How Small Changes Make a Significant Impact: Talking CX Mindset & Leadership with Murielle Machiels

In short...

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I’m really excited to welcome Murielle Machiels, who runs the start-up QI Leader – which helps managers create meaningful change in customer experience – as my next People&Digital podcast guest.

Muriel achieves her mission by hosting keynote discussions, workshops and an online program, often drawing on her previous experience as the CEO of a company in the digital transformation space. 

Read on for a summarised version of Muriel’s interview, or listen to the full discussion – packed with insights and real-life examples – on episode 20 of my People&Digital podcast. 

Where should companies start when launching or rebuilding their CX?

A: For me, it begins with the leaders and the management team. To give you an example, I was once invited to a large organization that wanted to improve their customer experience but knew they didn’t have the appropriate mindset to do it alone.   

When I arrived for my first meeting, I noticed there were just three parking spots for customers and visitors. Yet there were 20 for the board of directors – and they were all empty! This really shocked me because I could already clearly see that this company didn’t have a customer-orientated mindset.

Improving customer experience always starts with bringing CX methods into the day-to-day.

I always tell managers to talk about their customer in every meeting, even if it’s with the finance or legal team. It brings the customer into the decision every time.

Yes, and I also believe that companies focus too much on KPIs. For example, one very large organisation in Belgium measures customer satisfaction by the number of tickets it manages to close during the customer complaints process. But I personally hate it when I have a problem that can’t be solved in my first encounter with customer services so they transfer the issue higher up the chain and then close my ticket because it’s better for their KPIs. 

Companies think this is a measure of how well they’re doing, yet all they’ve really done is swapped real customer satisfaction for meaningless numbers. 

If you close tickets just to improve your yearly KPI, you’re not solving problems for anyone.  

Exactly. CX has to be in the DNA of an organisation rather than in the objectives or the KPIs. It’s not a tick-box exercise. It truly needs to be embedded in the company’s values. Every decision you make should be focused on whether it’s good for your customer. If you don’t keep this in mind, you’ll lose money.  

As a CEO, I often had to protect my organisation from its own shareholders because they had a very short-term vision focused on short-term profits. Sometimes, it was better from a customer point of view to make a different decision that would cost us money in the short-term. But in the long-term, you always win.

That reminds me of another problem: when lower management feel threatened because they think they’re being told that their expertise and knowledge is no longer relevant. 

This is something I teach in my course: that resistance to change often happens when people aren’t able to cope with a situation. They stay in their comfort zone and minimise or ignore threats and opportunities instead. Or blame all the problems on someone else. 

But when you feel able to cope, that’s when you get out of your comfort zone. It’s when you learn new skills; when you grow. And it’s when you seize opportunities. 

This is what organisations need to aim for. But when the pressure is really high and people are stressed, overwhelmed and tired, they don’t feel able to cope and are far more resistant to change.

So your advice is that

companies need to take better care of their employees?

Yes. In my organisation, we had a happiness program with massages at work and free fruit and soup. I also set an example by not working too hard. We put in a policy of no emails after 6pm and before 8am. I tried to leave early most days to show people that they should do the same. 

This is important because when people have a lot of energy, they’re able to face new challenges much more easily. We’ve all been educated from a very young age to believe that we’re either right or wrong. We’re taught to think that mistakes are failures. This is also part of the resistance to change. 

What would be your second piece of advice?

To listen with care. The people in the organisations you’re working with have been successful using certain methodologies for many years and have worked hard to get the company where it is today. And now, suddenly, someone is telling them that their methods don’t work. 

They feel bad because they’re being told that everything they’ve always done has no value. So they might be frustrated, angry and resentful. 

When you listen with care, you:

  • Ask people open questions 
  • Avoid giving advice

Soon, the person’s mood slowly shifts from resignation to enthusiasm. And that’s when they’ll be ready to tackle new projects, learn new skills and try new methodologies.

That’s very good advice! 

Another bit of advice I give is to focus on the positive people. You only need 25% of the organisation to change their mindset and the rest will soon follow. 

We tend to do the exact opposite, though, by placing too much attention on the negative or resistant people. The problem is that this group will soon grow bigger instead!

Practically, how could you put this in action? Within your methodology? With weekly meetings?

I don’t like too many meetings. I take action when I see someone is really struggling. I listen with care rather than specifically planning in advance.

So how would you recommend leading people who are particularly emotional at work?

I love this question. We’re all emotional! But when you listen to your emotions, and you accept them and understand the driving force behind them, you can free yourself from your conditioned behaviors. And that’s when you can put actions into place that lead to the results you really want. 

Plus it’s not always bad to show your emotions. 

Exactly. If we were all more connected to our emotions, we would have better relationships – at home as well as at work. If you bottle up your feelings, that’s when you have difficulties in the office because you start to take out your emotions on colleagues.  

And then it’s a chain: the guy you just yelled at is going to yell at somebody else. 

Exactly. Instead, you should go for a five-minute walk to clear your head. When you come back, you’ll be in a better mood for the rest of the day.

What this shows is that it’s not the big things that count. It’s all the little decisions. When you make all these smaller changes based on clear aims – instead of focusing on emotions – that’s when you achieve transformation.

This is what I believe too.

Small changes make a big impact.

Often, the larger the step, the larger the resistance. When you make a big change, it can be too much for people. So it ends up being faster to take little steps but keep moving forward at a good pace. 

You also need to look at every problem holistically. What I mean by that is don’t just look at the people and the culture of an organisation, but focus on the systems and the structures too. If you work in a space where you’ve separated every department – from marketing to sales – it will be really difficult to effectively boost the customer experience. 

Instead, we need to work in cross-functional teams built around the customer rather than traditionally in teams where everyone thinks about the objectives of their own department rather than the bigger picture. 

And companies need to accept that improving CX is not an overnight process. Change takes time. 

It’s a process. It’s step-by-step. If you want to go fast in these quick-changing digital times, it’s ironic but you really do need to go slow. 

This conversation was so interesting, especially as a fellow CX consultant. Thanks so much for joining me today!



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Amélie Beerens


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