Author Archives: Alain Thys

About Alain Thys

As an experience architect, Alain helps leaders craft customer, employee and shareholder experiences for profit, reinvention and transformation. He does this through his personal consultancy Alain Thys & Co as well as the transformative venture studio Agents of A.W.E. Together with his teams, Alain has influenced the experience of over 500 million customers and 350,000 employees. Follow his blog or connect on Linkedin.

Overcoming the Top 3 Barriers to Customer-Centricity

Overcoming the Top 3 Barriers to Customer-Centricity

GUEST POST from Alain Thys

I just finished a presentation for the leadership team of a European travel company that wanted to better understand the barriers they would face on their journey to true customer-centricity. And what they could do about it. 

It was a good excuse to give a 2022 update to some of my older thinking on the topic. And while I can’t really share the presentation, I’m including as summary of the Top 3 barriers below. In case you find them of interest. 

BARRIER #1: Lack of Clarity

Everyone wants to be customer centric, but no one explains what that means in practice. Not just to agree on what a great customer experience looks like. But also to think through its implications for the business. 

What changes does Aïsha need to plan in her logistics department? What return can shareholders expect for investing in ‘happy faces’? What new developments do distributors and ecosystem partners need to plan for? And are any of these implications realistic within available timelines and budgets?

Without this clarity, everyone will interpret ‘being customer-centric’ in its own way, so initiatives will go in a thousand directions. Or simply grind to a halt because of an operational or financial disconnect.

Either way, with the best of intentions, the only certainty is that customers will have a variable experience depending on the touchpoint, person or time of day. 

Overcoming the Barrier: Clearly describe your customer experience. What are you promising? How will you make it happen? And what does it mean for each of your internal and external stakeholders? And before you hit the ‘start’ button, check whether all of your ideas are realistic.

BARRIER #2: Lack of Empathy

Whenever a leadership team embraces customer-centricity, the buzzwords and targets start flying around. Metrics like Net Promoter, customer ease or new kid on the block TLM appear in PowerPoint decks and we focus everything on driving the numbers.

But as management teams get excited, those around them care a lot less. Employees prefer meaningful work and decent salaries over KPIs. Shareholders may not see why they should sacrifice short-term profit for customer smiles. Distribution and ecosystem partners have got their hands full in running their own business.

The result is that strategies are implemented because you say so as a leader. This compliance often works in the short-term. But it disintegrates when processes, negotiations, and culture get in the way. Or when the next budget cut or senior executive comes around.

Overcoming the Barrier: Anchor your customer-centricity drive in the culture by reframing it into what matters to your different stakeholders. Connect the customer experience to the values and culture of those who work for you. Show your shareholders how smiles and money go hand in hand. Engage your ecosystem to create a common vision, instead of imposing yours. Make the strategy theirs, instead of yours.

BARRIER #3: Lack of Vision

Customer teams focus most, if not all, of their attention on improving the customer’s experience based on feedback and competitive benchmarks. Rightly so. Dropping the ball on a touchpoint or moment may cost dearly in both loyalty and revenue. 

But too much focus on ‘continuous improvement’ can blind us to the experience that ‘should exist’ tomorrow. In today’s economy, the last best experience the customers had anywhere, become their expectation everywhere. It’s just that they can’t tell what it is before they’ve had it. At which point, we’re too late.

Unfair? Totally. But also reality.

Overcoming the Barrier: Keep improving today, but allocate at least 20% of your time to imagining the customer’s future that ‘should exist’. Look at life through the eyes of your customer and prototype experiences they cannot imagine today. Be the one who raises the expectation bar, so it forces others to follow.

I’m not saying these are the only barriers. But if you tackle them, you’ve probably avoided some of the biggest pitfalls to customer-centricity out there.

May the customer force be with you!

Image credit: Pixabay

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Why Most Corporate Mindset Programs Are a Waste of Time

What to Focus on Instead

Why Most Corporate Mindset Programs Are a Waste of Time

GUEST POST from Alain Thys

You may know that I’m hunting for a Transformation Algorithm

Its goal is to help us move beyond the >70% failure rate of corporate transformations and create transformative experiences for employees, customers and society. Ambitious? Moi?

To get there, I’m walking around the problem.

Looking at it from all perspectives (Japan style). So without claiming expertise in any domain, I’m blending systems thinking with neuroscience, behavioral psychology, philosophy and my background in experience design. There’s even a little math (I couldn’t resist .

