The “inside” and “outside” of the customer experience

February 12, 2010

When I was reading blogs a couple of weeks ago looking for definitions of the term customer experience I ran across a post that I thought was particularly insightful. The blogger – Stephanie Weaver of Experienceology – is a “visitor experience consultant” who works with nonprofit cultural attractions like museums and botanical gardens to help them improve their visitor experience.  Because Stephanie works with “destination” organizations her words have a specific consumer based “site visit” frame for the customer experience but what she says is relevant to all of us. Here is what she posted:

Customer experience has two dimensions, an inside dimension and an outside dimension: 

  • Inside  First, the experience happens in your customers’ perceptions. It’s seen from their point of view, created by a combination of their feelings, sensations, and prior experiences. Unfortunately, what you intend doesn’t always matter. All that counts is what’s happening inside a customer on the day he or she is at your site. You can’t control this inside dimension. No two customers will ever have the same experience, since everyone has a unique point of view.
  • Outside  Second, an experience is made up of many separate pieces outside the customer. That’s your part. The outside dimension begins the instant a person decides to visit, continues throughout his or her time with you, and ends when he or she leaves. You control nearly every aspect of this outside dimension.

I like the way Stephanie has cleanly differentiated what we as companies/businesses do  from what goes on inside the customer’s head. And I like the memorable pair of words she uses to capture that differentiation – i.e. the “inside” dimension vs. the “outside” dimension. If we are to win with customers we have to be thoughtful about both. 

But I take a bit of an issue with one of her points – i.e.  that when it comes to the customer’s inside dimension (what goes on inside their head) you as a business person can’t “control” it. While literally true on an individual basis, this perspective overlooks the point that with the right insights and information we can predict and tailor how the outside dimension will make a broad range of customers feel inside. As a simple example, don’t you already know from customer feedback about your products or services exactly what to do to make many of your customers feel mad and irritated – e.g. wasn’t what is going on with Toyota and the response to its auto recall defects predictable. And conversely don’t you have knowledge and insights, based again on customer input, about many things you can do outside to create the positive inside response you want across much of your customer base – e.g. don’t you think John Cameron had a good deal of insight to shape the movie going audience’s response to his film Avatar. The key is to have the right kind of customer experience input data at the front end of the NPD process. (More about that in my next post.)

That being said, Stephanie’s framing of this issue was extremely useful to me and I recommend others to her post. Note that when she wrote this she was starting a conversation asking her readers to give her their definitions for customer experience and you can find her complete conversation on customer experience definitions at her blog site.


2 Responses to “The “inside” and “outside” of the customer experience”

  1. Graham Hill Says:


    Thanks to Colin Shaw for leading me to your blog.

    Are there really only two dimensions to the customer experience? What about other customers who are around at the time the customer interacts with your organisation? We are a social species after all. Or what about third-parties who are involved in delivering parts of the experience? No one organisation can deliver it all these days, not even Disney. And what about the product itself, that the customers uses when you are no longer around?

    My point is not just that there are obviously more than two dimensions to the customer experience, but that all these dimensions converge at the point where value is co-created for each involved party. For customers who are coming to you to get help doing an important job. For the organisation which is looking to be paid for its role in co-creating value. And the third-parties who are looking to get paid too. And that is just the obvious part of value co-creation.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator

    • Richard Tait Says:


      You make a very good point that there are often (usually?) multiple players contributing to the customer experience and jointly creating (or destroying!) the value associated with that experience. In the end I still like Stephanie’s separation of the customer experience into an “inside” the customer’s head piece and an “outside” the customer’s head piece but you are so right to point out that it is not just you and your customer that are responsible for those pieces.

      Many thanks for adding to the conversation.

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