We were excited to have renowned customer experience expert Steven van Belleghem deliver his keynote on the ‘Customers the Day After Tomorrow’ at the third edition of our Digital Thinkers Forum on March 30, 2022.
Steven specializes in the future of customer experience (CX), with his guiding principles combining customer-centric thinking, latest technology, and the human touch.
Author of not one, not two, but four international bestsellers, Steven is also the co-founder of inspiration agency Nexxworks and social media agency Snackbytes. He has given more than 1,000 presentations in over 40 countries.
The Third Digital Thinkers Forum – Welcome from Andrew Maat
Hosted by Andrew Maat, Vice President, International Markets at Testbirds, the forum was watched by online attendees from all over the world.
Andrew gave a short introduction into the history of our Digital Thinkers Forum and revealed the topic of this third edition, Customers the Day After Tomorrow, before introducing our keynote speaker, Steven van Belleghem.
A Fan of Disney as a Customer and Professionally
Steven revealed that one of his biggest dreams was to lead a Disneyland theme park. While he has not yet achieved this, he did have a cameo in a Disney movie, as a voiceover in the Flemish version of Cars 3.
Steven shared his love for Disney as a company that constantly reinvents itself and consistently delivers wonderful experiences for their customers, like himself.
Steven van Belleghem – Customers the Day After Tomorrow
Steven began his talk by bringing up a shared experience for most of us – how we went from our pre-pandemic routines before March 2020 to quickly adopt new behaviors, such as virtual meetings, which we soon got sick and tired of.
This phenomenon also led to a boom in cosmetic surgery, as Steven revealed how we spend most of our virtual meetings watching our own faces, instead of our fellow participants. This illustrated how certain behaviors can create new experiences and a ripple effect through everything that we do.
But even as we now transit into a post-pandemic world, the uncertainty this brings is causing customers to search for new routines. Companies now have a golden window of opportunity to create new routines for their customers.
Are you ready for this day after tomorrow?
The easiest phase for digital technology is now behind us.
Putting self-driving cars on the road will be much more challenging than digitizing maps. While we currently have an almost infinite amount of healthcare advice on Google, the next, more difficult phase is gene and DNA editing.
This increasing difficulty applies to organizations too, according to Steven.
Customer expectations have gone up.
Previously, companies could excel by being the leader in a single aspect – whether the best service, cheapest product, or the most beautiful store – which would then compensate for their shortcomings in other areas.
This no longer applies. Customer expectations have now gone through the roof.
Now, customers expect companies to be the best in every aspect. A single USP is no longer enough.
The Big Paradox of the Digital Phase
While it is even more complex to make your customers happy, your customers expect you to make their lives easier than before.
Steven emphasized that the only way to overcome this paradox is to focus on your customers, and not on technology.
He shared a couple of companies that truly focus on their customers.
The first was Google. Even as a big tech company, Google remains obsessed with their customers. To Google, everything is their problem, not their customer’s. Google tries to solve these problems with innovation, always having their eye on the customer.
The second was Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo with their unique customer promise: If a customer queuing to checkout happens to be fourth in line, they get all the groceries in their basket or trolley for free.
How does Jumbo maintain this promise while not giving away groceries all the time?
They use technology such as a small sensor at their store’s entrance to measure the number of people in-store, and leverage data to measure their customers’ average shopping time – all to ensure that their checkout cashiers are always staffed before their customers get in line to checkout.
What’s more, Jumbo ensures every single one of their store staff can operate the cash register, such that any nearby staff can open new checkout line to meet a surge of queuing customers.
"Escape the bubble of your own industry to truly understand what brings value to your customer."
Steven gave an example from his meeting with former US President Barack Obama, who would make it a point to read a random selection of 10 letters from ordinary Americans every night, to understand his electorate’s needs even while managing global macro events.
Save and enhance time, the scarcest resource of your customer
Currently, some companies like Disney enhance the customer’s time while tech companies like Amazon and Booking.com help save the customer’s time.
However, the holy grail is in both saving and enhancing the customer’s time.
Netflix currently does both with features like their Skip intro button. Disney is investing in new technology to make their park visits more efficient. McDonald’s is investing in new interfaces to make purchases more efficient.
Instead of just focusing on selling products, companies need to shift their focus towards saving and enhancing customer’s time, which will then enhance the customer experience.
If companies do that, Steven adds, companies can make their products and services faster than real time, hyper personalized, and very convenient for their customers.
The first step to take is to become friction hunters.
What are friction hunters?
Simply put, organizations become focused on frictions that waste the customer’s time.
One exemplary friction hunter is Walmart, who has been combining their in-store and digital infrastructure.
Many of their online customers prefer to personally pick up their grocery orders in-store, which also means they do not want to wait in line. As such, Walmart installed pickup towers where their customers could scan their order’s barcode and be notified when their order is ready, thus removing the friction of waiting in line.
