“Customer-friendliness is in your DNA, not in technology”

Published on 06/08/2020 in Inspire

“Customer-friendliness is in your DNA, not in technology”

New technology is being churned out all the time and businesses often get overwhelmed. “They want to work with artificial intelligence because everyone else is,” says Karl Gilis, AGConsult conversion expert. “But they must focus on their customers’ frustrations, both big and small. Technology can often be a solution.”

How can technology contribute to customer service?

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From frustration to opportunity

Companies are currently struggling with the digital issue. How can they manage this?

Karl Gilis: “The digital story is not the starting point nor the end, but only the means. Look at how everyone’s going on about artificial intelligence right now. Why would you invest in that? Because everyone else is? That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to me. You’d be better off making sure you have a good website first, for example with a thorough, comprehensive explanation of all your products. Once you’ve done that, further personalization is interesting, and artificial intelligence may play a role there. The customer-friendliness of a company is not in technology, but in its DNA.”

Know what you stand for. Is your brand easily replaced by another? Then you can forget about it.

Karl Gilis


Do companies sometimes make mistakes in that regard?

“Absolutely. Tour operators sometimes encountered obstacles when the travel sector digitized very quickly. I remember a specific case where a tour operator’s digital story didn’t make any sense. Potential customers had to choose dates and destinations via the website, but this isn’t how someone actually chooses a trip. Our research showed that many people don’t know the when and where, but they do know what kind of trip they want. The tour operator adapted its underlying systems and customers can now choose between a skiing or beach vacation, or city trip. Then they pick dates and destinations, which works better.”

But the availability of technology has sped up many processes enormously, hasn’t it?

“Of course. However, technology is not an end in itself. To paraphrase Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, we cannot predict what will change. But we do know what doesn’t change: the things customers expect and that make them happy and loyal. That’s what you should be looking for. At the same time, you have to respect yourself as a brand. You need to be clear about what your brand stands for. You have to make sure you’re irreplaceable. Is your brand easily replaced by another? Then you can forget about it.

Why does customer X buy from Coolblue and customer Y from bol.com? Perhaps Coolblue’s customers will like the fact that the supplier not only delivers their refrigerator to their home, but also installs it and takes the old, broken appliance with them. Nevertheless, bol.com’s customers will have their reasons. The point is, the two brands aren’t just interchangeable.”


  • 80% of companies say they are customer-oriented, but only 8% of their customers say they are. How can companies close this gap? Through a deep understanding of their customers.
  • 95% of all companies collect feedback from their customers, but only 30% use this insight in their decisions. In the end, only 10% actually translate these decisions into actions.

Switching directions faster

Companies wonder how they keep in touch with the customer, especially now that contact with the customer is increasingly digital.

“Indeed, the physical interaction at the counter or in the shop is missing online. At Amazon, managers have to work in the call center for 2 days each year. Definitely a good idea. Many employees of the marketing department often have no contact whatsoever with the customer. You can’t know your customers like that, can you? In Belgium, it is customary to have less and less contact with the customer as you move up the hierarchy of a company. That's a bit odd because if you don’t know your customers, you can’t possibly make the right decisions for them.”

Yet many companies believe that they are very customer-oriented...

“Regardless of all the technological trends, the crux of the matter always remains the same: a company is successful when it succeeds in creating something that meets what the customer wants. Naturally, you have to be customer-oriented as a company. But herein lies a potential misconception: many companies think of themselves as being very customer-oriented, while the customers have a completely different idea. Therefore, it’s important to interpret the customer’s attitude correctly.”

Learn to understand the frustrations of your customers and come up with a solution. Technology offers a possible track, but does not in itself form the starting point or the ultimate goal.

Karl Gilis

So what is the right approach?

“Insight into what the customer wants remains the most important thing. Talk to your customers. Don’t ask what the customer wants directly because they won’t have an answer to that question. Ask customers what they think is good and bad about your products or services, what they find most frustrating about your service, what they felt was the worst part of the buying experience they just had. This way, you can identify the customers’ frustrations, both big and small, very practically. You have to understand those frustrations and you have to do something about them.

Customer loyalty is under pressure today, simply because the customer has more choices. It obliges you to switch directions faster as a company. You can see this very clearly in the companies that rely heavily on online sales. But at the source, the challenge remains the same for everyone: keep a finger on the pulse, learn to see the frustrations of your customers, and come up with a solution for them – and preferably before your competitor does. And yes, the solution to those frustrations today is very often digital.”

Can you give an example of that?

“Alright; look at Uber. Why is it successful? Because it’s a super useful app? Partly. But the most important explanation for the success is that Uber takes away a lot of frustrations that classic taxi companies haven’t solved. After dinner at a restaurant, you don’t have to call around to arrange a taxi. The app lets you see immediately which car is coming, you know when it is at the door, what the ride will cost, and that the payment and tip will be easy. If you want to succeed, then it’s all about removing frustrations in a user-friendly way.”

Karl Gilis

He founded the company AGConsult together with Els Aerts in 2001. Karl helps companies and governments to build a successful and profitable online business. He enjoys international recognition as an expert in conversion optimization.

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