// 10.20.2020

introducing andre wiringa from start reverse.

Andre Wiringa founded Start Reverse in 1987 to help companies define their purpose, realise their relevance and create meaningful experiences for customers. Since then, a lot has changed; a good experience today isn’t defined by how delighted a customer is, and in the wake of the pandemic, people are craving experiences that keep them connected whilst still adhering to physical distancing. And in their plus-thirty years of experience, Start Reverse has worked with countless giants of the business world including Ikea, Decathlon, Mazda and KLM.

We talked to Andre about his approach of reverse thinking, the common north that every business needs and the responsibilities of leaders to instil change.

You founded Start Reverse in 1987. Why have you been fascinated with experience ever since?

We believe that experience is the main driver of loyalty. The experience people have today determines to a great extent their loyalty tomorrow. But the way experiences are being delivered has evolved over time and still is evolving, and that’s kept me passionate about it over all these years. Until a few years ago, companies would focus on delighting their customers, whereas now it’s increasingly important to be relevant and to deliver meaningful experiences. It’s exciting to work in an industry that is so focused on human experience.

Start Reverse helps companies excel in customer experience, but to do so, you start by helping businesses define their purpose through reverse thinking. What is reverse thinking and why is it important to achieve meaningful results?

Reverse Thinking starts by defining your purpose and desired identity, as well as the experiences you want your customers to have. And then work your way back from there, making sure you deliver on what you stand for, every day on every touchpoint. At Start Reverse we help transform managers into empowering, purpose-driven, inspiring and coaching leaders (EPICs); co-workers into people who champion experience by surprising, touching, assisting and recognizing (STARs) and businesses into relevant and meaningful experiences. Purpose and identity form the direction that everything you do takes.

And what are the problems with traditional thinking? What do companies get wrong regarding customer experience?

If you think traditional, you take your product or service as the starting point, followed by logistics and process. Management has a big influence on working climate and co-worker behavior, and customer experience is then an outcome. When experience is seen like this, it’s difficult to keep it in sight and to work towards it on a daily basis. We believe that such traditional thinking needs to be turned around, making the intended experience the starting point.

Start Reverse talks about a business needing a common north; that everything in the business has to point the same way and share the same beliefs. Could you talk a little about the importance of everything being connected?

If you work with a common North, whereby all energy and all efforts contribute to living your purpose, bringing your identity to life and delivering the intended experience, change becomes much smoother and will always be more sustainable. We’ve worked with KLM on their Experience Compass, which is now known by almost everyone working at KLM.

Imagine that all of the 25-30.000 co-workers take one extra step for their colleagues and customers in line with that compass. That means millions of extra contributions to the experience they wish to deliver. This has much more impact on net promoter score than if KLM would leave it up to their co-workers to make their customers’ day without any direction.

Simply having a defined purpose is not enough to transform a business. What needs to be done after defining a purpose and how can businesses can embody that purpose every day?

After defining your purpose (why), the next step is to define what identity (who) you wish to build and which experiences you want to deliver. These will be the starting point of an experience blueprint on which you also add the essence of what you provide (how and what). Followed by which behavior, working climate and leadership (in that order) will bring purpose, identity and intended experience into reality.

Defining an experience blueprint (some companies call it their compass, roadmap or other) is the easy part. Bringing it to life is what really matters, ideally without compromise.

What have been the major shifts in customer experience since 1987?

When we started focusing on customer experience, most of our clients were thinking in terms of satisfaction. Satisfaction is foundational, yet over the past decades, it’s become clear that companies need to go beyond satisfaction. Today, brands have to go beyond a cool experience. They need to be relevant. Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore define the following stages: commodity, brand, service, experience and transformation, and I believe in that a lot.

What responsibility do leaders have in relation to purpose, identity and customer experience?

They should live the blueprint every day as a personification of the common North. Leaders need to set-up their team for success and should truly empower their co-workers to own the experience. They should be coaching, instead of instructing, asking their co-workers what they think matters, instead of telling them. They should be able to share a compelling story where they would like to go with the company, the team and each individual. Every change within a company starts with leadership transformation.

In 2017, you wrote and published a book, Start Reverse – Go Beyond Customer Satisfaction. What prompted you to do that and what purpose do you feel it serves in relation to Start Reverse’s mission?

After working with hundreds of inspiring brands and leaders, I wanted a place to share my experiences. After all, the reverse thinking approach is too impactful to keep for ourselves. Our purpose is to bring relevance to the world, which is another reason to share the lessons we've learned and the successes we've been a part of.

Do you think customer experience will be even more important in the post-pandemic world?

Absolutely. The outbreak has made it clearer than ever that delight is not enough. Companies need to be relevant, add meaning and make a difference. If you’re not relevant you will vanish.

And what challenges do you think the next normal will present for the customer experience industry?

I think it will be tough, because we need to distinguish between social and physical distance, and tailor experience for each. Whereas physical distances (including legal distances such as 1,5m) have to be respected, we have to simultaneously shorten social distances in a psychological sense. Experiences in the next normal have to build strong, meaningful social connections despite the physical restrictions people face. The pandemic has highlighted how different those two types of distance are, and we’ll have to adapt.

What are three things every company can do to start connecting better with their customers?

  1. Define the intended experience you want your customers to have.
  2. Make sure leadership is focused on creating a stimulating working climate and facilitating co-worker behavior and interaction that contributes to the intended experience.
  3. Deliver on your promise(s), internally and externally. Or rather, go beyond to make a real difference.


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