Outside-In Discipline in designing Customer Facing Systems
Several years back we were implementing a customer portal and after roll-out I too became a user being a user of the company’s services. It so happened that I forgot the password or so I thought. As a normal user I chose the “Forgot your password” option and in came a mail revealing the password. The password was the same as what I was trying. Flustered, I called the developers to find the actual problem. They shared my username to be same as my email id. But that is what I was using in my unsuccessful attempts. Still unable to understand the problem, I asked them to mail me the username. Their showed that the username was indeed the email id with no spelling mistakes.
Then I realized that in their mail the email id was written in all caps. I tried and it worked. The problem is that no one considers email id to be case sensitive, while username can be case sensitive. If you design that the email id should be the username, you should ensure that no matter how the user types the email id in the username field it accepts it as long as it is spelled correctly, it just involves the user of functions like “uppercase” or “lowercase” and an understanding of customer behavior.
If you design your IT systems as per outside-in discipline, you will not miss these un-stated customer needs. What is required in outside-in discipline is to wear the customer hat when you design and develop systems.
To understand outside-in discipline further, it is important to first understand what “inside-out thinking” is? When you view the world from the eyes of the engineer, or process managers, you are viewing it inside-out. You are doing inside-out thinking when the organization’s requirement takes precedence over customer requirements. On the other hand, you are practicing “Outside-In discipline” when you view your organization, products, processes and services from the eyes of the customer.
Following outside-in thinking is not just the job of the IT department but of the organization. The CIO may contribute towards culture building and empanelling other departments and guide them towards the discipline. When designing customer facing enterprise systems, the first step is to create “customer pictures” for each segment of customer. A customer picture helps us in designing some unique features into the self-care portal. Customer pictures of enterprise customer, small businessman, consultants help in designing features which are of value to them. Once the enterprise system enables a person to succeed, it attracts high usability and success to the service provider. Customer pictures help in finding what is important for each type of customer.
A customer picture for enterprise customers helps the service provider understand that he is usually an Admin Executive who manages the Company wide account of all employees where each subscription can be administered. This type of customer will require a different set of features than an individual customer.
Once each type of customer is successful in fulfilling his objectives using your system the purpose behind the service provider developing the system shall be fulfilled. A self-care portal is developed to reduce costs and provide customer delight. As more and more subscribers start using it regularly the calls to the call center get reduced, and so does the cost of delivering the bills to the customer.
Understanding what the customer wants and values is the key to success of an organization. Remember the time when web check-in and tele check-in were considered as a privilege reserved for the frequent flyers. There came a time when no-frill airlines introduced it to reduce costs and every other airline had to follow suit because it soon became a differentiator in favor of the no-frill airlines.
In summary, outside-in thinking discipline is a cultivable habit and not a methodology. It can be applied in current models and frameworks used in designing enterprise systems. Basically, it is the art of predicting customers’ unstated needs.
Outside-In thinking is wearing the customers’ hat when;
1. Collecting requirements
2. Deciding features to be built in the system
3. Designing user interfaces
4. Designing system architecture
5. Testing the system and
6. Outside-In thinking is talking the customer’s language when interacting with him
As you may have rightly guessed, Outside-In Discipline is applicable for any service you design even if it is not involving any software system.