512: The Future of Customer Experience | Steven Van Belleghem

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Even local competition has become international in 2022. Consumers are smart, informed, and intrinsically motivated to find the best offering for their wants and needs. So, how do we compete? How do we stand apart from the other businesses in our corner? This is what we’re conquering today. Steven Van Belleghem is a global thought leader in the field of Customer Experience. His passion is spreading ideas about the future of customer experience. He is the author of multiple international bestselling books including ‘The Conversation Manager’, ‘When Digital Becomes Human’, ‘Customers the Day after Tomorrow’, ‘The Offer You Can’t Refuse’ and a technology thriller called Eternal. In this week’s episode, Steven highlights; how 5% of customers are a pain although we mustn’t make decisions based on them, the misconception that digital is taking over the human side of business, and how to overcome challenges in creating content to grow your following by the thousands.

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George: This is the Conquer Local Podcast, a show about billion dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith, and on this episode, we’re very proud to feature Steven Van Belleghem. Steven is an expert in customer experience in a digital world. He’s delivered upwards of 1000 keynote speeches in more than 40 countries. He’s the author of four bestselling books and became known for his first book, “The Conversation Manager”, which won the award for most innovative marketing book of 2010. This was followed by his book, “When Digital Becomes Human” receiving the award of the best marketing book of 2015. Over 150,000 copies of his books have been sold globally. In his keynote presentations, Steven takes his audience on a journey to the world of modern customer relationships in a clever, enthusiastic, and inspiring way. Get ready Conquerors for Steven van Belleghem coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast. Steven Van Belleghem, joining us on this show this week, Steven all the way, and I don’t know how to pronounce the city that you live in, but I all the way from Belgium. So maybe I’ll let you do that so I don’t butcher the name of your city.

Steven: Thank you, George. And thanks for having me in the show. Yeah, I’m in Belgium and I live right in between two really beautiful cities that we have, I live like right in between Brugge and Gent, both like old cities, lots of art, lots of good restaurants, lots of water in it. So a lot of tourists that we have, but I still like to go there as much as I can as well, I really enjoy those two cities.

George: Well, I’ve been a tourist in Belgium, but only in Antwerp, so.

Steven: Antwerp is also really nice, yeah.

“95% of Customers are Normal, 5% are a Pain in the A**”

George: It’s a beautiful part of the world. Well, thanks for joining us. I know it’s evening there, but I appreciate you jumping on the show. You know, we found a famous saying of yours, “95% of customers are normal people and five are a pain in the ass.” I love that by the way. It’s been dubbed the 95% rule. So when you say 95% of customers are normal, what do you mean by that?

Steven: Well, you know, I’ve been using this 95% rule in a lot of organizations because everyone wants to be customer-centric, right? And still, I feel a lot of organizations that are scared to go all in, they’re kind of afraid of the customer. And when you listen to their feedback, usually imagine that someone just launches this great idea and says, we should do A or B, and this is gonna be wonderful for your clients. Then there’s always someone in the room who says, yes, but I have this client, this guy, Tom, and he’s gonna take abuse of the situation. He’s gonna roll all over us and we shouldn’t be doing it because of people like Tom. And then everyone is like, yeah, you’re right, we shouldn’t be doing it, we should be careful. And then typically Tom is one of those pain in the ass customers, and a lot of companies tend to create customer service rules based on the 5% pain in the ass customers, and I think that is a big mistake. And it’s human to think like that because you know, our brain is programmed in a way that we tend to give a lot more weight to negative events and negative people than to positive comments. If you have, I mean, you have this wonderful podcast, if you get 100 comments and 99 are like neutral to very positive and you have one really nasty one, you go home and you think about that one nasty one. And after a while, you spend so much time thinking about all these negative reactions that you tend to believe that the average customer is a pain-in-the-ass customer, and that’s not the case. 95% of the people that you deal with are very decent people, are friendly people, are honest people. And the challenge that I give organizations is to make rules, create service ideas, create experiences based on the 95%. And don’t be the teacher that punishes the entire classroom because you have one idiot in your classroom. But the truth is, that is what a lot of organizations do to protect themself against the pain in the ass customers. I think you have to see them as some sort of collateral damage, and that is the mindset that you need to become really customer centric.

