Ilenia Vidili

The power of customer-centricity

In the latest episode of MYC'D UP with CX Leaders, MyCustomer had the pleasure of speaking with Ilenia Vidili, a customer-centricity advisor, keynote speaker, and author of 'Journey to Centricity'.

24th Oct 2023

In the ideal customer-centric world (...) customers have more meaningful relationships with companies, employees have a better relationship with their job, and they benefit from making customer lives better.

Ilenia Vidili's journey began in corporate marketing. During this time, she recognised a significant gap between businesses and their customers. Customers had specific expectations and needs, but many companies operated with a product-centric mindset, putting their products and services at the centre of their strategies. Ilenia saw the potential for a better way of doing business – one that prioritised listening to customers, fulfilling their needs, and building trust.

This realisation led her to transition into customer experience, where she could help bridge the gap between what customers wanted and how businesses served them. Ilenia's goal was to share her vision and insights on creating exceptional customer experiences and better business models, guiding companies toward becoming more customer-centric.

Being a human brand

In her book, Ilenia emphasises the importance of being a human brand. To MyCustomer, she explains: "Basically, being a human brand is caring". 

The concept centres on placing customers at the core of a business's operations and decisions. A human brand goes beyond profit maximisation; it stands for something bigger than just selling products and services.

To become a human brand, Ilenia advises that businesses should consider the following key elements:

  • Higher purpose: Develop a purpose that transcends product sales and focuses on making a positive impact.
  • Empathy and compassion: Understand your customers' needs, walk in their shoes, and take action to fulfil their expectations. 
  • Creating communities: Build communities around your brand that strengthen relationships with your customers. This deeper connection fosters loyalty and trust.
  • Reducing brand ego: Shift the focus from self-promotion to demonstrating how your products or services can improve customers' lives. 
  • Integrity and relevance: Act with integrity, transparency, and credibility. 
  • Creating value for all stakeholders: Extend your care to all stakeholders, including employees, partners, suppliers, and the environment. A human brand considers the well-being of the entire ecosystem.

Changing customer expectations

Many customers want to align their values with the products and services they use. Ilenia says: "We are buying products and services based on our values, our beliefs, and how companies treat their employees." This shift in consumer values pressures businesses to adapt, bridge the gap between stakeholders, and become customer-centric. 

We are buying products and services based on our values, our beliefs, and how companies treat their employees.

To learn more about overcoming common challenges, the future of customer-centric brands, or to hear Ilenia's stories from some of the interviews she conducted for her book, listen to the episode or read the full transcript below. 


Sabine Groven 0:02  

Hello and welcome to MYC'D UP with CX Leaders, a MyCustomer podcast where we speak with some of the leading lights in customer experience and customer service. My name is Sabine Groven, and today I'm joined by Ilenia Vidili, a customer-centricity advisor, keynote speaker and author. Her book Journey to Centricity provides a framework for leaders to transform their organizations into customer-centric ones and has earned her recognition as an expert in the field. So, without any further ado, join Ilenia and me as we get miked up.

Ilenia Vidili 0:44  

Thank you so much for having me, Sabine. And thank you, everybody, for listening.

Sabine Groven 0:48  

I thought you could kick us off then. It would be really interesting to hear a bit about your background, where your career started, and what led you to write your book Journey to Centricity.

Ilenia Vidili 1:02  

Sure. My career started years ago in corporate marketing. I used to work for big corporations; I started working for any C corporation Bayer and then others and, and also Armor. So I've had all my experience working in corporate marketing. And throughout my experience, I realised that there were a lot of things that would create gaps between the business and the customer, especially with the customers, you know, so the way customers wanted to be treated and served. And the way that businesses actually treated and served customers, that was the bigger gap that I would see. And when I started working in customer experience, I thought, well, this is the actual way that we should be doing, you know, we should be listening to customer needs and expectations and fulfil their needs if we want to have better relationships with them if we want to grow our business if we want to be a more trustworthy company. And that's how I started my journey in customer experience, basically seeing what would happen in the background or, you know, the same kind of product-centric way of carrying out a business, and then slowly seeing and experiencing a better way of dealing with customers?

