In the second of our four-part series on how to profit from feedback management, we’re talking about how be more externally, or customer, focused.

Most leaders want to build a more customer focused organisation.  A big part of achieving this is embracing the fact that there are two main perspectives in any organisation:

  • Internal focus (inside-out): often presents as a strong technical or product focus- and there’s nothing wrong with that- your people need to know your business, especially your specialists
  • External focus (outside-in): the ability to see the needs and views of external stakeholder groups

Every organisation needs a mixture of both, but often the balance isn’t right and it normally tips in the direction of being too inside-out.  That’s why most leadership teams want greater customer centricity.  And research shows that it is far more profitable*.

Many organisations do their best to bring the customer voice to the centre, yet few solutions truly deliver:

  • CRM is criticised for its inside-out view of customers
  • Market research is unconnected with other data streams and often doesn’t reach far enough into the business
  • Many managers feel drowned by the loads of customer data they get, but see few stories that bring customers to life

The secret is to find a practical way to recognise and challenge the inside-out perspectives in your organisation with the unvarnished customer voice.

Here are some practical steps:

Use a true ‘voice’ method for listening

This is the perfect raw material for fostering a truly customer centric view.  True voice means people say what they think in just a few open questions – in their own words, as they see it.

Challenge across functions

Excessively inside-out perspectives often hide away in your functional silos, so a good way to flush them out is to pose a few regular simple outside-in framed working session topics – and then bring different functional silos together to discuss how they can collaborate on addressing those topics.  This will get your functional teams working together and focused on the customer, so as their perspectives are challenged, a rebalancing between inside-out and outside-in naturally occurs.

One practical way of doing this is to set up a routinised process which considers the customer voice and shares views between people in different functions.  This is an embedded tool in MirrorWave, called Comments of Interest.  It’s a positive and constructive way to challenge people to take customer voice seriously, to think about what it means for them, how they need to work together and what they as an individual need to do.

Here are examples of outside-in working session topics that can be used to spark outside-in conversations:

  • List the things customers say that are plain wrong and need us to better manage expectations
  • List the issues raised by customers that require a new solution
  • Which problems mentioned by customers require us to work together better?
  • What positives mentioned by customers could be further polished by us?
  • Which comments by customers are sales opportunities in hiding?
  • Which customer issues, if addressed, could save us time and cost?
  • Which one comment could you do something about straight away, so that it doesn’t come up again?

Get into a rhythm

Attacking these outside-in issues shouldn’t be a once-off, it needs to be part of an ongoing customer-orientated conversation.

Ultimately, this then becomes part of how the organisation operates and feedback helps build momentum for improvement in the teams, rather than losing it as staff leave and new people join the teams.

Getting into an outside-in rhythm can be as easy as building this conversation into existing, regular routines such as meeting agendas and conferences.  Two simple and practical approaches work well:

  • For each MirrorWave round of feedback, ask each involved employee to nominate one thing they could do to meet a customer issue mentioned in the feedback. Support them to achieve that single action item
  • As a team, choose one deeper, systemic change you can easily and quickly make to demonstrate how you are listening and responding. We call this ‘blitzing’, because the idea is to put extraordinary attention on one point of focus.

Then over time, you’re actively establishing a rhythm for rebalancing against the tendency to be inside-out.

Show what’s working and what isn’t

The ultimate measure of customer centricity is that you’re able to meet the express needs of customers effectively.

Being customer centric doesn’t mean being led by the nose by the customer, it means taking action to address the things customers are saying to you.  Always, of course, within the resources and constraints of the business – and profitably

Here’s an example:

Consider a city council parks project involving parks managers, drainage engineers and roading engineers etc – all of whom have different specialist skills and project objectives.  Roading engineers are specialists in roads; drainage engineers in drains, parks managers love turf, but customers want council to provide a green space in the city where people can connect with nature, go eeling and tromp barefoot in swamps.  In one real example and as a result of a cross functional discussion around this customer defined goal, each specialist team when challenged with an outside-in view came up with radically different proposals to ensure the park was much more than efficient drains, good roads and nice lawn.

Following individual customers over time using a longitudinal approach means you can see how your interventions impacted what those customers think, and whether their needs have been met.  This in turn drives profit and better business outcomes, which we discuss further in this whitepaper and will cover in more detail in the fourth article of this four-part series.

More information

Customer Sutra: while light-hearted in its approach, we’ve developed this ‘Customer Sutra infographic’ to show businesses how to bring the customer voice into their organisations, and how they can really love their customers

Case Study: here’s a real-life example of excellent customer centricity in practice

* See and


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