George: So Steven, you’ve spoken all over the world, we talked about that a little bit in the intro with some of your very amazing credentials, but I can’t help, but picture myself in an audience and you’re giving a keynote speech around this. And I think there’s a lot more here that I’d like to understand because I hear this conversation that’s happening, where progressive organizations are talking about their ideal customer profile. And I think underneath the hood of this is focusing on that ideal customer profile. And there’s a lot of tenants in there. So, you’ve got me now, we shouldn’t pay attention to the 5%, we should park ’em over here, they’re collateral damage, they kind of got their way in somehow and we’re never gonna be able to make ’em happy. So with that learning, now what do we do with the 95%?

Steven: Oh, then you start to look, two things you need to look into, how can you make ’em happy and what kind of frictions do you have installed for them that you need to get rid of? I like to play this game that I call the ‘friction hunting game’ with my clients. I put four people on the table and they just have to list friction after friction because the truth is, most organizations know the frictions that they have in place for their clients. And a friction is typically an event, an interaction, an interface where you waste the time of your customers, or you outsource your job to them, those kind of things. And usually, these kind of frictions have been there for years, but you don’t pay attention to them anymore. Your customer does, but you don’t. But if you think about them, you perfectly know what they are, but usually it doesn’t take that much effort to remove them. Doesn’t take that much budget or resources to remove them. And if you can create this friction hunting program that you remove them one after one, a lot of those customers will become very, very excited about you. And then you can even lift it to the next level. Let me give you a concrete example, in Europe, you have this large digital photo bookmaking website, it’s called smartphoto.eu.be.nl. And they have this customer service rule in which they promise that if you make a photo book and you make a typo in it, like on the cover, you said city trip to Rome and you misspell Rome, and you get it at home and you think, oh no, I made a mistake. You can just tell them and say, hey, look, I made a typo in this photo book, can you please send me a new one? Because I messed up. And completely for free, they’re gonna send you a new photo book. No questions will be asked. And I remember the discussion when they launched that, I was there. And then you have the typical 95%, 5% rule that pops up. People are like, oh my God, we’re gonna have customers that make typos on purpose. And then we’re gonna have to redo all the work and we’re gonna be out of business, which is incorrect, there’s no one who makes a typo on purpose, people just wanna have a nice memory of their trip, but sometimes you make a mistake, but you don’t wanna repay the entire book, you don’t wanna pay another 100 euros because you made a small typo. If you fix that for those customers and help ’em to have this great memory of their trip, they won’t just have that memory of the trip, they will remember you for life as well, and they will come back and they will tell others about that, and that will boost your business. And that’s what they’ve done. And I can tell you, they’re a growing business. And maybe throughout the year, they have to like send out five to 10 new photo books because people usually do the spelling check themselves. So it’s not an issue at all, but the fact that they promised that, it creates an enormous level of trust. So it’s that kind of game, you remove frictions and you install surprises.

George: Well, that’s a crazy amount of value. You know, in North America, we have a company called Costco and Costco’s known for a lot of stuff, they got good pizza and they got hot dogs and little tasting booths, but I’ll tell you what they’re really known for, the best return policy in the business. And you know, if you’re buying something, and you know that you could return it to Costco if it doesn’t work out for you with no questions asked, you’re gonna make that decision to buy there. Now, are there people that buy the stuff and keep the box and put it in there, six, there’s always gonna be those outliers, but you’re right, it’s a hell of a promise. This friction game, I love the friction game. in your experience, why do organizations who know exactly what the friction points are, why do they not remove them until you come in and say, why don’t we play the friction game?