To answer your second question, why I wanted to write my book, it was especially this to share my opinions on and my vision of creating better customer experiences, but also have a better, better business model that would provide better customer relationships, better employee relationships and, and also better success. So, you know, more sustainable success in the long term into that's why I wanted to create this book; I wanted to share my vision of what my experience was like and how I can help businesses to become more customer-centric.

Sabine Groven 3:18  

In your book, you talk about the importance of being a human brand with a long-term customer-centric perspective. So, can you talk a bit about how businesses can achieve that?

Ilenia Vidili 3:33  

We all know the difference between customer centricity and product centricity, where in the first scenario, the customer is at the centre of the business. And in the second scenario, instead, the product is at the centre of the business. In the second scenario, the objective is to sell as many products and services as possible to as many people as possible in order to maximise profit as much as possible. And the philosophy in this scenario is mass production at scale, and the faster, the better. So you can imagine that with that goal in mind, the customer and employees, they're not taken into consideration, you know, in the whole objective of this business model. So, the needs, expectations and pain points are less important than the product, putting products and services on the market. So, all the communication marketing, R&D and objectives are done with the product in mind.

And to answer your question about how to be a more human brand. First of all, we have to have a higher purpose, you know, and a higher purpose than that of selling products and services. So, you know, we need to look at the world from the customer and employee perspective, taking them as people rather than in the case of customers rather than walking wallets, which is basically what the product-centric bit This model is about right. So. So that's, that's so important, especially in a world where a new generation of consumers want to interact with businesses that have a higher purpose and actually stand for something bigger than just selling products and services. So that's where we were to start from a purpose really need to initiate movement internally, and it must be woven into the company operational fabric, or the why's it holds no value, you know, so putting statements on a wall, this is what we stand for, is not a really what a purpose he is, you know, and it starts obviously, internally, and he is reverted externally to, to customers, then, other things that to make a human brand is empathy and compassion, empathise with customers, so walking in their customer's shoes, understanding their perspective, and taking action to actually fulfil those needs and expectations, you know, but it's not just that, but in every behaviour in every action that a company takes new product development, for example, you know, are we actually taking into consideration our customer needs and expectations. So that's what empathy is.

Then we talked about purpose, then creating communities around the brand, for example, that strengthen the relationship with customers. And this is something that I talk about in my book, as well. So, for example, around our purpose around what we stand for, there, we should be as a brand to create communities to strengthen relationships with customers, and that creates a bigger bond, you know, with our customers. So that's another way of creating a human brand. And then one of the things that businesses do is they have a lot of brand ego. So they talk a lot about themselves, they talk a lot about their products, they talk a lot about how long they've been in business, and you know, so this is the kind of talk that they do, but they don't talk much about the things that they can do for customers and how they can improve their lives. So that's another way of being a more human brand, talking less about themselves and talking more about improving customers' lives, improving employees' lives, you know, being actually a partner in life with that customer.

Then another thing that I'd say I talk about in the book is integrity and relevance. So integrity, as we know, is the ability to act on moral values and beliefs, integrity for customers is doing what's right ahead of what's easy, you know, and it means being credible through honesty and transparency. And oftentimes, we see businesses that say, the authentic, they say they are, they have integrity, but they don't actually act with integrity. So that's another thing that makes a human brand. And then, of course, good customer experiences, creating, designing, you know, making the effort to to create and design good customer experiences. If you take care of your customer experiences, it means you care about your customers. And that's obviously it's as crucial as the fundamental of being a customer-centric company. And, and also fundamental of being a human brand, right. Lastly, taking care of the people inside, sorry, inside. And of course, as we said, outside the organization, but also taking care of the planet. So all stakeholders, that's also been a human brand, right? When I say stakeholders is basically the whole ecosystem that circumnavigates the brand as a whole. So we're talking about customers, we're talking about employees, we're talking about partners, we're talking about suppliers, we're talking about the planet as a whole, you know, everything that means. So basically being a human brand is caring. And obviously, every company is different, you know, and there is not psi fits all in companies need to really design what it means for them to become a more human brand in their daily behaviour and across their stakeholder ecosystem.

Sabine Groven 9:25  

Yeah. So for your book, you interviewed several experts in the field of customer centricity and also customer experience, and customer service. Can you talk about some of the key takeaways or lessons that you learned from these interviews?