It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.

Meanwhile, here are some more thoughts as I put together the puzzle. The article starts a bit gloomy, but it ends more upbeat… I promise.

It’s all work in progress in which I’m still improving both language and content.
So don’t hold back on comments, compliments or corrections.

These days, every company wants to see a ‘mindset change’.

People need to be customer-centric. Digital. Agile. Sustainable. Innovative. More in love with the color blue. After all, the consultants, executive trainers and software vendors say this is the future. Not to mention Mark’s metaverse:

To make this happen, organizations unleash a barrage of initiatives

They do enthusiastic presentations. Introduce new KPIs and dashboards. Launch internal communication programs and training academies. Create new journey maps. Introduce AI. Get some fancy software.

Some even call me (obviously the smartest ones ).

At first, the signs are good.

After all, with enough pressure, you can get water to go uphill. Also, any decent third-party consultant or vendor will make sure that employees leave those workshops with a smile and some quick wins. Especially those that show progress in pretty graphs and numbers.

But then – one by one – the ‘old ways’ assert themselves

They raise dozens of practical, budgetary, emotional and IT concerns which are all valid and require the change program to be calibrated. After all, leaders need to be pragmatic. These thousand slight cuts erode the big transformative vision and expectations get lowered. Things might even become as they were.


What if we were aiming at the wrong target?

If you look up mindset in a dictionary, you find it is a mental attitude or inclination. The combined set of assumptions, methods and notions with which each of us approaches problems and the world at large (our perspective). Something rooted in the way we view the world and our perception of reality (our paradigm).

This means that every mindset change is in fact a change in perspective or paradigm.

Let me illustrate with a consumer electronics company that wanted to go from product- to customer-centric value propositions. Digging deep, we found that from the engineer’s perspective, the requested mindset change meant letting go of their long held belief that as the world’s best technical experts they knew how to make the best products on the planet (and had the awards and accolades to prove it).

Instead, they had to embrace that the customer knew better what great looked like and their opinion didn’t matter as much as they thought.

If you’ve worked all your life to become that smart and esteemed technical expert, this is an existential pill to swallow. Especially if the only rationale from the top is that “our Net Promoter Score should improve”.

These shifts in perspective lurk in any transformation

Being agile means seeing that we live in a chaotic world where we can never really be sure of our best next step. True sustainability means accepting that there are limits to growth, also ours. Going digital means letting go of activities we have long considered to be uniquely human (ours?). Innovation requires unlearning the orthodoxies and beliefs we may have held since childhood. And so on.

For some people, these steps may be easy. But for most, they can challenge the core of who they are (even if they may not admit this to themselves).

Ignoring this deeper reality can doom your transformation from the start.

If the new KPIs, processes, systems and incentives you introduce do not match the worldview of the people you target, they will reject them. Sometimes they rebel. Sometimes they stand in the way without realizing it themselves. Either way, your culture will eat your strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So what to do instead?


If you want mindset change, focus on the paradigm shift first.

Before you expect people to approach problems differently (mindset), work on the way they perceive these problems and their context. Clearly describe the required paradigm shift in a FROM… TO… statement and make it as compelling as possible. All while acknowledging the uncomfortable bits head on.

Then, give people opportunities to embrace this new narrative through experiential programs (remember: the old brain doesn’t do PowerPoint).

Once they see the world with fresh eyes, the mindset and changes will follow.

Or as my ultimate change guru Antoine de Saint-Exupéry used to say: “if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

But always remember that your perception as a leader is flawed too.

When you say: ‘I want a mindset change’, you are actually saying: ‘I want you to see the world as I do’.

This is often a big ask, as chances are you live in a world that is more affluent, more educated and more informed (I won’t mention diversity … oops, I did). You probably have a different education, live in a different social media bubble and even shop in different stores. You may even have the freedom to make your own decisions.

Seeing life your way, may not be as easy for someone who has grown up, works and lives in a different context (no value judgment here, just observation).

Inversely, unless you’ve done their jobs and lived their lives, you will have difficulties to imagine the world through the eyes of your people. No matter how you try.

So before you talk about mindset change.

Understand and start from your people’s perspective and then expand it in the direction you propose. And if the gap between the two is too big, consider adapting your strategy.

Perhaps your world view and sense of possibility need an update too.

Image Credits: Pixabay

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