Some of these customers found it a chore to have to park and get out of their cars to pick up their orders. So, Walmart implemented drive-through pickups, removing another friction of stepping out of one’s car.
Yet others may not pass by a Walmart during their daily commute. Walmart has in-home, or in-fridge, delivery. A delivery personnel gains access to a customer’s home through a digital lock and packs the customer’s order neatly in their fridge, all the while recording the entire delivery on video for security purposes. This removes the friction of detouring to Walmart.
Not comfortable with a stranger entering your home to pack your groceries? Walmart has also been looking at robots to perform such in-home deliveries, to remove the friction of having a stranger in your home.
"There’s always a solution to remove customer friction."
Steven then posed the question: can you already dream of the best possible customer experience and reverse engineer that here, now, today for your customers?
He shared the three investment tracks he created to help with this.
1. Leverage data
Steven elaborated on the circle of life of AI. A company develops a fantastic product to be used by many users, with their usage generating valuable data for the company to leverage to improve their services.
One example is iCarbonX, which aims to reduce the drastic deterioration of one’s health in old age after decades of ignoring their health and fitness. By capturing one’s health data from smart scales and smart toilets installed at home, iCarbonX can provide users with a wealth of information about their body to prevent illness. Eventually, houses will be the best predictive tool about our health.
The end goal should be to create a system that allows companies to understand the context of their customers.
Context will enable companies to create the ultimate customer experience.
2. Effortless interfaces
While many new user interfaces are created every day, the end goal must be to make it zero effort for the user.
Future interfaces will be invisible, fully personalized, more proactive, and require zero effort from the customer. Friction hunters are vital in achieving zero effort.
As the future of e-commerce is a-commerce, or automated commerce, people will soon buy based on an algorithm. One example is voice assistance, which could create fundamentally new customer journeys.
What’s more, the customer could no longer be part of the customer journey.
Imagine outsourcing grocery shopping to an algorithm. One company is already doing this.
BOXED evaluates consumption patterns in households and found that 80% of a household’s consumption is the same every week. BOXED can predict what you need just by your consumption patterns, without the push of a button.
According to Steven, such voice and virtual assistance have led to companies like Amazon becoming a product filter, like how Facebook is an information filter. Both decide what you see and don’t see.
Brands are now at risk of being filtered out by Amazon, as the tech giant decides what brands their customers are exposed to.
It is more important than ever for companies to invest in their brands, to ensure direct consumer relationships and even direct-to-consumer sales.
3. Intelligence augmented
Companies need to combine the strengths of humans and machines or use software to boost the power of your teams. This is most applicable in the world of customer service.
A prime example is KLM working with DigitalGenius to enhance their customer service.
By translating KLM’s historical customer data into an algorithm, DigitalGenius suggests responses for customers’ real-time questions to KLM’s customer service agents, who then choose and personalize the response in KLM’s brand voice.
KLM now answers more questions per hour, in a more personalized way.
Do KLM have better customer service agents? Not necessarily, but KLM found a way to boost their teams with software to improve their productivity and performance.
Bringing it all together
Steven shared the example of Domino’s Pizza, who knew they only needed to be faster than Pizza Hut, rather than try to outperform large corporations and conglomerates from other industries.
Domino’s became the fastest, easiest, and most fun company to order pizza from. They made it too easy to get a pizza.
Delving deep into their research, Domino’s found that 80% of their customers ordered the same pizza over and over again.
This meant a mobile app with their entire menu would frustrate 80% of their customers. Domino’s figured that only a one-step process was needed.
Domino’s came up with a physical ‘push to pizza’ button that allowed customers to get their favorite pizza delivered even faster and easier than before. They also developed a ‘Zero Click’ app that allows customers to automatically order their favorite pizza simply by opening the app and waiting for 10 seconds.
Are humans still needed?
Yes, according to Steven.
With less and less human touch, it is more valuable than ever to be served by a human.
People need to excel in areas computers are not good at, such as empathy, passion, and creativity. The more digital the world becomes, the more important these traits would be.
In the future, to make a difference to a customer, it is about working from the heart – something a machine cannot do.
While computers personalize, humans make it personal.
While computers predict, humans surprise. People like to see human kindness.
While computers deliver, humans over-deliver.
People can leave the script; people can color outside of the lines for the customer. Small human touches can make a huge difference.
If companies can add this human layer onto their digital interfaces, this is when digital becomes human.
This is the key ingredient for the day after tomorrow.
Dare to dream of the day after tomorrow
Rethink customer loyalty, Steven urged.
Don’t ask how your customers can be more loyal to your brand. Ask how you can show your loyalty to your customer.
Loyalty begins from you, not your customer.
Stay focused on customer benefits that you can achieve.
Dare to dream of the best possible outcome to win the heart and business of your customer in the day after tomorrow.