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Inside Business | 4 min read

Systems Thinking: Giving Customers What They Want

Scott Downing

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Scott Downing

 The impact of technology has and continues to serve up change and progression to individuals and businesses at a rate of nanoseconds - think about it, you can now order food from your tablet in a car driven by a complete stranger (who isn’t a taxi driver) that you booked in an app on your watch.

‘Unless you change the way you think, your system will not change and therefore its performance won’t change either.”  John Seddon

While change can be challenging, it is one of the only things that is guaranteed in life. That and taxes.

However, conventionally speaking, organisations aren’t known for moving with the times, especially when it comes to servicing their customers the way that THEY want to be serviced.

Hailing from the UK, the first 17 years of my career was spent in corporate finance prior to making the change to telecommunications where I built and managed retention, customer service centre’s as well as Telstra’s Advocacy Capability Team along with their customer experience office. I have always had incredibly high standards when it comes to customer service, and nothing annoys me more than bad or inconsistent service experiences. The more frustrated I got, the increasingly aware I also became and it dawned on me that I had found my calling.

The Systems Thinking methodology was introduced to me was based on John Seddon’s translation of Taiichi Ohno’s ideas behind the Toyota Production System for service organisations, also known as the Vanguard Method. I spent 2 years being trained by Vanguard Consulting prior to engineering and training the advocacy and customer experience teams, and wider organisation at Telstra.

What Is Systems Thinking?

Not to be confused with Design Thinking, Systems Thinking makes the assumption that service is different to manufacturing. The Vanguard Method identifies that there is inherently greater variety in customer demand, hence the need to design different strategies to absorb that variety.

Leaders and their teams are urged to view their organisation as a system, and on the basis of the data or knowledge collected, they must re-design their services to tackle the root-cause of issues and therefore lower costs by designing out ‘failure demand’ - the failure to do something or do something right for the customer. In order to do this however, you will need to adopt an ‘Outside In’ approach of the world.

Outside In V Inside Out

Conventionally, most business strategies are built using the ‘Inside Out approach’. Meaning that they are guided by the beliefs that the resources and knowledge within an organisation can be harnessed to create a sustainable future. An Outside In approach, however, is guided by the view that creating products and services based on a customers wants and needs is the key to success.

For example, organisations that take an Inside Out view of the world design products that are standardised. Their offering may consist of having a small, medium or large and it will come in a blue box with a blue lid because that’s what they believe their customers want.


An Outside In or Systems Thinking approach will recognise that variation is what drives customer advocacy. So yes, whilst they know that 95% of their customers want a blue box, 2% want a pink lid, 0.5% want a red lid and 3% want a larger box because they want to put more things in it, yet they all still want a blue box.

In this analogy, trust accounting is the blue box. It is needed by the world, but each individual customer's trust accounting needs are different. This is why being able to cater to different customers needs and wants is key to delivering a successful service, and to providing exceptional customer experiences.

Providing An Exceptional Customer Experience

According to Forrester's, 84% of organisations aspire to be a customer experience leader, yet from a customer’s perspective, only ⅕ actually deliver one.

Adopting a systemic view provides you with access to sustainably deliver an exceptional customer experience because it focuses on delivering what actually matters to the different shapes of customers within your business's target personas. This is far more cost and resource effective than executing strategies and processes to develop a ‘one size fits all’ service approach that an organisation thinks their customers want.

Don’t Fight The System, Embrace It

When Systems Thinking is embraced from the top down, there is a real opportunity for collaboration between individuals and teams, being cost effective, and removing bad customer experience. 

Why? Because when you look at things from a systemic view, you don’t just look at it through siloed mentality. You look at it from a horizontal perspective, and then systemically, you remove waste and rework from that system or process.

Systems Thinking flips conventional/hierarchical leadership on its head because it provides everyone with the access to stop what they or the business is doing because they recognise it’s breaking for customers. It empowers the people that do the work, which in turn makes the work better. You see, you cannot create customer advocacy if the people servicing them are not advocates themselves.

What’s In It For You AND Your Customers

Regardless of the size or industry your business is in, Systems Thinking can be used to positively impact the following areas:

Team Performance:

Systems Thinking empowers people because it provides everyone with a voice, the ability to drive change and take ownership of their work. When this is present, attrition rates and sick days are reduced, and employee engagement and performance increase. People that do the work are who improve the work, not Managers!


Replacing employees is both costly in time and resources. When employees are engaged and feel empowered by their work, it’s only natural that they want to remain working in your business. When employees are happy and engaged, they are more likely to advocate your business and therefore deliver an exceptional customer experience.

The impact on customer happiness:

When a system works and consistently delivers a great product and service to customers, customer happiness increases. Customers become advocates and are sticky or loyal to your brand. The higher they are on the advocacy scale, the more forgiving they are likely to be if and when you mess up!

When you adopt Systems Thinking into your business, you not only give customers and employees a voice, you actually listen to them too! When your customers and people are happy, engaged and part of your journey, failure, waste work and rework is increasingly designed out. This leaves more room for success and advocacy.


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