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I was very happy to have a conversation with Rik Vera for my latest episode of People&Digital, the podcast, as he’s such a highly respected customer experience thought leader – in Belgium and beyond. An influential business philosopher, coach and advisor, he inspires people with an approach to CX, disruption, sales and marketing based on culture, curiosity and responsibility.
We spoke about why the customer should always be the centre of your universe, how companies can avoid being the ‘Trumps’ of the business world, and why acting like a surfer is a shortcut to success.
Here are some of Rik’s thoughts on bringing his strategy of ‘extreme customer centricity’ into your working life.
Pay attention to your language
Rik points out that so many companies depersonalise the human being through their language, which makes it harder for them to actually engage with their customers.
Assess whether you’re really, truly putting the customer first
Try to gauge whether you’re actually making the customer the centre of your universe or whether you’ve reduced everything to KPIs, Rik says.
Curiosity is the key to bringing value in the Covid-19 landscape
Rik discusses how his idea of a ‘net curiosity score’ could be a way for companies to navigate the ‘new normal’ after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Use new technology to your advantage
You need to make sure your communication tools are working for you, Rik explains.
Embrace the chaos
Chaos isn’t always a bad thing, says Rik. Companies that are open to disruption are often the most successful.
Conquer your overwhelm
There’s no need to be overwhelmed in the fast-paced world of business, according to Rik. Try to see change as exciting rather than stressful.
Don’t stick to what you know
Rik explains that the companies that entrench themselves in their older ways of working will fail, while those that “Uberize” their business will succeed.
Dive into the surfer mindset
You can only learn to surf by surfing, says Rik. You get better wave by wave by wave – and that’s exactly what you need to do to run a business.
Become more agile by practising agility
You don’t need to put into place a plan to become more agile as a company – you just need to start to solve customer frustrations, Rik explains.
1. Pay attention to your language
“Have you noticed that, in business, you hardly ever talk about people? Instead you talk about FTE and resources. The vocabulary that we use to discuss people is not actually about people. We’ve invented words that depersonalise the human being. They become toys. They become pieces on your chessboard that you can move around.
I’m not pointing fingers at managers because I used to do exactly the same. Nevertheless, you start to look at your P&L and your balanced scorecards and, before you know it, you’re talking about human beings as if they’re just pieces on your chess board and not human beings.
I’m here to shake managers up from time to time, to tell them, “Hey guys, it’s about humans, you know. It’s the internal aspect. It’s the future aspect. But it’s also the interactions between a company and customers and customers and a company. It’s a very human-to-human element. We need to be passionate about humans and human interactions if we want to run a good business.”
2. Assess whether you’re really, truly putting the customer first
“Companies say, ‘Hey, we put the customer in the centre of the universe. We treat our customers like they’re our best friends.” Then you deep dive into the language they use and they talk about “hunting customers” and “maximising their lifetime value” or keeping them “locked in”.
If you treat your best friends like this, I don’t want to be your best friend! You’re not treating your customer like a human being. You have reduced it all to KPIs.
Just imagine that you are the customer. What would you want to experience? Most companies like to make life easy for themselves and they push – without realising – all complexity and frustrations onto us as customers.”
3. Curiosity is the key to bringing value in the Covid-19 landscape
“Allow yourself that most wonderful feeling of passionate curiosity. The assumptions that you have from your old way of running a business, in most cases, they’re wrong because these are patterns that you formulated in your mind during that ‘old normal’ and there is no ‘new normal’ yet. It’s up to us to write the new normal because there are no rules, processes or regulations right now.
In my latest book, I’m introducing a new KPI based on research: the net curiosity score. Considering how you can enhance the curiosity in your organisation will help you to connect better to people outside of it. How does this work? Well, when you’re curious about somebody, you put them at the centre of your universe. So you need to put the customer at the centre of your universe by being passionately curious about them.”
4. Use new technology to your advantage
“We have all these tools to connect people nowadays. People can easily communicate inside of an organisation. Everybody can be connected to everybody at the same time in a very transparent way. The same goes for your connections with other companies and the outside world: your customers. Now that we have other types of communication tools that are hyper-connected, we need to develop a new way of conducting a business.”
5. Embrace the chaos
“Companies need to realise that when they want to move from company 1.0 to company 3.0 there’s going to be chaos because they need to let go of the old processes and procedures and develop new ones. In between these two stages is the Twilight Zone – when the old is dying and the new is not born yet. This is difficult for companies because they need to allow what they hate the most to happen: chaos. But if you think about it, it’s not really chaos. It’s just different.”
6. Conquer your overwhelm
Managers are afraid of this brave new world, but they don’t have to fight it. It’s OK to be overwhelmed, but you need to deep dive into what’s overwhelming you. Why is it so confusing? What can you do about it? How can you better understand all those 1,001 challenges that are awaiting you?
You could say it sucks being a manager today because you have to deal with a whole lot of things that you were not trained to do and that you didn’t learn at business school or in management courses. But try to look at it from a different way – that being a manager today is extremely exciting.”
7. Don’t stick to what you know
“This is a tipping point in history because it’s so chaotic and it’s going to remain that chaotic for the next 10 years at least. So what’s our human brain going to tell us to do? To stick with what we know. Some companies will do this – I call them the Trumps of the business world – and others will see it as a huge opportunity for change.
Companies are at a crossroads. They either go in one direction and stick to the old normal, which will help them to survive for the next three or four years, no problem. But they’re eating the remains of the old normal. And the moment those remains are gone, they’re in deep shit. Then there are the companies that go in the other direction by coming up with creative elements, Uberizing their business and making something new.
8. Dive into the surfer mindset
“Either you stick to the old or you go for the unknown new. I call it the surfer mindset. Every wave is different. If you’re a real surfer, the bigger the wave, the more you love it. You work hard to find the biggest wave because you’re not afraid. And once you’re on the biggest wave, you can’t give up halfway because you’ll break your back.
You can only learn to surf by surfing. You get better wave by wave by wave. That’s exactly how we have to conduct business.”
9. Become more agile by practising agility
“The best exercise you can do in an organisation is to ask your team to come up with one customer frustration that they haven’t solved yet – because it’s too expensive, too complex or too difficult – and have the guts to solve it. Turn that frustration into customer delight.
While practising the exercise, your team will start to create an agile company. Then all they need to do is take one customer frustration every week and solve it. By doing this, you’ll turn your company into an agile business that’s future proof in no time. It’s as simple as that.”
Rik had so much more to tell me in the podcast. Make sure to listen if you’d like some extra advice on embracing extreme customer centricity and boosting your business!