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

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.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

5 thoughts on “Customer Experience and Organisational Change: Reflections on the Limits and Folly of Outside-In”

  1. Maz, this is an apt metaphor!

    Here’s the lesson that jumps out at me:

    Every garden, as you point out, has a particular type of soil, and receives different levels of sun at different times of the day. If the gardener carefully selects the right plants for the conditions of the garden, the plants will grow healthy, and flourish. The gardener will then enjoy a beautiful garden, with fewer resources (fertilizer, etc.). The lesson is this: CAREFULLY DEFINE THE IDEAL CUSTOMER FOR YOUR BUSINESS; don’t try to “plant” any customer into your customer base; only select those that fit our “ideal customer profile.”

    Best regards,
    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine


    1. Hello Jim
      Thank you for making the time to share and contribute. I find myself to be in complete agreement with you. And I’d go further.

      I say be extra careful about importing the latest shiny best practices and technologies into your organisation. They may not fit into your organisation. You may not be willing to make the changes that will allow them to flourish.

      All the best


  2. Hi Maz,
    Whilst I agree with James and Jim, I think there is another point that I would make that is apt when using a gardening analogy. That is that there are no guarantees with gardening – there are no guarantees that a plant won’t get infected by a disease or a bug, that the weather won’t change adversely affecting all of your garden, that too much water will kill a plant as quickly as too little – therefore, commitment is required and a sure eye on the end game…..a beautiful garden for all seasons.

    On another note, my father is a professional and award winning gardener. If you ever need advice then just ask.



  3. Maz,

    Love the analogy… I agree with Jim’s point and with Adrian’s. Lots of great lessons here to apply to CX. Thanks for making that connection.

    Annette 🙂


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