Culture: You don’t just change to be customer centric overnight

So, here’s a story I have been sharing quite a while now. It involves a travel company, Disma Reizen and it’s founder Werner van Disseldorp. Disma and Werner van Disseldorp aren’t just a normal travel company and a normal founder. Disma Reizen has won numerous travel awards for its service excellence (amongst others – ‘travel agency of the year’ for three times in a row, until Werner and his company decided not to compete).

Werner is well-known to constantly improve himself and his team to be better understand and cater to his customers. A true example for many of us. Some call that customer centric. Werner is one of those entrepreneurs who just think that’s common sense and that ‘customer centric’ is just a fancy word for companies that don’t understand their customers and try to obfuscate that by using difficult words.

One of Werner’s ideas was a simple yet ambitious one. Every one of teams (each of his stores being a team) got 500 euros to “give away” to customers. Not all in once, but in small surprises to make customers feel recognised and appreciated. It could be anything. Flowers, a postcard, a small gift, cakes … anything that would give the customer a WOW feeling.

So, after the first month, Werner talked to some of his staff to see what they had done with the 500 euros. The first one he approached said “Werner, you will be extremely proud to hear I only spent 5 euros”.

Obviously, this was not what Werner intended.

But it makes total sense.

It is difficult to have staff that has been trained and conditioned over the years to only spend money responsibly, written down, checked and balanced in internal Excel sheets, to completely discard how they were trained to ‘give away’ ‘free money’. It takes time, training and thorough understanding to really do this well on a day to day basis. It takes the team leader to set examples and celebrate wins from the team.

My key learnings:

  • True customer centricity is not a fancy word like ‘customer centricity’. It is improving every day to help real people better.
  • Changing your company is not easy; many are trained to behave a certain way. Unlearning this is not easy. Set the example and celebrate best practices.
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