Ilenia Vidili 9:48  

Sure. I interviewed 17 people, including business leaders, university professors, experts in the field of customer experiments, it was it was a journey, you know, Journey To Centricity. It was a journey itself. So, for example, one of the most enlightening interviews that I did, was for Massimiliano Giuliani, who's a former CEO of illycaffè , I'm sure you've, you've tried to get illycaffè in your, in your life, for sure. So he explained to me that illycaffè embraces the Creating Shared Value model that serves all stakeholders and society at large. So illycaffè is a company that aims to improve the quality of all stakeholders, creating a long-term value creation through ethics. So what does it mean? It means that, you know, everything they do, so for example, growing coffee beans, and that is done in an ethical way, that is done with some high-quality products, you know, and, and ethical ways of growing beans, but also taking care of the growers, for example. So and that means giving them an education, giving them the means and paying them well. And we're talking about growing up in very developing countries, so and then taking care of their employees, and obviously, taking care of customers, but also we're talking them out about a more sustainable value chain and supply chain. So all they have implemented really, really sustainable waste management and weight sustainable way of creating the coffee, you know, from the growing the coffee from, from putting the seed and soil to harvesting, and put in a coffee in coffee shops, for example. So that's a very sustainable way of doing business. But that doesn't mean that it is not a profitable company. It is, of course, a profit company and a very, very profitable company.

Do you know, and what is one of the world's leaders in, in a coffee in the coffee business? And, but it's just a different kind of mindset and a different kind of way of doing business. You see. That's what I mean. And that's what Giuliani was saying about creating shared value is, you know, it was very fascinating. Of course, I cannot tell you what Justin needs in his podcast episode on his own, but it was really, really interesting. And I explained it in details that in, in the chapter of purpose of my book, so very interesting, the way they they embedded their purpose of creating shared value in their business model. Another very interesting conversation was with Margot Zeno, who's the head of analytics, and Alexa is one of the biggest energy suppliers and management services in the world. And why was it was interesting, because we talked about innovation and product development? So, you know, it's in, as we said, in a product-centric world, the R&D development would come up with a better version of an existing product or a completely new one, and sell it in big retailers, for example, without really fully understanding the customer, their needs, and who would buy the product, for example. So Ellen Analects inverted this and brought up, you know, the co-creation model with customers, so they brought in a number of customers, and CO designed a new product, in this case, a wheelchair for special customers. And they needed, obviously, to fully understand what what were the needs of those customers, you know, in very small details, because, you know, designing a wheelchair, obviously, you're designing for people that are not able to walk, and you need to understand and design it with him. So that was a really interesting conversation. And, again, that's that's an interview that I shared in my book. That, you know, that's a completely different approach from the traditional product-centric approach. So you are co-designing a product, a new product, with your customers, actually bringing them in bring bringing them in. So this co-creation project was firstly done with a traditional project with a traditional method or, you know, with just a product-centric metric method. And Marco said to me that it was a complete failure because it didn't work, and customers weren't happy they weren't using it. So they were actually really upset because why would I use this product if you designed it? Without really understanding me? And my needs, and then the brooklet customers, and then you know, they shared it with them. They shared projects in different phases. So the first phase wasn't as good as the second phase; it was a little bit better, and the third phase was much better. And then the fourth phase, obviously, it was excellent for customers. So that it's, I mean, to me is obviously, part of the empathy that we were talking about earlier.

You know, empathy is also this. And it's believed that customers only look at the product features, quality and prices, but actually, when making decisions were so much influenced by, yes, of course, the rational factors like price and quality, but also the emotional side of a product. You know, so how are you able to understand me, that's the emotional side. And then this is part of the left and right brain in which we make decisions when buy products or services. And that's one of the parts of, you know, companies think that putting products and services in the market is just a rational thing. No. And that's the thing that gets overlooked. So much, unfortunately. So they underestimate how to connect with customers or how to connect to the right side of the brain. So, the emotional side of the brain. And that's a problem, of course, because you are not taking into consideration those customers, and you're not taking into consideration their needs and their expectations. So that's why empathy is hugely important.

Sabine Groven 16:42  

Do you think that the kind of changing customer and the more emphasis on how employees are treated, where things come from, how they're produced, thinking about the climate, those kinds of values that people have? So, if they can, they would probably want to align them with the products and services that they buy and use.

