Ah, it's summer. Then we as customers are all in a great mood. We go on vacation and show the best of ourselves. Right! Or not...

I got these reviews from a guide who showed us around Jamaica over eight years ago and have to laugh and cry at the same time. What a bunch of cryers we humans are sometimes. These are real reviews she received from the tour operator. Long live open feedback that you can get from reviews and surveys.

I've listed the 11 worst ones for you.

1. 'It should be forbidden to sunbathe topless on the beach. My husband was very distracted by that, he just wanted to relax a bit and that didn't work out now.'

2, 'We went on vacation to Spain and had a problem with the cab drivers. We couldn't understand them because they all spoke Spanish.'

3. 'The beach was just too sandy. We had to clean and de-sand everything when we got back to our room.'

4, 'We discovered that the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white, but it was yellower in real life.'

5. 'No one told us there would be fish in the water. The fish scared our children.'

6. 'The roads were uneven and bumpy, preventing us from reading the local travel guide during the bus ride to the resort. As a result, we were unaware of many things that really would have made our vacation much more enjoyable.'

7. 'I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends' three-bedroom suite. And ours was considerably smaller.'

8. "We had to stand in line outside to get the boat and there was no air conditioning. That was very disappointing to us.'

9. "It is your duty as a tour operator to inform us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.

10. "My fiancé and I had requested two twin beds when we booked, but instead we got a room with a king-size bed. We hold you and your organization responsible and want compensation for getting me pregnant. This would not have happened if you had given us the room we booked.'

11. "I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure didn't mention mosquitoes.'

What should you do with this when you get this kind of feedback in your own surveys? I would just do nothing. These people deserve zero attention. You wouldn't begrudge your competitor these customers yet.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on September 5, 2023

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Let's go back in time for a moment. I think it was sometime in 1999. I was working at AMEV as a Life inspector and I closed my mortgage. Because as an employee I got a nice discount on the mortgage interest and I was happy to take advantage of that. A few years later I started to renovate and again, AMEV was a great help.

Within AMEV, there was a special office for employees, where really everything was taken care of when taking out the mortgage. There was coffee ready for you, you could always walk in if you had questions, and communication about papers and the notary was also well taken care of. There was no red carpet just yet, but that's how it felt. As employees, we were well pampered.

As a Life Inspector, I was responsible for a large area, from the east of Utrecht to the German border, helping intermediaries choose AMEV for mortgages and pensions. There are probably some time zones mixed up now, but I do remember that my customers - the intermediaries - did not find our handling of mortgages too florid. Communication was unclear. Their customers didn't understand anything about our letters. It took a long time for official offers to arrive. Things went wrong when sending notary documents.

I understood little of that. After all, we had it so well taken care of, hadn't we? I really didn't know any better than that as AMEV, we gave the red-carpet feeling to customers. Because that was my own experience. In Customer Experience, we call that the "n=1 situation". My own experience, would also be the experience of our customers and their customers. Besides, I didn't realize then either, that I had an inside-out view and was quite infected with the 'curse of knowledge'. The what?! I had far more knowledge of mortgages, legislation, and processes than the client who was taking out a mortgage. That's called the "curse of knowledge". As a result, I couldn't empathize with the person without that knowledge. I missed the outside-in view.

With an intermediary I visited one of his clients and immediately saw where we were going wrong. That the red-carpet feeling only applied to employees. But immediately, I also saw the potential for improvement. 

This is exactly why I urge everyone to go on customer visits themselves. Step out of your own processes, systems and mindsets and look at the world through the eyes of the customer. There where the customer is. At the company or just at home. See what customers' needs are, what keeps them awake at night and where the real improvement potential lies. Who knows, you might also see where your organization can give that red-carpet feeling to customers.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on July 4, 2023

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We start the CX inspiration day at Starbucks. Along with eight Customer Experience leaders in government, today we get a behind-the-scenes look at how they organize customer experience at three companies.

As everyone drops in, Robin and I stand in line for coffee at Starbucks. We slowly move up and then we can order coffee for five people.