Adding Value to Customers; Don’t over-emphasize big projects, reduce multiple friction points

Steven: Well, especially large organizations have this crazy phenomenon that they always think that you need to have big projects to make the customer happy. And they have a brainstorm, they come up with four strategic pillars, and then each of those pillars has three or four projects, and each project costs like between 100,000 Canadian dollars or euros or US dollars and 10 million. And then it takes ’em 12 months to work on those projects, and then they feel very, very important and busy. My experience is that it’s much better and that it has a much bigger impact on customers to have 100 small projects rather than this one huge thing. And the one huge thing usually is just about internal stuff. If you look for the small things that really bring value to customers, or that remove friction for customers, then you create you with every minute that you invest in your job. And, it’s just a mindset change to believe in the impact of 100 small steps instead of one giant step. And it’s not just, you know, my experience is that it doesn’t just create high energy among customers, it also creates high energy internally.

George: Mm-hmm.

Steven: Because there are a lot of people who are completely frustrated with the fact that everything in their company goes so slow and that so many people are involved in every project and that there’s no IT capacity and there’s no budget, and you need to make business cases, the whole circus of big organizations. If you can then do 10 or 20 small things that really have an impact, that excites a team, and then people feel that they have an impact. So it has a double impact, internally and externally.

Are Robots Taking Over? (From a Leading Expert in the Future of Customer Experience)

George: And massive risk in those large projects in them not working out because they’re large, and it requires a lot of cross-functional work. And we experience that in our organization when I’m not hosting podcasts, I’m leading the customer facing part of the organization and serving that group, and I find getting those people in a room and exactly that, solving long lived customer problems has a much higher ROI to it than maybe some of the big bang releases. So thank you for validating that. There’s this misconception that digital is replacing the human part of business and customer relationship. And I know you’ve gotta take on this ’cause I watched some YouTube videos. How do we mitigate the robots from taking over and keep the human touch inside of it?

Steven: Yeah, well, that story has evolved I think in the last two years. First of all, I’ve never worried that people would be out of a job because people have unique skills that machines don’t have. I’m talking about empathy, enthusiasm, passion, creativity, coloring outside of the lines instead of just following the script, those are all typical human qualities that create a ton of value for customers. So I’m a big believer of investing in the human interface to make a difference. I also believe that a lot of organizations make the mistake that they believe, oh, we have humans, so that automatically means that we score high points on being human. Those are two different things. There are a lot of times that, you and me, that we go to a store or a restaurant and that the human actually decreases the experience. So a human can uplift it, but they can tear it down as well, a machine just does what it promises that it will do. It’s a steady, neutral thing, no positive surprise, no negative surprise. The challenge for the human is to create a positive surprise and the machine just helps us to become more efficient. That that’s how I see the combination of those two. But it has evolved. I think in the last 10 years before COVID, the question I got most often after a keynote was exactly this one, Steven, what are all those humans gonna do when the machines take over the jobs? I think if you look now in 2022, you see the effects of COVID on the labor market. We have the great resignation, we see an enormous amount in increase in demand for staff, for humans to do all kind of things, delivery in restaurants, in hotels, in retail stores. And every organization is suffering to find people. So today the question is no longer, Steven, do you think the robots will steal our jobs? Now the question is, Steven, how soon do you think the robots will be able to actually help us in a decent way because we need more labor power based, if you look at the global demand today? So the need for machines to support humans is gonna increase rapidly in the next couple of years. But even still then, everyone has to do their job, the machine will have to do the operational routine kind of thing, and the humans have to do the more creative, empathic, emotional kind of work.

George: I was just on a cruise, finally got to go on a holiday, and I was just on a cruise.

Steven: Oh, cool.

George: And two robots made me a drink.

Steven: Really?

George: And it didn’t take both of them. They were making drinks for other people too.

Steven: Was it a coffee robot?

George: It was like at a bar, it was these two robots made the drinks, it was pretty cool, but then a human had to come and fill everything up so they could make.

Steven: Yeah.

