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Interview with Steven van Belleghem

In his interview on customer interaction in the digital age speaker Steven van Belleghem explains why the human aspect in customer relations is more important than ever before. He gives insights into and successful examples of the secrets of digital strategy. Learn more below.

Why is it important to retain a human element even in an otherwise purely digital experience/ interaction?

Everything is becoming digital and because of that the value of the human touch is increasing every day. This statement is based on the law of scarcity: when something becomes scarce, it increases in value. The one thing that will become scarce in the customer relationship of tomorrow is the pure human touch and because of that its value increases. So, I believe companies are facing a double transformation. On the one hand, every company has to speed up their investments in digital and because of this, the role of humans in a company will change as well. So the consequence of the digital transformation is the human transformation of customer relations.


How do you bring in an ’emotional layer’ in a digital strategy?

Being extremely good in digital is crucial to survive in this world, but only investing in digital creates a pure rational relationship. The human touch helps to create emotion. There are three elements of this human touch that cannot be created through digital interactions: empathy, passion and creativity. Companies that are good in those three will be tomorrow’s winners. In the future almost everything will be automated. As humans, it is crucial to look for ways to differentiate ourselves from technology, these three elements are the key that this differentiation.


Who according to you has done a good job of it – couple of examples?

Several companies are doing a good job. Take Disneyworld in Orlando, US. They have automated the customer interaction with a fantastic customer interface. Every customer gets a magic band when they visit Disneyworld. This band does basically everything for the customer: it opens your hotel room, it gives you acces to the park, you can make ride reservations through the connected app and so on. But the same time, Disney is investing in keeping the human touch very strong. In fact, because of the automation, their staff has to spend less time on the pure operational part of the customer relation. This creates additional time and this time can then be invested in the more human part of the relationship. Smart companies automate the operational part of the business to create time amongst their teams to really connect with their customers.


What are the challenges of finding common ground between the digital and human elements?

The difficulty is that we sometimes take the human part for granted. Some companies think: ok, we already have the humans, so we only need to focus on the digital part. That is very tricky. In most companies, the human potential is not used to its maximum potential. It is not because you work with humans that your company is good in the human touch of doing business. Most companies now only focus on digital and because of that, they are missing out on a big opportunity to win the heart of their customers: the human element.


As a leader, how do you drive this through the organisation?

Positive leadership is crucial. As a leader, I see three challenges in today’s world. First, leaders have to make sure that their companies are ambitious enough. Companies like SpaceX (second company of Elon Musk) wants to colonize Mars. Google wants to extent people’s life and tackle the problem of aging. New style companies have more ambitious goals. These goals are not just financial goals, they are ambitions to change the world. As a leader, ask yourself: is your company still ambitious enough or do you just want to make some more money?

Second thing is to keep the focus on the customer. This is not the age of technology, this is the age of the customer. The customer becomes more and more demanding. Only extreme customer centricity can help you to deal with this. And the third element is to make sure the people in an organization get support and trust to outperform on the pure human strengths (empathy, passion, creativity).


Are certain industries better placed to do this than others? If so,which ones, and how to the others (not so well placed ones) drive this in their businesses?

At the end of the day, 90% of the companies will go through these changes. Some already went through the storm. Just think about travel or music. At this point, there are a number of sectors in the storm: finance, retail, healthcare. And others see the storm coming. In a way, we have begun to build your brand here.


Why should clients use you for their next event?

If people book me, they can expect a very dynamic, mind-streching and in-depth presentation. I love to make it very engaging. My goal is to change the mind and behavior of my audience. So, would love to speak at events of people that want to learn more about the future of customer centricity in a digital world.


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