'Two americanos, an oat latte and two cappuccinos please.' The male barista looks at me and asks "What name can I write on the cups?" Next to him is a female colleague with a marker at the ready. I ponder for a moment who had ordered which coffee, because how nice is it if everyone has their own name on the cup? I see a somewhat pleading look and realize that today is not at all about having different names on the cup.

In a split second I decide not to make a fuss about that. Because it's rush hour at Utrecht Central Station at this Starbucks and I don't think he's in the mood for it. No, this man wants us away from that counter as quickly as possible. So I look at Robin and realize that his name is easier, than having to write Nienke on every cup, so I say "Just do Robin."

He looks at his colleague with the marker in hand, sees the five cups, and in half a second has an even easier solution. "Can it be Rob, too?" I look at Robin, we give each other a quick wink - hopefully unseen by the barista - and with a sigh I say that's okay.

As he taps something on the cash register with relief, he sees that he has tapped cash instead of paying with a card and the order must be re-entered. I consider that this is his punishment by the universe, because Robin's name is Robin. Not Rob. And actually, these coffees are for Robert, Anke, Marieke, Nienke AND Robin. Not for five Robs.

At the checkout the second time, it's also over two euros cheaper. So now that we are all called Rob, life has immediately become cheaper. I have to laugh a little.

Still, I am balking at it, because I have organized a CX inspiration day and therefore I would like it to be personal for my guests. Well, inspiration comes from worst practices too, I think to myself.

We sit down, waiting for the coffees for Rob. About three minutes later, our coffees are ready. "I have the coffees here for Robin!" shouts the barista with the marker. Haha. She dissed her colleague, but it's not a good customer experience.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on June 6, 2023

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For a customer experience workshop I am conducting, I designed materials and had them printed. When I receive the envelope of printed materials, 75% of the order is missing.

Fortunately, I was well in time to order and didn't need the materials right away. I can't call during opening hours because I'm participating in the annual scavenger hunt that day. To complete the picture for the visual thinkers: I am disguised as a Dutch supporter, fully dressed in orange clothes.

So I send a message to this printing giant. I provide exactly the information I suspect the service person will need. The order number, that which did get delivered - my document named Handout, exactly as it says in the confirmation email - and that the other three items are missing.

Dressed entirely in orange, I walk around town in the meantime. I check my mail and read:


How unpleasant that things went wrong with the delivery of your order. So you have the handout, but the loose-leaf article and stickers are missing? Once we have this clear, we can provide an appropriate solution.



Uhm, yes. This is a case of copy-paste without reading properly. Because I have already indicated that only the handout was provided. And apparently it is too much trouble to write to me with my name. Not recognized and certainly not acknowledged. I quickly reply back that this is indeed true. To get the following email back:


All good, I put it it in the system for you.'

Huh! And now? What a sloppy nothing email, even with a typo. She must have put it in the system, but what does that mean for me? For the entrepreneur who needs these materials to teach CX classes?

So this is where it often goes wrong. For Madelon it is probably obvious, but for me - the customer - it is now unclear. Is my order sent to the printer? Will I get my materials? And when? I send a short message via chat after this, to which a colleague kindly replies that the materials will be printed.

The scavenger hunt was top-notch. Just stripped of orange face paint, we sit enjoying afterward over Friday afternoon drinks. Then, at 6:41 PM, I receive the icing-on-the-cake-email.

'Dear Sir/Madam,

Unfortunately, due to heavy workload, we were unable to ship your order today.

By: System'

What?! This system is broken! Like so many systems. As a customer, it's killing me. It reminds me of a video from Little Britain: 'System says NO.'

It's done: customer says NO. I'm going to look for another printing company.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on May 2, 2023

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I pretty much always offer delivery drivers a cup of coffee. Or in the summer, I have a few cans of soda cold. Or maybe they want to use the restroom for a while?

Usually they turn this down, because busy busy busy, but sometimes there is a need and some time for it. Like last Sunday when my weekly meal box was delivered, where Tugrul did like a cup of coffee.

