Major movie theaters in my area have been offering reserved seating for quite a while. Customers can order tickets and choose their seats weeks in advance, either online or directly at the theater.  With a little forethought, a person can watch a new movie as soon as it comes out without worrying about lines or that tickets to their preferred showtime might sell out.

I’m not sure when this became common practice for theaters, but I can tell you exactly when I realized my show-up-early, stand-in-line approach was outdated.  It was the summer of 2017, and my family and I had decided to see a showing of Wonder Woman.

The movie had been out for about a week, so when we drove to the theater that Saturday afternoon I was pleased to find only a small line of people buying tickets, all for other movies.  Arriving early had apparently paid off – we were first in line for the next showing of our movie.

I told the ticket-seller how many we wanted, and he replied that the only seats available were at the far right end of the front row.  What?  Oh…

Despite being first in line, I was too late.  Yes I bought the tickets and yes we liked the movie.  But also yes the viewing experience was poor and yes my neck hurt from watching at a weird angle.  Before the first frame of the movie played, I knew I needed to change my approach to ticket-buying.  Show-up-early, stand-in-line would no longer reliably get me good seats to a new movie.

I was reminded of this when I interviewed Guillermo Diaz Jr. – SVP of Customer Transformation and until recently our CIO – for the latest Beyond the Network podcast.  I was talking to him about “customer zero,” a program lead by Cisco IT that’s improving the customer experience.  As customer zero, Cisco IT deploys products into a production environment, providing real-world testing before the solution is released to the public.  That’s great, but Cisco IT has for years prided itself on being the company’s first and best customer – using our own products early and sharing what we learn.  What’s different about customer zero?

“We came to the realization that when you’re Customer One, that’s too late,” Diaz told me.  “It’s better for us to be right in the midst with engineering teams because we have technical folks in our teams that understand applications.  We have folks that understand infrastructure.  And we can put it together.  There’s one place in the company where a lot of those pieces come together, whether it’s business process, applications, data, and infrastructure, and that’s Cisco IT.”

In short, the customer zero approach is more than Cisco using its own technologies.  It’s a path-clearing, quality-improving mindset that goes beyond being first in line.  As customer zero, Cisco IT doesn’t just use a solution before it is released.  We order the product just as other customers do and then identify how to improve that process.  We work with Cisco Engineering to co-develop new features and eliminate bugs.  We also take our experience with a product to develop use cases that define how it can add the most business value.

Listen to The Business Value of Zero to hear Guillermo and several other key players discuss Cisco’s customer zero effort and how it is improving customer experiences, enhancing our products and transforming the role of IT.