Strategic Importance of ‘Outside-in’ Thinking

As hard working business professionals, it is easy to get caught up in what we know: how hard we work, how important something is to us, the nuances we think are valuable. We see things from our own perspective. However, the market doesn’t really care how we see it. At the end of the day, if we want customers to buy our goods and services, it is what the customers think that counts.

How does the customer decide what to buy?

Do they care how hard you worked, how important it is to you, or the subtle nuances you think makes your product better? Maybe, maybe not. If you are looking to be successful in the marketplace, at the end of the day you have to care more about what “they” think than about what you think, even if you know a lot more about it than they do. Put yourself in their shoes and walk around a bit. Now how do you see it?

Working with a bank in Mississippi taught me just how deep seated internal perspective can be. For several months I had been working with the executive team, a fairly enlightened group led by a visionary career banker. On this particular day, however, the next layer of management was involved in discussions about what could be stopped so there would be resources to start down the new path of growth. There were twenty-five gray suits in the room.  We were talking about what practices, policies and programs are offered because it has always been that way—the status quo. I asked what customers are complaining about. Could those practices change?

One banker was frustrated that customers didn’t understand why they had to charge service fees on dormant accounts which often held little money. Eventually, the monthly fees created negative balances on accounts and that really rocked their customers’ world. “If only they understood our costs”, the banker said. However, that is not outside-in thinking.

In an effort to help him wear “customer” shoes, we examined fees that those in the room paid that they didn’t like and don’t understand—like baggage fees for checked luggage when flying. Wouldn’t it be great to have the good old days back where luggage flew for free? Or what about the ever rising costs of green fees and carts? When asked to think as consumers, the bankers could readily identify what fees they didn’t like or understand.

So they got it, right? Point made!! The fee could be banished? Uh, no! The same banker said it just didn’t make financial sense.  And around we went.

Customers don’t want excuses

The point is that, frankly, customers just don’t care why you can’t do something. They don’t care that it is not your policy or that it is hard or that it costs money. They have been told, in the name of customer service and brand loyalty by many other companies, they deserve to be satisfied and even have their expectations surpassed. Why would they want to listen to a long-winded explanation of banking finances?

On a chat forum online for business travelers, the question of how hotels respond to online criticisms was raised. What do travelers do if their complaints receive a generic response? Most agreed they just don’t return to the hotel—a passive response and the hotel may never know they just lost a customer through their action.

A hotel manager posted his thoughts reminding us how hard it was to address every concern, particularly when locations managers don’t have control of things like street noise or construction, or when the air conditioning goes out. He also noted that many people don’t complain at the hotel and save their comments for travel sites, leaving him with little opportunity to respond. And there are so many travel sites he can hardly keep up.

Can you relate to his tale? Undoubtedly! If you failed to be able to sleep the night before a big presentation because of a noisy family in the room above you, does it make a difference that the manager explained why they can’t move your room or enforce quiet hours? Probably not. You didn’t choose that hotel with the expectation of lying awake tossing and turning the day before a big career opportunity. While you might understand, it doesn’t make the issue go away. Did you pay for a hotel room or for a good nights’ sleep?

Too often companies forget that they are not selling the “thing”a hotel room, but meeting a needa good night’s sleep.

Strategy of ‘outside-in’ thinking

‘Outside-in’ simply says we look at the situation through another’s eyes—the lens of the customers we are trying to serve. How does it appear to them? Does it seem reasonable and fair? Is it a price they are willing to pay for what they get?

People will vote with their dollars or in today’s world, their online comments. It is not about right or wrong; it is about delivering against expectations established by the industry as a whole, and your brand specifically. What did you promise and what did you deliver?

It is imperative that leaders lead from the outside-in as it is the only “view” that can take the organization to the next level of success.

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