We struck up a conversation and he explained that this is his side job. He enjoys delivering these boxes, in addition to being an entrepreneur with his own Barbershop. Because living on your own, that costs money. So he runs extra shifts as a delivery driver at this meal box service. What great energy and drive. It was great fun to hear his perspective on delivery and entrepreneurship. Should you be in Utrecht and want to be cut by this entrepreneur? Then you should definitely visit Ozky's Barber at Bartoklaan 17 in Utrecht.

He also asked me what was actually in the box. Because he had never seen that before. Perhaps a small point of improvement in the Employee Journey of this meal delivery company. But I solved that. I showed him the app; that you have a choice of 30 meals, we opened the box together, he looked at the contents of the box, the recipes and with all love he took the box right back. Good for the environment!

What a pleasure to meet such great delivery people and this also starts with ourselves. The customer. Do you do this too? If I draw it broader. Are you nice to the waiters in a restaurant? To flight attendants? Staff in stores?

Back to the delivery drivers. They don't have it easy. They have to deal with the strangest traffic situations, especially in Utrecht where I live. Just think what it's like when you need to go to the toilet while you have so many packages in the back of your van....

So ask your delivery driver if they would like a cup of coffee or tea. Just have a few take-away cups in the house, because then they can get right back on their bus with a nice hot cup of coffee. Or if it's soon to be summer and hot, leave a few cans cold in your fridge. Offer to let them use the restroom. And for the meal delivery drivers, have some euros ready. I know it can be done in the app, but I much prefer to give a few euros myself that I have in a tray. That way I thank them personally. And everybody likes that. At least Tugrul certainly did.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on April 4, 2023

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Yes! February, the month of love. Or to put it a little more precisely, the month when Valentine's Day takes place. That day when many people send a card. Buy a bar of chocolate that says "I love you" and then give it to a loved one. Or send someone a message. To our loved one, a friend, mother, neighbor or daughter.

Actually, the way does not matter much. Showing love can be done in many ways. Saying something sweet, sending something or doing something sweet. It works. It makes your own heart do a dance and therefore also that of the other person. Lovely, isn't it, a column about love. Unfortunately, the happy part ends here.

Because I want to switch to a different world. The one of love for the customer.

That's where my heart stops dancing. Unfortunately for many, that's also where the imagination stops. Because love for the customer. What does that look like? Should we call the customer and say we love her/him (I'll stick with her for now)? No, we are certainly not going to do that here in the Netherlands, that is too American for us. But that's not the point either.

The point is that we do want the customer to love us and gives a nine or ten in the survey. That she spends her money with us every year. Renews the contract tacitly. Buys more insurance policies. Silently accepts the price increase and please let's hope she doesn't call. That she doesn't disturb us in our work, but most of all makes her own way, digitally.

Love. That's exactly where things go wrong in organizations. We don't really love the customer. Of who she is. What she's about. We do want her to choose us. But also if she cannot choose as a customer (read citizen, participant or applicant), that she does not bother us too much.

That's what this is about. About whether you and your colleagues are in love, engaged, or married to the client. And whether you really feel anything about that. Or is it complicated after all? (Thanks Facebook, for allowing us to choose this wonderful addition within "types of relationships.") Because do we talk about the customer internally as if we love her? Or do we prefer to use her customer number anyway? Do we talk about customers in meetings, or do we still prefer to stick to the process?

Customer love is a topic that really should be talked about. Do you love your customer? Ask the question to yourself and your colleagues. I suggest you start having this conversation lovingly in your organization. I dare say Valentine's Day will then be a very different one next year.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on March 7, 2023

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As a CX leader you are often not the person in charge. Ultimately, that is someone from the board or C-Suite. You have to take that into account in your stakeholder management. You do not only lead and advise your team, but you also have to guide top management on the route towards customer centricity. No one in this quest is more important than the other, but you have to define who the high priority stakeholders are at this moment with regards to your roadmap.

