend the bulk of their time using their application, simplicity is essential.

Few things can drive away a customer faster than spending thirty minutes navigating a website for a task that should have been completed in thirty seconds. When developing a customer experience management strategy, it’s important to keep in mind that experiences don’t have to be showy to engage users -- they need to be easy and obvious (think Google or Twitter).

Get the Context Right

A third factor in constructing a successful outside-in approach is understanding the context of customers at specific points in time and properly using that context. With the continued growth of mobile technology, this is becoming critical especially for customer-facing organizations. Gartner recently released a study that reported astonishing findings in this area. The firm said that by 2015, context-aware technologies will affect $96 billion of annual consumer spending worldwide. The study also reported that context-aware technology will primarily shift consumer spending from one competitor to another. In short, the findings say that every customer interaction has the potential to be detoured with moment of truth marketing: Get the context right and you’ve either retained or gained a new customer; get it wrong, and you’ve probably lost a sale.

For example, companies can use location awareness and other information to deliver location-based promotions, notifications and other information to customers. However, if the context is not right, proactive efforts start to resemble spam. Customers can get inundated with offers that they aren’t interested in (just because someone walks by a Starbucks doesn’t mean they want to save $0.50 on a cup of coffee). A context-aware strategy gone wrong will undoubtedly result in consumers rejecting and disabling these types of interactions. However, using context appropriately will make customers’ lives easier, make them feel valued and maintain engagement.

Final Thoughts

Building a sustainable outside-in approach is a journey. By framing all organizational operations in a customer-first manner, implementing the right technology at the right level while maintaining simplicity, and adequately leveraging context awareness, organizations can ensure they get started on the right foot. It’s important to remember that basic shifts in policies and strategies like these can ultimately pay big dividends and drive tremendous culture change.

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