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Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business — A book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 24, 2012  |  1 Comment

Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business  is a solid book on the increasingly important subject of the customer experience.  Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine provide a comprehensive view of all of the major aspects related to the importance, design and creation of compelling customer experiences.  Overall this book advances the state of customer experience strategy, processes and approaches.  Recommended if you do not know what customer experience means or your current customer experience is in need of transformation.

The author’s six disciplines of a mature customer experience organization provide a basis for the book.  Each discipline is its own chapter covering

  • Strategy
  • Customer understanding
  • Design
  • Measurement
  • Governance
  • Culture

These disciplines, coupled with a part 1 that discusses the need and financial implications of poor customer experiences constitute the bulk of the book.  The book introduces a number of tools from a definition of the customer journey, to the idea of a customer experience pyramid, ecosystem and four adoption levels of customer experience practices.  These tools cover the full lifecycle of a customer experience program.

Overall the book represents a solid and in depth addition to the discussion of customer experience, its importance and design.  It’s a solid four-star book as it reflects an understanding that builds on and extends current practice.   Its not a book that will redefine what customer experience means, but it will give people without a definition a powerful resource to move them forward.


Frequent, personal and illustrative case stories, rather than case studies, that bring the book’s concepts to life.  These appear throughout the book and come from companies we all want to learn more about from Fidelity Investments, Best Buy, USAA, Jet Blue, etc.   The authors use these stories effectively.

Advocating customer observation and inquiry, as a critical part of the customer experience process is spot on and often underappreciated in organizations.  Too many people are too willing to accept what they think rather than to go out and see what is really going on.

The book is comprehensive with the appropriate level of detail to give executives an idea of what it takes to develop and execute a customer experience strategy.  The six disciplines of a mature customer experience and the details are very helpful.

The book recognizes that the customer experience involves an ecosystem – it takes a village to have a good experience.  This observation and the techniques discussed to define that ecosystem are strengths of the book.


The book defines the customer experience as ‘how your customers perceive their interactions with your company.’  This definition, while accurate, creates a bias toward customer experiences based on usability, being easy to do business with and focus on what the company does as determining the experience.  It’s a subtle point but limiting the experience to interactions with your company provides a thin ledge to support inside out thinking.

The customer journey used in the book is good.  But this lifecycle predominantly focuses on marketing, selling and purchase events as opposed to taking a broader view of the customer experience.

Through the book, there is an assumption that internal integration is the primary cause of a poor customer experience.  It is, but its not the only cause, nor is improving integration the primary answer.

Finally the book is process heavy discussing the various disciplines, practices and tools involved in executing a customer experience strategy. That is a good thing, but much of this process is less informed by technology, the challenges and innovations it brings to the experience equation. It’s an omission that re-enforces current practice when it could push the customer experience frontier.

Please note this review was previously posted on

Category: book-review  customer-experience  

Tags: book-review  customer-experience  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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