Work/Life Balance; The driving force behind the new perspective towards work and opportunity

George: More drinks later. So it’s not quite there yet. What has happened in this labor issue? Like I know there’s data and, like, I’d love to get you her opinion on, this is the second episode that we recorded today in this recording session that we’ve been talking about this great resignation or the great repurposing, or is it the baby boomers that were pretty much at the end anyways, and just said, we have enough money, we’re gonna resign and we’re gonna retire. Is it the work life balance saying, yeah, I don’t wanna burn the candle at both ends like my parents did, I wanna have this ability or is it a combination of both or is it something that I’m just not seeing?

Steven: Well, my theory is that people have more options today than they ever had. In the past, you had two choices, you basically started an own company that had to grow or you stayed on your own or with two or three people, or you went to work for someone else. Today, a lot of people have new options, mainly thanks to the internet. If I look to the younger generation, I’ve done quite some teaching to students in the last couple of years, students are very excited about everything that is related to social media, to cryptocurrency, to new technologies, to very niche e-commerce activities. Some of these guys are making a lot of money by trading cryptocurrency. And those guys will not go to a restaurant to work during crazy hours for not enough money in their perception. And on the other side, you have people that are maybe a little bit older and after COVID, that don’t want to go back to that rat race. And maybe they have this side project that they’re good in certain crafts and they created their own eCommerce, or they started creating NFTs and they’re making money with that. And if you add all those groups together that have new options that can make as much money, or maybe a little bit less than they made with doing a job that they, deep inside, didn’t really like.

George: Mm-hmm.

Steven: Yeah, that’s a large group of people that discovered something else in life in the last couple of years. And the amount of options is so broad right now in my opinion, that it’s gonna be a big, big challenge to motivate those people to come back to the old system that we had for, yeah, for decades. And I think that is what’s happening. A lot of people ask me, Steven, how are they making money? I mean, they kind of just sit there and do nothing. They have other options. They figured out a way how to live in a way that is closer to their passion and to the kind of life that they were hoping to lead. That’s my theory. No idea if it’s true, but that’s what I see and hear, it’s qualitative. I don’t have any data to back it, but based on conversations I have with people during my keynotes, that’s a feeling that I sense is out there.

How to Create Content Alongside Managing Your Day-Job

George: One thing I wanted to get your opinion on, I’m in the content creation business, that’s what I do, it’s one of the key tenants, but a lot of people don’t get it. What advice would you give somebody, they’re doing their job, or they got a side hustle and we know that you need to create content to get attention. What advice would you give people to the answer that question, of how do I create content alongside doing my job?

Steven: Yeah. Well, I love that question. I’m as you know, I’m a huge fan of content creation myself. I share content on a lot of platforms and I had successes and I had big failures. And I think the thing that I learned are a couple of things, first one is that you need to have your quantity right. A lot of people still think you need to have this one shot golden viral thing to be successful. I don’t think that’s the way forward. You can go viral with one thing, and the week after that someone else goes viral and no one will remember what it was last week, except for yourself. So you need to have this rhythm of putting content out there on the platforms that you like to work with on a regular basis. It’s better to have something out there that completely fails and that you have two or three of them than just being very careful and not daring to put your content out there. It’s not a big disaster if you put something out there and nobody is interested, because nobody really cares except for you. It’s just part of the process. Don’t overanalyze that, that’s one thing that I’ve learned. And the second thing is you need to be patient. I remember I started using YouTube, I think in 2014 or 2015. And in the first video that I’ve placed, I thought this is the video the world is waiting for. And then 200 people watched it, probably my mom, 15 times, and my wife and another three, something like this. So basically nobody watched it, and I kept making videos. And then after a year, about 800 people watched it, but I didn’t feel any impact whatsoever. And at a certain moment, I found a number of concepts that started to work for me. I grew an audience on that. And today, I’m not a huge hit on YouTube, but an average video has between, let’s say five and 20,000 views. But I feel the traction, I feel qualitatively that people like the content that I share, I get a lot of emails saying, Steven, we’ve seen this video of you and we would like to book you for a keynote speech, or we wanna do something together. So it’s also becoming a business generator for me. But it took time, it took me a couple of years in all honesty before I discovered how I could use it from my strengths and my audience to make it a success. And a lot of people stop investing in content before they reach that point. And I think in the early years, you’re almost overinvesting in content in terms of return. But once you’re over that point, your investment remains the same, but you have this exponential increase in your returns, and that feels really good. But you have to be patient to reach that point. Those are like the two things that pop up right now.