As a CX leader, you need to figure out who the key stakeholder is and make sure you bond and work together. The better you understand this leader, the better you can understand and respond to the needs of all stakeholders.

I will list the three best tips for properly involving the accountable leader with regards to the customer centric transformation (and yes, I will guide you how to engage all other leaders 😉).

Tip 1. Provide good and relevant information

Communication is key. Without proper communication it is impossible to build a good relationship with this key stakeholder. It is your job to provide your accountable leader with information that specifically meets her or his needs.

This information is aligned from the organization’s strategy. Make sure your information is data driven, accurate, quantitative, but also qualitative. Provide customer stories, storify data and give the customer a human face. Define how often the information is needed. Is it weekly or is monthly a better cadence?

This information helps her (or him) to made decisions, ask the right questions and have the honest conversation. Those leaders are busy and don't like surprises: the more you provide them with adequate information, the better.

If you proactively provide relevant information, you build your own credibility and help her/him lead with a true customer centric focus. Step in their shoes and understand what is important to them and how your CX program fits in their route. When you deliver to them, you build true understanding, create a bond, and gain credibility yourself.

Providing CX information is good but think carefully about what you provide and more important: why. We all know that question ‘can you make a report of it?', which of course you can do. But you determine what is in there! 

Tip 2 on how to engage your leader is all about being helpful

Let's start with guidelines for the right information:

  • Goal-oriented: think about why you are giving this report. Is it to raise awareness, bring about a change, provoke a decision, or something else? What is the goal to action you are going for?
  • Targeted: make sure your information is specific to your stakeholder and that she/he can use this in meetings, decisions, and strategic sessions
  • Appropriate in terms of form and content: how can this data be presented best? In a presentation, a spreadsheet, an action list, an infographic or maybe even a video? Try to build a cadence but also try to get your story across
  • Monitor for effectiveness: do you see a change in attitude? Has the communication been effective? If not, change it. 

Adjust your way of communicating or reporting, to make sure you get the call to action you want.

Be helpful. Recognize that your CX program is one of many programs (this is often true) and you need to help spend their time as effective as possible. This will help you build your credibility in case shit hits the fan.

Don't confuse being helpful with being submissive. No manager expects his team members to follow blindly. Your manager does expect you to think along and take responsibility and guide the customer centric transformation.

I for sure know one strategy that always works. The strategy of letting others ‘trip over the truth’. This means you are not going to say what customers are saying, or what is hurtful for the organization. No, you are going to let them find out themselves. Dan Heath himself explains how this works.

Tip 3 on how to engage your leader: be functionally disobedient

Leaders are normal people 😉. They may get to learn new things too (I hope everyday!)

Know that you don't have to do everything by the book.

I think there are two elements in being functionally disobedient:

1. What if you are asked to do things? If you director asks you to do something, that you know isn't the best for the organization, the team, the leaders and of course yourself; say so. Have the confidence to challenge decisions and come with other solutions. To continue the conversation, even if they think the conversation is over. Being able to say “No, this is the alternative” to your leader helps you build your credibility.

2. What if you see and hear decisions are being made, strategies being developed, products and processes being designed that are not good for the organization and the customer in the long run?! It is your job to represent the customer, so it is your job to have your voice being heard. Be aware that organizations encourage people to give feedback and be whistleblowers, but in practice not everybody is fond of the whistleblower. So be careful in your strategy. 

I for sure know one strategy that always works. The strategy of letting others ‘trip over the truth’. This means you are not going to say what customers are saying, or what is hurtful for the organization. No, you are going to let them find out themselves. Dan Heath explains how this works himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ_N77OquQA 

Finally, the following aspects might help you to involve and engage your top managers:

  • Define the active role top management has throughout your CX program and keep them engaged; show that excellent leadership is important within CX and CX programs.
  • Have empathy for those at the top; remember they have limited information and many demands on them.
  • Know that they also have to advise, to the CEO and other stakeholders. So, give an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
  • So, give an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
  • Make it clear that the CX program or project is a means of achieving the organization's strategy and that the top managers are therefore the top project managers.
  • Know that they also need to advise, to the CEO and other stakeholders. So provide an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
  • Get rid of the idea that risk is bad news.
  • Focus on the business impact and strategic benefits of the CX program – the bigger picture – and reduce the level of detail in communication.
  • Build a sponsor culture upwards and downwards: support each other.
  • Knowing your manager's motivations will help you manage expectations.
  • Share customer stories. Work on building credibility and trust.

