Steven Van Belleghem: The Offer You Can’t Refuse

At Oslo Business Forum, Steven helped leaders understand how to make customers an offer they can’t refuse by evolving their relationships from transactional to emotional.

Steven Van Belleghem is a global thought leader in the field of customer experience. He believes in the combination of common sense, new technologies, an empathic human touch, playing the long-term game, and taking your social responsibility to win the hearts and business of customers over and over again. Steven is the author of multiple international bestselling books, including “The Conversation Manager,” “When Digital Becomes Human,” and “Customers the Day after Tomorrow.”

How to make customers happy

Leaders can’t deny that the pressure from customers is building. Their expectations are rising, presenting what seems like insurmountable challenges for organizations. With so many—and such rapid—changes in the world, it feels we’re evolving at a constant rate and impossible-to-maintain pace.

Creating impactful, meaningful customer experiences will be the key to companies’ sustainable success. And so, Steven began, “This is a story about how we can make our customers happy.”

"Most of your organizations are a diamond in the rough when it comes to customer experience"

Creating an exceptional customer experience requires companies to succeed in many dimensions. Steven outlined the four that he believes are most important.

1. Good product, service, and price

“People expect more,” said Steven. “This is the big paradox in the world today.”

In the past, companies could compete on product, service, and price. These were the differentiators they believed customers looked for and winning in any one allowed them to dominate their space. Today, things have changed.

“You don’t win the game anymore with just a good product,” said Steven. “It’s your ticket to ride, not your ticket to win.”

He sees many companies with great intentions to make customers happy, but too often, they fail with average or low execution. The root of this execution problem is almost always in the perception gap between what the leadership team thinks and what the customer feels. Resolving this discrepancy will help business leaders understand their customers—and compete—on a different level.

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2. Digital convenience

“It’s pretty straightforward what people expect from you,” said Steven. And digital convenience ranks at the top of the list.

“Customers know what works and what doesn’t,” Steven explained. “They have zero tolerance for digital inconvenience.” He pointed to examples ranging from the frustration people feel when picking up grocery orders to the rage many felt when Facebook went down for six hours last October.

The answer to resolving and, more importantly, avoiding these types of letdowns for customers is to become what Steven calls a friction hunter. Friction hunters are highly inquisitive, data-driven, people-centric critical thinkers who seek out the processes that get in the way of an exceptional customer experience.

“All of you can become friction hunters,” Steven said. “Identify the small frustrations you create for your customers. Sometimes, with a small effort, that problem can be solved.”

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3. Partner in life

Steven noted that nailing the first two dimensions of customer experience he described is good but not good enough in today’s environment. “It creates a transactional relationship with your customer,” he said. “If you want to have a more emotional relationship, you have to play with two strategies.”

The first of those two strategies is becoming a customer’s partner in life. Steven told leaders at Oslo Business Forum the story of the rhino and the oxpecker. The rhino, a huge, sturdy animal that you think can protect itself, has become increasingly vulnerable to poaching. The oxpecker, a small, ever-present but unobtrusive bird that sits on a rhino’s back, has become its partner and protector, alerting the rhino to approaching threats.

“That’s what your customer expects from you,” said Steven. “You’re always around, but you’re not intrusive, and you bring value at the right moment.”

Steven implores leaders to understand there is a human behind every customer and that the better you understand them, the more value you can bring to their lives. He believes that companies need to transition from mapping the customer journey to mapping the life journey.

“Do we want to sell products, or do we want to create positive change?” Steven asked. “Can we be the oxpecker on the back of the rhino?”

4. Change your world

Steven believes creating positive change is the second strategy that leaders need to deploy to transform their customer experience from transactional to transformational.

He described how with each decision a customer makes, there is a tradeoff. We may sign up for a service, trading convenience for privacy. We may travel, trading freedom of choice for polluting the planet.

“What is the tradeoff in your industry?” asked Steven. “Once you’ve identified it, you can take steps to resolve or eliminate it.”

Addressing these tradeoffs uses our strengths to be part of the solution. It all starts by looking at things from a customer’s point of view, and it results in positive change.

If creating positive change feels like a tall order, Steven wants leaders to remember one thing: “Customers don’t want you to change the world; they just want you to change your world. Look at what you can do, where your influence is, and how you can change things for the better.”

Steven summed up the four layers of customer experience, emphasizing the importance of each but challenging leaders to move beyond the transactional and into the emotional. 

“Each of these individually creates value,” said Steven. “But if you bring them into one storyline, one experience, that is the moment when you create an offer they can’t refuse.”

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Dare to dream

Steven encouraged leaders at Oslo Business Forum to look to the future and ask themselves, “what could be the best possible outcome for our customers?” Once you identify it, you can reverse engineer the solution and start to build a more impactful experience that keeps pace with customers’ ever-evolving expectations.

He left them with this invitation: “Dare to let go of the day-to-day operational. Dare to dream.”

Key Points

  • Creating an exceptional customer experience requires companies to succeed in four dimensions: 1) Good product, service, and price; 2) Digital convenience; 3) Partnership; and 4) Change.
  • Product, service, or price is no longer a company’s ticket to win; it is just a ticket to ride.
  • Digital convenience is non-negotiable and creates a frictionless experience for customers.
  • Partnership with your customers is about developing a deeper understanding of their wants and needs so you can improve their lives.
  • Creating change requires companies to use their strengths to reduce or eliminate customer tradeoffs.

Questions to Consider

  • When you consider the four dimensions of customer experience, where is your company doing a good job, and where do you need to catch up?
  • Would your customers describe their experience with your company as transactional or emotional?
  • Do you have enough friction hunters on your team? Are you a friction hunter?
  • How can you use your strengths to resolve or eliminate tradeoffs and create the best possible outcome for your customers?

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