I originally wrote today’s post as a guest post for I Want It Now on March 18, 2013.

TSA recently announced that it was changing some of its carry-on restrictions next month; in addition to  certain types of knives, they will allow passengers to bring golf clubs, hockey sticks, and plastic bats onto planes, all of which had been restricted post-9/11. Other than the obvious question about whether the world is a safer place now than it was then (or even a month ago), is this really such a good idea? Where did this come from?

Supposedly, this brings U.S. carry-on rules in line with those of the EU. Who decided that what the EU was doing was a best practice?

According to the president of the Transportation Workers Union, Stacy Martin, “This policy was designed to make the lives of TSA staff easier, but not make flights safer.” Her comments come as a direct result of what TSA Administrator John Pistole said: “Frankly, I don’t want TSA agents to be delayed by these.” Clearly he believes the destructive weapons of choice have shifted, but I think when you take your eye off the ball, that’s when the other team scores. My two cents.

Anyway, there’s more to this story than just that, and I don’t really want to debate it; that’s not my point here. I’m using this as an example for my topic, and I want to focus on those two statements in the previous paragraph – and the problem with inside-out thinking when it comes to customer experience.

Inside-out thinking means your focus is on processes that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer’s needs and perspectives do not play a part in this type of thinking. You make decisions because you think it’s what’s best for the business.

Outside-in thinking means that you look at your business from the customer’s perspective and subsequently design processes and make decisions based on what’s best for the customer and what meets the customer’s needs. You make decisions because you know it’s what’s best for your customers.

When TSA is thinking about processes and policies that simplify things for their own good, without considering the impact on their customers, then that is inside-out thinking. This is a prime example, another quote from John Pistole: “The idea that we have to look for, to find, and then somehow resolve whatever that prohibited item is — that takes time and effort.” Yea, but that time and effort will hopefully save the lives of hundreds of people (your customers).

There was a glimmer of hope when I read an article a couple days ago that lawmakers are trying to reverse this decision. And I quote: “This decision appears to have been made without formal engagement with stakeholders impacted by this policy, including those most likely to come into contact with someone possessing a knife on a plane – flight crew members and air marshals.”

Um, what about the other passengers? Aren’t they also stakeholders impacted by the policy?

OK, so let’s just assume for the sake of this post that everything TSA decided was truly done without taking into consideration the customer perspective or the impact on the customer.

It might be inside-out thinking when there’s a conscious decision to make process, policy, people, systems, or other changes that:

1. Don’t improve the customer experience at the same time
2. Are about maximizing shareholder returns, not about benefits for the customer
3. Improve internal efficiencies but to the detriment of customer interactions
4. Are cost-cutting measures that also negatively impact the  customer experience
5. Might be the wrong process, policy, people, or systems to change

By contrast, outside-in thinking flips each of those points on its head and looks like this. There’s a conscious decision to make process, policy, people, systems, or other changes that:

1. Improve the customer experience at the same time
2. Are about maximizing benefits for the customer
3. Improve internal efficiencies known to be painpoints when executing customer interactions
4. Are cost-cutting measures that significantly improve the customer experience
5. Are the right process, policy, people, or systems because you’ve listened to customer feedback and know how customers are affected

Outside-in thinking, i.e., applying the customer perspective to every decision the company makes, leads to a number of things, none of which you’ll get by making decisions that are not based on what’s best for your customers…

•    reduced complaints
•    increased satisfaction
•    increased referrals
•    increased repeat purchases
•    improved ease of doing business
•    fewer lost customers

… all of which translate to reduced costs and increased revenue. Now who can’t get on board with that?

Here are a few business leaders who get it:

Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer! -Gene Buckley, President Sikorsky Aircraft

This may seem simple, but you need to give customers what they want, not what you think they want. And, if you do this, people will keep coming back. -John Ilhan, Crazy John’s

For us, our most important stakeholder is not our stockholders, it is our customers. We’re in business to serve the needs and desires of our core customer base. -John Mackey, Whole Foods