Focus On Managing Outcomes vs. Outputs To Drive Better Customer Experiences

By VHT Marketing

I read an article recently in Harvard Business Review (HBR) that reinforces a belief I’ve held for a while: More often than not we as contact center technology providers, and the brands that buy our solutions, focus merely on outputs and lose sight of the outcomes we are trying to achieve– for our customers and our business. When we do, the results are a host of silo’d solutions that create disconnected customer experiences.

When we can deliver solutions that help organizations focus on and manage customer outcomes, we will enable better experiences and deliver desired outcomes for the customer and the business. I’ll come back to “the how” in a moment. First let’s address outputs vs. outcomes.

Deborah Mills-Scofield, an expert in leadership, innovation and strategic planning, clearly and simply articulates the profound differences between outputs and outcomes in an article on this topic in HBR. Outputs are the result of activities we do, she writes. Outputs are “the what,” of organizations: the products they offer, the revenue and profits they bring in, the engagement channels they deliver, the metrics they adhere to. Think of calls answered, callbacks returned; chats, text, emails sent or responded to, service levels met. Outputs are quantifiable.

Think deliverables. This blog is the perfect example of an output. It’s one of many I will write. Check the box. Done! Marketers often focus on outputs. Number of leads generated, white papers written, webinars delivered, blogs posted. These efforts are quantifiable.

Outcomes are the “so what,” or as Mills-Scofield writes, “the why.” She simplifies the distinction between the two in the context of the brand: customer relationship.

“Outputs are the products and stuff you create, she says and outcomes are the the benefit your customers receive from your stuff … the difference made by the outputs… Outcomes create meanings, relationships, and differences.”

For all you bottom line readers who surely think revenue and profits are outcomes, she explains:

Outputs, such as revenue and profit, enable us to fund outcomes; but without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.” Noodle on that.

Outcomes are what we want and are, or should be, what we really care about. Are we creating solutions that solve the buyer’s problem? Are we effectively communicating the value of products and services? Are we creating awareness in the marketplace? Are we communicating to the right audience?

Every product development, sales, and marketing person worth their salt knows in order to be effective you have to be able to develop, market, and sell with the “so what” top of mind. This comes with understanding customers’ needs, wants, and priorities, and their challenges, and walking in their shoes, writes Mills-Scofield, and seeing “what’s inconvenient, taking a lot of time, money, and/or effort.”

In the same article, she credits Steve Denning, another thought leader who writes for Forbes magazine on radical management, leadership, and innovation and who talks of the importance of focusing on the outcome of delighting customers instead of just “creating more stuff.” Denning stresses that to delight customers we must focus on customer stories. (This is something we know a little bit about in the world of customer service, the few great and the many horror stories.)

He in turn credits Mike Cohn and his classic book User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development where Cohn stresses that “the best way to build software that meets users’ needs is to begin with user stories: simple, clear, brief descriptions of functionality that will be valuable to real users.” Boy does that make a product marketer’s job easier. How many of us instead end with this and then struggle post development to articulate the “so what”? But I digress.

What is valuable to brands that buy contact center solutions, I believe, are solutions that work and integrate with the technology investments they already have in place– solutions that enable them to tie the silos together and enable the management of customer outcomes.

What does that look like in today’s quest to deliver omnichannel experiences, where customers are given their choice of channels they can theoretically traverse over time, at their choosing, to correct a billing error, return a defective product or change shipping methods?

Here’s a very simple story about Sue who just ordered online a new replacement part for her kitchen sink faucet. Later that morning while jumping in the car to go to work, she receives a text message confirming her order with a click-to-call option. She sees that the part isn’t arriving until the end of the week and realizes she selected regular shipping instead of overnight. The plumber is going to be there in the morning. She calls and is greeted with an automated system that knows who she is and asks if she is calling about the order she just placed this morning. She’s transferred to an agent who has context and quickly updates her shipping. No time wasted. She easily transitions between channels. Desired outcome reached.

What’s the functionality that will be valuable to real users, the technology buyers?

Look for a solution with these 5 key capabilities:

  1. Overlays and easily integrates with your existing contact center infrastructure and back-end systems
  2. Delivers the ability to begin with the end in mind. Business users know what your customers want (See outcomes chart) and have the ability to design a customer flow, an adaptable path customers take that guides them
  3. Captures, categorizes, and stores key interaction details, providing customer context and again, the ability to navigate customers toward outcomes
  4. Pushes customer-specific context to people and systems to influence and trigger next right actions
  5. And yes, generates metrics in real time that show paths taken and deliver insights on flows for fine tuning

This functionality is available today and allows brands to connect the dots and focus on managing customer outcomes. Remember, outcomes are the differences made by, or the consequences of, our activities and outputs.

My goal with the blog, this output, was to spark interest and shed light on the distinct differences, yet linkage of outcomes vs. outputs.  To paraphrase an old United Way slogan, let us not focus so much on how many worms the bird feeds its young, but how well the fledgling flies. Outcomes should be the guiding force used to evaluate, and rethink “the what’s”– our activities and outputs. Otherwise, we are just putting new coversheets on TPS reports.

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