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​How major brands create the perfect culture for customer excellence


We wanted to create a good piece on the way major brands interact with their customers. How do companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney ensure that they understand their customers perfectly, and align their services accordingly?

So, fortunately, it just happens that not too long ago, a book by Steven van Belleghem, the Belgian author who talks about this subject all over the world, was delivered to our doorstep. Van Belleghem had collated some cases of 'customer excellence' and included them in his book. His American colleague Shep Hyken does the same, travelling the globe, and talking about how to listen as well as possible to your customers as a brand, in addition to collecting the most amazing stories on the subject, which all feature in his latest book 'I'll Be Back'.

Customer is king
We spoke to both speakers/authors via Zoom, and really only had one key question: how do you create a culture within a company whereby the customer is actually king? Customer needs and desires are always paramount. How does Netflix create a culture where the series of tomorrow are created in line with the desires of the customer? How does Disney know exactly which videos its audience wants to see on DisneyPlus, and just what is Amazon's next step in terms of customer friendliness?

Van Belleghem thinks that a culture of that nature has everything to do with directors and founders. "Take Walt Disney for example, who has created all kinds of ground-breaking content. The first feature film with Snow White matched people's needs perfectly, and after a few successful films he said: people should be able to walk around in the movies themselves .... and that is how Disneyworld came about. At Disney, the needs of the customers are always central, and that is so important, that everyone is trained on that subject at the Disney Academy. ''

Smell of popcorn
Blake Morgan
wrote an interesting article about the Disney parks in Forbes featuring a few fun facts. For example, the trashcans are no more than 10 meters apart, the music is played at identical sound levels throughout the parks, and the smell of popcorn always permeates the main street. In addition, on the first day of his or her training, every employee learns how to resolve any problems of customers immediately. In Van Belleghem's book there's a story that includes the six lessons of Netflix regarding customer friendliness, which is really worth taking a look at. In the story there is a great little chart with the difference between 'customer focus' and 'customer obsession' that Gibson Biddle, Product VP at Netflix once used. For example, it says that you should focus on 'customer delight' rather than 'customer satisfaction'.

Customer-oriented culture
According to Van Belleghem, there are several elements that are important in creating a customer-oriented culture. First of all, you should always convey your ambition to serve the customer to your employees, and make sure that they believe that you really think it's important. "Every company claims it's customer-oriented, but in practice you know that's not so. If the employees don't believe it, you won't pull it off." The second thing is that you put your customer theory into practice, so that you set a good example as a manager or CEO. The third thing is that you help employees to understand how they make the difference in terms of customer focus. ''You have to be able to properly explain how their job task is connected to the customer. How do they contribute to customer focus?'' In short: having a nice credible story, proving in practice that you mean it, and taking the employees along on the journey. From the bottom up also works very well, as it enables employees to see where the friction lies for customers, and then you need to remove the barriers to solve that yourself."

Returning customer
Shep Hyken, Van Belleghem's international colleague, explains from St. Louis that customer experience is part of the culture at companies. "It is ultimately about the challenge of turning an occasional customer into a returning customer. I call this the 'loyalty question': what am I doing at the moment to ensure that the customer will return?'' Hyken believes that you need to analyze all 'customer journeys' - in other words ranging from a potential customer who looks at prices on the website to when they make the purchase and then come back. With every form of interaction, you then ask: is this really as good as it can possibly be? And what can we do to improve it? In order to achieve this, you not only have to analyse the conversation between the complaining customer and the employee, but also the processes behind it. "The question then is how to optimize that chain of different people in such a way that the customer has a better experience." You have to dig deep to make it better. "Certainly, that's something you do collectively with an entire team, and repeat the process three months later. For example, mystery shoppers work well in that regard when it comes to a store, then you analyze how it can be improved and repeat it again."
Hyken tells us about Jan Carlzon, the former CEO of Skandinavian Airlines in the 1980s. "He said that anytime a customer comes into contact with a company and has the opportunity to form an impression - a passenger in his case - is a 'moment of truth'. You need to make sure that it is a memorable and not a mediocre moment." What Hyken is basically saying is that it's important that every employee understands exactly what his or her role is within the 'customer journey'. He talks about a flight from Dallas to Missouri, a 2-hour flight where he only sees his luggage once he's back at the airport. "In the meantime, 8 to 10 people have handled my luggage, but they've never seen me. Nevertheless, it's important that they understand that I will step into an office to register my luggage not being there if it happens. That's something to think about.''

Hyken sometimes gets the question whether it's realistic to work towards the customer focus level of Amazon. "I always say: are you sure, because Jeff Bezos is completely obsessed with customers. He once said: we have to be so good that we won't even need 'customer support' at all. He believes that Amazon is always responsible, even if the deliverers of a third party, for example, lose the package. That is why it is so important that you meet and analyze each other at the intersection between customer and employee." What exactly was Amazon's strategy? "In the end they always help, they always have a solution if your package perishes somewhere along the way. That seems an easy task, but it's not at all. Bezos was willing to give up a small percentage of the profits to make that happen. He has made Amazon the perfect store for all products through his total obsession with the customer. The story goes that at every meeting at Amazon, a seat is always reserved for the customer. I don't know if it's true, but it's a certain mindset.''

Best in the industry
In the book, he launches a system comprising six questions ensuring customers will return. The first is the question of why the customer would do business with one brand instead of its competitor. "You have to come up with something unique, for example if you have a patent for something or if you are able to deliver within a day." Secondly, why would someone do business with a competitor? "It is important to know in which way they differ.'' Thirdly, it is useful to ask the question what you can do yourself in that regard, but just that little bit better. "One day a hotel gave away free newspapers to business customers. After that, the hotel across the street did things differently: they started delivering newspapers to hotel rooms." Number four is: which companies outside your own industry do you like to do business with and why? "Maybe you know a restaurant where they always know the names of customers. At Amazon, they immediately send out an email when you order something. One of my trainers gave this example during training and a participant said: I'm in the b-to-b business and that does not apply to me. I was at that training and said: it's not about that e-mail, but about always conveying information, that's what customers love." Step five is about looking at the reason people love that company, which is why you're shifting from being the best in your industry to the best in the whole world. "The sixth step is the question: now that we are all doing this, why would the customer want to use us? And there are several reasons for that. ''

Yes, you can apply all kinds of complex theories to it, but the best way to become more customer-friendly as a brand - taking an example from the major brands - is to start with yourself. Look at the different ways you interact with customers, and try to ask yourself the question: how can that be improved upon? And yes, technology can help you make all that happen, but in the end, constant improvement is what it comes down to.

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