Ilenia Vidili 17:09  

Absolutely, yes. So these days, you know, we are looking at companies' behaviour. Our action of buying products and services today is a political act. Basically, we are buying products and services based on our values, our beliefs, and how companies treat their employees, how much they pay them, you know, are the values valued or not. So there are there is so much pressure on companies these days because they are losing relevance. Losing relevance means that it's not just about putting a product on the market. It's not just about looking at their competition, what is doing and putting a better product, you know, when new features and different prices lose relevance, it means that you need to actually disrupt yourself, you need to understand what the market is looking for beyond products and services, that what I mean, that's what I mean.

Sabine Groven 18:10  

Yes. And there are obviously examples of businesses that are hugely successful, whilst it is quite known that they are not treating their staff that well, without naming any names. But I'm thinking for people who are listening to this, you really want to adopt a customer-centric culture that is really important to them, but they do struggle with leadership buy-in. And it's essential to kind of have a top-down approach because you need to budget for this as well. Right? So what would you say to those people? How can you get the organisation on board? How can you get a budget for those projects?

Ilenia Vidili 18:51  

Well, we need to understand that the narrative is, I believe, is completely upside down. You know, because we are still looking at the world from revenues, budgets, profits and maximization of shareholder value. That's why we are looking at the world in this way. And it obviously is difficult to make them change make them I mean, the leadership obviously, if we don't have the leadership commitment, we're not going anywhere, makes it's very difficult to make them change their mind if we don't talk their language. So it's it's important that we create a sturdy plan, that customer where customer centricity is aligned with the business objective. We're not saying here that customer centricity is, you know, this fluffy thing that doesn't make money. We need loyalty and rotation as well as we need acquisition and new aquas sorry, new customer acquisition and growth. And they both need to be aligned. So, we need to have a study plan that communicates this and shows that this works.

Sabine Groven 20:11  

Yes. Another thing that you talk about in your book is the gap between companies and their stakeholders. So how is it best to bridge that gap? And what benefits are there to prioritising value for all stakeholders?

Ilenia Vidili 20:28  

So, creating value for all stakeholders means exceeding their minimum expectations. When the amount of expectations are exceeded, obviously, in that way, we create value for them. And as we said, stakeholders are everybody that interacts with a company. So customers, employees, and etc. So, for example, illy is a company that to create value for our stakeholders, as I was saying, the more you take care of your stakeholders, the more they will take care of you. That's, you know, it's the main role. If we're talking about coffee growers, for example, farmers, for example, that pick up the coffee beans for you. And if you don't take care of them, they will go to your competition and take care of the competition that maybe takes care of them more than you. So that's, that's the way of, that's the way it works. Creating value means that the same is with customers is the same way you take care of me, and I take care of you as a company, and I stay with you. And I create that advocacy and that trust, and that loyalty in the long term, when I see that you are actually taking care of me. And that, you know, is across all the interaction and is across everything we do with, you know, with our customers, with our employees, with our all stakeholders, that's what I mean. But it's also having that sort of that human way of leading a business of being human-centred because to me, customer centricity is very aligned to human Centricity and people Centricity or whatever we want to call it, you know, because when you talk about taking care of customers that you need to talk about taking care of all your ecosystem in order for and get be more engaged with your customers.

Sabine Groven 22:25  

Have you worked with a range of businesses, from startups to well-established companies? What are some common challenges that you've seen when implementing these customer-centric strategies? And how can these challenges be overcome?

Ilenia Vidili 22:43  

So there are loads of challenges customer-centric transformation is the basic is looking at the world from the customer perspective, understanding and fulfilling their needs. And in order to do that, we need to tear down so many walls, and we need to be able to build bridges that connect the business and the customer. So where do we start? It starts from having leadership commitment, as we said, If leaders don't have that will be meant effort and investment in time and money and resources. And they don't prioritise customers, that what they're doing, they're basically showing to employees not to care about customers, it's as easy as that. So the first thing to have is leadership commitment. Then, we have so many walls, as well, as I was saying we have siloed procedures of any kind data silos, departmental silos, hierarchical silos, all those silos lead to fragmented customer experiences, everything that is interrupted or frictions inside the business is automatically reverted outside the business source to customers. So we need to be able to encourage cross-functional, sorry, cross-functional communication and collaboration across departments, so that we tear down those walls of bureaucracies aimed at complex procedures, you know, we basically need to be able to make it as easy as possible for employees to work and to create better customer experiences for our customers. You know, we also have problems with poor data quality, inadequate data collection methods, for example, or no knowing how to use customer data correctly. Personalization, you know, customer experience. Sorry, bad personalization for customers. And it's not just about having data scientists. Do you know who can collect and analyze data? It's also about sharing that data across departments. So everyone has a 360-degree view of the customer and can act accordingly, then is also a about is also about using the data correctly and collecting the right data about customers that we actually need to personalize customer experiences.