We go back in time about ten years and I am sitting opposite my then CEO. I have been in charge of KPN's Customer Excellence team for three months now. I am new to the company, he even a little newer. My goal is to bring the relational NPS from -14 to zero in just under three years.

Yet he asks "Nienke, what result did you achieve with your team last month? Stammering, I tell him that we have a long-term goal. That our growth strategy is focused on reducing detractors, what actions we have for that, that I am confident. "No, no. I expect you to bring results here every month. Of course it's good that you have plans, but I also want to know what short-term results you've achieved with your team."

Full of doubt, I left the meeting room. How was I supposed to do that? With such an erratic long-term goal that might grow a point or two per quarter? I consulted a colleague and he told me how he did that.

A light went on for me. All those years I had worked very hard in various roles and management positions, but I had never structurally kept track of my successes (and failures) and reported on them. Nor did I have my story in focus when I spoke to colleagues: I mainly told them what I did. What results I had achieved, I could not tell in a few sentences.

If you work in a large organization, it's important to think about your own marketing. "Huh?!" I hear you say. Yes. That's important if you work in customer service or customer experience, well, really anywhere. But especially in our professions, it's important for people to understand the work you do, how it is linked to the business strategy and the impact you make.

In marketing, they often talk about Know, Like, Trust. Apply this to yourself: make sure management knows you, likes you professionally, and ultimately trusts you. You don't want to leave that to others, so take charge yourself.

I saw a great example last week at the International CX Awards. Vattenfall's CX team won three Awards, including the best B2C CX team in the world! As a big learning point, they told me that the process leading up to the Awards had helped them tell very concisely where they had achieved successes.

So, dear reader. Is your marketing in order? Do you know and share your successes? Don't underestimate this. Because unknown, unloved. The choice is yours.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on December 13, 2022

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Customer centric change is a matter of having a long breath: changing behavior and engaging colleagues won't happen in just a month. It is a demanding process, both from you as the initiator, facilitator or leader, as well as from the people you want to engage in the change. Adding FUN to your CHANGE program is a brilliant idea, since it will boost morale and will be distinctive from other programs.

Here are my five tips on how to add more fun to your CX change program and achieve your goals at the same time:

