Customers are looking increasingly to companies instead of governments to tackle societal challenges like climate change, health care and mobility. While digital ease of use has become a commodity, the companies will succeed in providing outstanding digital service, becomes a partner in the life of their customers and providing solutions for major societal issues. To understand how, we interviewed Steven Ven Belleghem, author of the book Offer You Can’t Refuse.


Hi Steven, so why did you write this book… now?


Steven Van Belleghem: I believe we are at a turning point. The past ten years, you could make customers happy and excited with digital convenience. That’s how companies like uber and Amazon won the market. Today, digital convenience is the norm, it’s a commodity. If you have it: fine, if you don’t: you loose. It is no longer a positive differentiator. That’s the turning point where we are.

Of course, you need to have your digital interfaces installed, but it’s not the ticket to win anymore, it’s the ticket to ride.
The ticket to win comes from being a partner in life for your customers: where you bring value in their day to day life, where you try to bring positive change in the life of customers. In the future it will be more about life journeys than about customer journeys.

Next to being a partner in life, more and more customers expect organizations to take their responsibility. There are many global and local challenges on our plate and companies can become part of the solution. Companies don’t need to change THE world, they need to change THEIR world. If they manage to use their strengths to create value for society, it will add value to the customer relations.


So, I wrote ‘the offer you can’t refuse’ we are at that tipping point. Digital is the norm and the difference will be made by companies who add more value in the life of customers and also use their power to change their world.


An extract from your book that best represents yourself?


Aladdin’s lamp

I assume that most of you will know the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp. As a big Disney fan, I must confess that Aladdin is one of my favourite films. If you haven’t seen it, the story is fairly easy to summarise. Aladdin finds a dirty old lamp and gives it a polish. A genie appears from the lamp and promises to fulfil any three wishes that Aladdin might have.


What would you do if you had the good fortune to find a lamp like that? Before you let your enthusiasm run away with you, there are one or two rules you will need to observe. You cannot ask for more than three wishes. And you cannot ask the genie to make someone fall in love with you or to bring someone back from the dead. Other than that, you are free to fulfil any of the many dreams you might have, up to a maximum of three. Just imagine it! You find your lamp, you give it a quick rub and a genie appears with the wonderful news that you have three wishes. So what would you choose? What would be your first wish?
During the past year, I have asked thousands of people this question during my presentations. People from every continent, every level of the management ladder and every age group, from sixteen to sixty. But no matter where I ask the question or who I ask it to, the answer for everyone is nearly always the same.


And you? What would it be, that first wish?


Something for yourself?
Something for your family, friends or children?
Something that solves one of the world’s major problems?


The results of my real-life research were conclusive: roughly 95 per cent of people would choose something for themselves or for their family, friends or children. Just 5 per cent want to solve a major world problem as their first priority. I am fascinated by this outcome. Everybody is always talking about the challenges facing the world and how we all need to contribute towards solving them. But once the genie is out of the bottle, we all seem to develop instant amnesia. We could solve all the world’s health problems. We could end the famine in Yemen and the war in Syria. We could eradicate world poverty. But no, as soon as we have the choice we opt for something that has a more direct impact on our own little lives. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. That is just the way people are. We think first about ourselves, and only then about the world.


This is typically me, I try to describe a management model and how it works with a metaphor and if I can, I will always use a Disney metaphor as I’m such a big Disney fan.


The trends that are just emerging and that you believe in the most?


S.V.B.: In terms of technology, I see the most potential in artificial intelligence. In the next couple of years AI will mature more and more and it will play a larger role in our lifes than ever. Organisations will have to figure out ways to use AI to create new customer benefits. Here I like to play with these three: (1) faster than real time service: how can you predict what will happen so you can solve problems before the customer feels the pain of the problem. (2) hyper personalization: it’s not about the average customer, it is about the individual customer and (3) convenience levels that create a zero effort situation for the user.


But it’s not just about tech. Because of the rise of tech, we feel the need to connect more and more between humans. Organisations that succeed in increasing their empathy levels in their organization will one the heart of their customers. If you want to be part of the life journey of customers, you need to understand their fears and dreams.


The combination of these two trends will define success in the next few years: combine the strengths of digital with the strengths of humans.


If you had to give one piece of advice to a reader of this article, what would it be?


S.V.B.: My advice is to appoint ‘friction hunters’ in your company. Look for people who are enthusiastic about your customers, but also a little bit frustrated that not enough is done for them. Ask these people to hunt down the frictions in your sales and service processes. Work through all the steps that your customers need to follow and ask yourself the following questions:
• Where do customers lose time in the process?
• Which steps in the process can be made easier for customers?
• Which aspects are too complex for customers?
• How can the total interaction time be reduced by 10 per cent?


Once you have found the answers to these questions, divide them into two lists. The first list should contain ‘quick wins’: little things that are annoying for the customer but relatively easy for you to fix. The second list will contain bigger projects: important adjustments that are necessary to optimise ease of use.


Finally, allocate people and timings to each of the quick wins and projects. After that, you can start with the implementation. Arrange for a meeting of the friction hunters every two weeks, so that they can share updates with each other. Perhaps you can even make a ‘wall of ex-frustrations’. Every time a work point is completed and removed from your ‘to do’ list, make a symbolic medal and hang it on the wall. As the weeks and months pass, the wall will become covered in medals. And once this happens, people will suddenly realise that they are now working in a more customer-friendly organisation.


In a nutshell, what are the next topics that you will be passionate about?


S.V.B.: The core of my passion is to create and share ideas about the future of customer experience. This will always be my domain. Today, I’m working a the impact of the big digital jump forward and the new customer models that rise from this new step. In the past ten years, digital was about convenience, personalized experiences and a content library; in the next decade digital will be about entertaining experiences, shared experiences and live experiences. I’m learning about all that + the rise of branded economies: how NFT and personal coins can create new forms of brand engagement.


Thanks Steven


Many thanks Bertrand

The book : The Offer You Can’t Refuse, Steven Van Belleghem, Lannoo Campus, 2020