Although Outside-In® is a regular topic in my blog, the definition tends to elude some readers. By definition, Outside-In® is when a business is customer-centered. It is a philosophy, a culture, a way of thinking that impacts the way a business and its employees operate. When you’re Outside-In®, you are always listening to your customers’ needs and wants for opportunities to improve, drive change, or try something new for your customers.
I know many leaders that pride themselves on focusing on the customer exclusively — kudos to them. But how many leaders truly turn outward first, then build a company that does the same? A leader’s focus on the customer does not necessarily translate into every employee. Outside-In® suggests that leaders don’t have to hold the customer’s wants and needs on their shoulders alone. In a world that is moving faster every day, isn’t it better to have everyone in the organization listening and reacting to customers, instead of just one or a few?
Outside-In® companies should and can run like one, big, constant focus group. Imagine a focus group that never ends, where employees get to ask the questions and observe the customers’ behavior. What if these observations were collected and cherished every day and that company decisions and plans were driven based on all the customer insights collected? In an eternal focus group, every employee sees the impact the company has on the customer and when that impact is negative or unproductive, each employee has the opportunity to recognize how the issue could be addressed.
Last year, Comcast NBCUniversal awarded employee ideas in the company’s internal ‘Shark Tank’ competition, The Idea, which challenged employees (139,000+ globally) to come up with the next big idea to make the company better. Employees responded to challenge, submitting 200 submissions within two hours of the program’s announcement, and nearly 3,000 ideas in the end. All employees’ suggestions “for enhancing the customer experience or driving innovation and new business opportunities.” Maggie Suniewick, a Senior VP for the company and organizer of the competition shared, “We have so many talented and engaged employees with really good ideas — they just haven’t always known how to share them more broadly.” The Idea winner, Nathan Kalish agreed with executives inspiration behind the competition, “We have to look to employees and consumers to identify needs and challenges,” he says. “And if we want to adapt and grow, we need to respond.”
Google is another example of a company that not only rewards employees but also their customers who uncover vulnerabilities in Google’s system. Last year, Google rewarded Kamil Hismatullin who discovered that he could delete any YouTube video file in minutes. Instead of exploiting this information, he reported the code he used to Google, who fixed the issue within a few hours and gave him $5,000 as a thank you. And just this week it was reported how much Google paid the man who bought the Google.com domain back in October 2015. What would Google do if they no longer had Google.com?!
There are lots of companies that practice the Outside-In® behavior of listening to customers to fix problems, make improvements and implement new ideas. And you don’t need to be a big company with a huge bank account like NBCUniversal or Google. Harvard Business Review notes one Japanese company Idemitsu, which gets more than a hundred ideas per employee each year without offering any bonuses. Imagine your company living with a customer-centric mindset 24/7! Wow, think of the money you could save. Or how much your company could make with new ideas?