George: No, I love that advice. The other thing is you build, you use the word rhythm, I sometimes like to refer to it as a callous, you know, do I really wanna come here and sit for 10 hours recording podcasts once a month? But what I found with my schedule, if I don’t do that, then we get behind and we’re rushing and we’re doing one off episodes and we don’t put the rigor into it. So getting that, you know, we have the same thing, year one, I don’t even know, we probably tried to kill a podcast ’cause we didn’t know what the hell we had. Year two, it started to hit at stride. Year three, we started going into client calls and they’re like, we listen to your podcast. We’re like, holy, like, but it does take that time. And I love the advice that you’re giving that you just keep doing it. And actually what happens with that repetition is you get, I think part of it is you get better. You get better.

Steven: Sure.

George: At delivering it as well. You have written four books, the one that I wanna highlight right now is the best marketing book of 2015, is “When Digital Becomes Human”, 150,000 copies, congratulations on that.

Steven: Thank you.

How to Get in Touch with Steven Van Belleghem

George: Like you’re a content machine. I love how I love how humble you are talking about the meager views you get on YouTube, which most people would kill. But this is all part of an entire organization, Steven, and if people wanna get more Steven Van Belleghem content, where can they find it? We’re gonna, of course put all the links inside the show notes, but I’d love to hear from you, where can we get more?

Steven: All right, well, I have my own blog on my site. I post a weekly blog about customer experience. So that’s just my name, stevenvanbelleghem.com. And there you can find, yeah, all my blogs from the past, my YouTube channel, as I mentioned it, youtube.com/my name. And I have several videos per month there that you can check in full keynote presentations that people can see, I share a lot of content on LinkedIn. I share a lot of quotes and short videos on my Instagram, which is again, just my name @stevenvanbelleghem. I think those are for me, the most important channels that I work with, but I’m basically on every social network.

George: Well, great, we appreciate you giving that to our listeners so that they can seek you out and find more of the great content that you’re creating. Thanks for the learnings that you brought to us here today. And we appreciate you joining us on this edition of the Conquer Local Podcast.

Steven: It’s been a great pleasure George, and thanks for having me and good luck with the show.


George: Really enjoyed the learnings today from Steven. I’d like to talk about this one takeaway that just keeps resonating with me and that’s reducing friction. Corporations think that they need these big projects to make their customers happy, and we feel very important and busy and we get this large budget and we spend lots of time on one project. And, but when I was listening to that, I’m like, whoa, that’s a lot of risk. Like that project really needs to come true. I love the fact of, let’s look at the friction points that we have with our customers, and why don’t we deliver a hundred little things that make their lives better rather than looking for this big bang release that’s gonna, you know, the silver, I think everybody’s looking for silver bullets. I love that. Don’t make your decisions based on the 5% of customers that in Steven’s words, ‘are a pain in the ass’. There will always be customers that abuse a return policy or a discount or a special offer, but that still leaves 95% of our customers that are normal, that love us, that are looking to use our products as they were intended. And we wanna focus on making decisions for of the 95%, not that 5% negative customer that you probably don’t really want anyways, ’cause it’s tough to make those customers profitable. If you like Steven’s episode, discussing how digital can become more human, let’s continue the conversation. Check out episode 440, “Stop Selling, Start Evangelizing” by Donald Kelly. And episode 430, “Modern Sales Driven by Authenticity” with Morgan Ingram. Please subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks for joining us this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.