  1. Create an overarching appealing storyline
    Too many CX strategies are linear, corporate schmorporate (sorry for my language). They don't give any excitement and fun and don't create any arousal while you share it. So, what about adding an appealing story line? Using sports, movie scripts, heroes, best practices and all kind of other stories. I still love Project #99 that Clint Payne CCXP started in 2016. He wanted to improve the current customer experience of Multichoice, a South African Telecom and Television provider and created an overarching storyline where he challenged the organization to fix 99 current customer and employee issues. Project #99 is a great tagline that gives context to the change.
  2. Set an appealing BHAG
    How about aiming for the moon when it comes to your CX or change program? How about truly going for an ambitious quantitative and qualitative goal. The example of Project #99, is already a perfect one - fixing 99 issues in one year. But I have more examples for you. What do you think of this one? In three years, you and your company are best in class in Customer Experience, your NPS is at a certain number (the quantitative part). And that the CEO of your company will share the story of how the organization changed in the last three years to a true customer centric company in the Financial Times or HBR? These kind of moonshots a.k.a. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) work. They add fun and excitement to change.
  3. Celebrate and celebrate milestones
    Too often we just keep going after we delivered a success. But how about turning your BHAG into a couple of milestones that can be celebrated? Or put the spotlight on those that did a fabulous job? Who showed customer centric leadership or is there a team that fixed a big customer issue? My suggestion is that you make sure you have a collection of fun gifts. How about branded t-shirts, water bottles, pens or tailored virtual backgrounds and give those recognition? Have those that did well have lunch with a senior leader. Take them on an inspiration trip, to another customer centric organization or to an amusement park.
  4. Create challenges and visualize them
    What happened in project #99 is that the CX team created challenges and that employees and leaders adopted those challenges. Working on short term projects (don't try to implement a CRM system with this one ????) that have high energy and are supported by senior leadership, they work magic. By making sure the change is pleasant (rather than painful, although it may feel painful at first), it creates a feeling of hope (rather than fear) and it creates a feeling of identity with others who are doing the same. Make sure you visualize the journey of the challenge, so others also understand what they are doing. Have those fun and vibrant visuals (like a logo of your team or project) all around the organization. Both offline and online. Yes, this might require some guerilla marketing actions and you might bump into some conflicts with the communication and facility departments of your organization. But remember: no guts, no glory!
  5. Use fun in your interventions
    Too many workshops are just functional: learning the new behavior by the customer manifesto and delivering on the new brand values. Workshops are important and it is up to you to add fun to them. Some examples.
    1. Create a CX quiz, where you quiz around NPS topics, add some fun CX facts (like from what date was the first complaint) and of course you have a winner.
    2. Play the CX game, this is a fun CX workshop (dressed up as a board game), where the questions and assignments are tailored to your organizations context. The feedback we always hear is: "this was FUN!"
    3. Add persona re-enactment to your customer journey workshop. Bring artifacts like scarves, sports gear, glasses, hats and whatever. Transform your participants of the workshop into customers. My experience is that participants will be a bit hesitant upon starting, but once they get going, everybody will have the most of fun!

You see, there's a lot of things you can do and organize in order to add FUN to CHANGE. And I strongly recommend you do so! Create big or small fun and know it will give you and your colleagues the energy you need to keep the change going. I am curious how you feel about these suggestions. And if you have any other suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

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We are at my favorite hotel. The receptionist is waiting for us with a big smile. 'Good afternoon and welcome to...' I tell her we have a room reserved in Bloem's name. She delves into her computer screen and looks up our reservation.

"May I see your ID?" she asks. This surprises me, because it's about the tenth time I've been here. Still, why the legitimacy every time? It must be policy. I don't feel like being difficult, so I take my driver's license out of my wallet.

In the meantime, I also grabbed my credit card. Because I was scammed online last year and so I have new credit card information. 'Can I have yours too?' she asks my husband. He looks at my credit card and she adds "I mean your ID." Huh?! Does the guest also have to provide identification? A small sigh escapes me.

"Then the room will cost X euros. To this we then add 50 euros per person, for if you go for breakfast, use the room service or bar, if you break something and other things. You will get this refunded if you don't use it. Agreed?" I roll my eyes at my husband. If we break something! I guess it's also policy and I know she's probably an intern. But this really does feel like the first time we've been here AND like we're going to get drunk, stoned and then trash the room. Just a little warning for us. Anyway, we are in Amsterdam...

Five minutes later, the procedure is complete. We get our room keys and she explains us how the elevator works. She also tells us that we have a beautiful room (yes I know, because I specifically asked for it). I briefly ask how things are going with the loyalty system because it went wrong last time. "Yes ma'am, that does go wrong sometimes, but you can fix that yourself afterwards." Still no sign of recognition that we are regular visitors. She wishes us a nice stay.

How can this be? Especially in this hotel where we come so often! Where, for the umpteenth time, they do not manage to recognize and greet us at the welcome as returning guests. As a loyal customer, this really makes you feel left out in the cold.

When we enter our hotel room, there is a little bear with a handwritten card on the bed. Written by the person with whom I booked the room. Now we do feel welcome. But if I were the director of this hotel, I would immediately do something about the check-in procedure.


This blog was written for CustomerFirst and published on February 7, 2023

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