But it's also about, yes, having data scientists, but also having people who understand human psychology to understand consumer psychology because consumers are human beings. And as we were saying, it is not just about selling the products from a rational perspective, but also from a mental, emotional perspective, then we have obviously, as we have seen, short-term gains that are often prioritized over long-term relationships, that's a problem, we have so many, so many barriers, we employees often are not engaged. And they're not given the necessary skills and training, such as communication skills, empathy, skills, and problem-solving skills. They're not communicating what gets decided at the top, for example, new customer initiatives, what is happening with the customer-centric transformation, you know, sometimes those hierarchical silos that I was talking about, they are so real that they create these gaps between departments, gaps between the top to the bottom, and employees are not involved enough in customer-centric transformation. That's another barrier, you know, so many things that get decided at the top, they stay at the top, don't get communicated throughout the organization. That's another problem. So there are so many barriers and problems that we have. And it's all about, you know, I can go on for hours talking about this. But it's all about, you know, trying to fix things and tearing down those barriers in those walls. And again, building bridges and making it as easy as possible for the employees and then for the customer.

Sabine Groven 27:17  

Yeah, so if we think about an ideal organization, who has been able to overcome those challenges and barriers and have fully embraced customer centricity? What's the future for that type of organisation? 

Ilenia Vidili 27:35  

So in the ideal customer-centric world, the way I see it, I see customers have more meaningful relationships with companies, employees that have a better relationship with their job, and in their benefit from making customer lives better. Shareholders have a bigger return on their investment then we have leaders who lead healthier organizations, and we have a society that enjoys increasing growth and sustainable value. This is the kind of value maximization that we want to see. That's the way I see customer centricity, you know, because if you're talking if you're taking care of your customer, you're taking care of the whole ecosystem. And any means that you have a more sustainable and long term long lasting business success. I also believe that in a landscape where multiple variables are evolving so quickly, and as we said, multiple younger generations are disrupting business trajectories. The rule to become customer centric is about changing mindsets, behaviors, structure, culture, in old practices, and to listen customer needs that go beyond products and services, that that's what we need to do. There is no rule, there is no framework, and there is no recipe; every company needs to find their own recipe to create a better customer-centric environment.

Sabine Groven 29:00  

Yeah. And lastly, then Ilenia. I want to ask you a question that we ask everyone appearing on this podcast. And that is if you could share one piece of advice with fellow CX professionals. What would it be? And why?

Ilenia Vidili 29:22  

I think the biggest piece of advice I could say is empathy. I think empathy leads to a customer-centric way of doing business. If we don't have that deep sense of understanding others, understanding their needs and acting to fulfill those needs. Then there is not customer centricity, you know, so I think he starts from there. But I think my colleagues CX professional know this.

Sabine Groven 30:02  

Yeah, but a little reminder then. Yes. Brilliant. Well, it was so nice speaking with you Ilenia. Thank you very much for taking the time, I think our audience would really appreciate listening to the conversation, learning more about you and your approach as well and your experience. So for anyone who wants to continue the conversation, where can people find out more about you?

Ilenia Vidili 30:29  

So I'm quite active on LinkedIn I share nearly every day I share content with, you know, customer-centricity tips and how to improve customer experiences, though people can find me on LinkedIn. And then on my website as well

Or if they want to, you are more a deep dive strategy to create, actually to switch from product-centric to customer-centric, so a customer-centric transformation then my book is available, you know, Amazon marketplaces Journey to Centricity is the title. Thank you so much for Sabine. It's been a pleasure.

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By amsterdunkz
27th Oct 2023 15:13

Nice post and please provide more information. Thanks for sharing.

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