Customer Experience and Organisational Change: Reflections on the Limits and Folly of Outside-In


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The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.

Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance. If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….

Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach? Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer? Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration? Allow me to share two stories with you.

When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening. That is when the obstacles arose. The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….

Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died. Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed. I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time. That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.

I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc. I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead. Why? What happened? Clearly, they had not been looked after. Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important. Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.

What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil. And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.

I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons. For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. You said: “Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach?” and I’d hazard a guess that it’s because companies are set up to be profit-centric.

    Companies don’t exist with the customer in the center — our world doesn’t work that way. Customers are essential but a means to an end, and so long as that logical relationship stays constant, they will never be the end in themselves.


  2. Hello Robert
    It occurs to me that you and I are in agreement. The set-up is just as you describe it. Where we differ, perhaps, is that our world works this way because we make it work this way. We can choose to make it work differently. We can take a balanced stakeholder approach. The Whole Food Market CEO calls is conscious capitalism.

    I thank you for making the effort to share you perspective. I wish you the very best. And Look forward to our next interaction, if I can call it that.



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