How to kill a great organisation?:

The customer connects everything – brand, innovation, corporate culture,…

In this episode of our podcast series „How to kill a great organization“, Elisabeth Leyser spoke with Alexandra Nagy, customer focus and customer experience expert and CEO of Kunde 21, a consulting firm specializing in the customer in the 21st century.

Nagy talks about her career and how her favorite topic „customers“ has accompanied her in all her activities. From her first job in an advertising agency, to a family business, to an international corporation, her path eventually led her to self-employment.

The battle for one’s own departmental resources kills an organization

She describes her experiences in large companies as formative, where, in addition to many learning experiences in the field of corporate communications and marketing, she also got to know the downsides such as silo thinking and a lack of customer orientation.

Customer experience is not a buzzword for Nagy; she is convinced that customer orientation and breaking down silos in companies can contribute significantly to success.

It’s about „making a difference“ for customers

„Customer experience means „making a difference.“ So make a difference for your customers in the experience of, for example, different touch points or in the experience of products, of services… And that’s already my first recommendation that I would like to give to everybody very, very much. Why don’t you take a look at what experiences, what experiences your customers have with you and strive to make a difference.“

Customer experience is first and foremost about customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and good customer relations.

„And that’s the feeling I want you to achieve for your customers, that feeling where the customer says, „Hey, this is exactly what I need. And this is exactly what I’ve always wanted.“. And that’s when businesses can make a difference.“

The full length interview:

This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..

Elisabeth Leyser: Yes. Welcome to MetaShift’s transformational podcast, „How to Kill a Great Company?“ We’re looking at what determines long-term success for companies. And we’ll hear from experienced leaders and experts about what they think is most important to making that happen: to sustainably develop a company in a positive way and keep it alive. Today I’m joined by Alexandra Nagy, an expert in customer orientation and customer experience. I would like to talk to her specifically about what has changed or must change in dealing with customers in recent times so that companies can continue to look to the future with success. And, of course, how Alexandra came to these insights. Welcome, Alexandra. May I ask you to introduce yourself briefly?

Alexandra Nagy: Yes. Hello, welcome. Thank you, Elisabeth, for inviting me. I’m really very happy to be here. And yes, my name is Alexandra Nagy. I’m the CEO of Customer 21, we’re a consulting firm that specializes in the 21st century customer. That means we help companies how to better understand their customers, how to better address them. And we work with methods like design thinking, service, design, customer experience. That’s my professional environment. And yes, personally I live in Lower Austria. I have two children and I can remember, my son once wrote in an essay in elementary school, my mom reads all good books. That’s why we have a huge bookshelf in the living room and she loves to sing and I think she would have liked to become a singer. So the singer thing didn’t quite work out, but otherwise everything turned out very well.

Elisabeth Leyser: That means reading is still something you like to do?

Alexandra Nagy: Yes, reading, especially this lifelong learning, this buzzword, that’s once something very important.

Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, and you have also gained experience in very different companies and with very different corporate cultures. What learning opportunities has that brought you in connection with your favorite topic, customers?

Alexandra Nagy: Yes, quite a lot. And I’m really grateful for the stations that I’ve been able to go through in my professional life. And I can remember, my first job was in an advertising agency. And I was always quite taken with my creative designs and what they developed there for the clients. And then, in the coordination with customers, I was totally annoyed when they didn’t accept something. And then they thought, well, I have to switch to the other side, that is, I’m leaving the agency and going to a client company, where everything will be completely different and easier. And then I changed to a family business, to an industrial company, and that was a great time. In a family business, however, the values or the orientation of the company are of course very much dependent on the owner family, if they are involved in the company. That was the case and yes, the customer is sometimes more important, sometimes less important, if it corresponds to the value orientation. But I was able to gain very good experience there and it was an international company, a hidden champion, as we say in Austria. And then I moved to a stock corporation, an Austrian world market leader. And there it was my job to drive forward the centralization of 26 countries in the direction of marketing, corporate communications and so on.

And then, of course, you are very, very far away from the individual customer. And in a stock corporation like this, key figure-driven decisions are of course also very, very important. And for me, that was a huge shift from a value-oriented family business to a stock corporation. I have to say that I really underestimated that at the beginning. But it was a very valuable experience. And then I also, that was my last stop before I went into self-employment. And then I worked in a country organization in Austria, where my job was to build up a brand for a Swiss company. And that’s when I saw how different it is when you don’t operate from headquarters, but have to implement in a country organization what someone far away thinks up and considers. And you always have the feeling that they understand their own market and their own customers far too little. And yes, thank goodness I can now put all this experience to good use in my work at Kunde 21.

Elisabeth Leyser: That really sounds like very different perspectives that you were able to get to know, and the customer was always important to you. And I wonder now, when you look at the entire range of experience. Were there moments in that context where you thought, this is not how it’s going to work or this is not how we’re going to achieve our goals, where you really had to think about and wanted to think about what needs to be done differently so that customer care or customer support really gets the attention that it needs?

Alexandra Nagy: Yes, so there have certainly been a lot of experiences. One in particular has shaped me, when I look back now, and that was still in this family business and I was totally motivated and I wanted to develop myself further and I was extremely ambitious and I also started there relatively young and was then in the company for a long time and that simply wanted to get ahead. And I thought to myself: Hey, I’m responsible for marketing and corporate communications, I’m responsible for that and I’ve really had so much customer contact because I’ve also worked very closely with sales. And then I went to the owner and said – yes, I’d like to get ahead and what can we do about it? But Mrs. Nagy, you have to understand that we are a manufacturing company and you are not a core process for us.

Elisabeth Leyser: Okay.

Alexandra Nagy: And. So there I was thunderstruck and I thought to myself, on the one hand of course a little bit also my ego, „Hey, now I’m getting into this and I’m not a core process under quotation marks. Me and my team.“. And then I also thought to myself: What does that mean? So what are core processes? Of course in a manufacturing company, production, that’s already clear, manufacturing and quality management and so on. But still, where does the customer come from? Where does the market, the understanding of the market come into it? And that totally drove me. So that gave me such a boost and that spurred me on so much that I got even more involved and learned a lot about what you can do and anchor this view not only in these one company, but in companies in general.

Elisabeth Leyser: What was it that you specifically learned there and which I assume you are also applying now in your current work?

Alexandra Nagy: Yes, first of all the exposure to many new approaches and new methods. So of course there is also this lifelong learning. I benefit from the fact that I am always curious and have tried to stay on the ball, so to speak, to see what is developing. Then, in the last ten or twelve years, a lot of things from the agile corner came along, of course. That drove me on, but then I also realized that somewhere in the companies I had to stand in line. So I was able to do a lot in this direction with my team, in my area, in my responsibilities, and also bring in this customer perspective in different facets. But for the entire organization, there were always limits somewhere. And it was either because the company was too key figure driven or too focused on the financial market. Or quite simply because other, and I say this deliberately, corporate silos were involved. And I can remember that we once set up a wonderful digital project. That was a long time ago, in 2010, and the company was really the pioneer in its industry. We won awards because we were told that this digital application integrates customers and sales partners. That’s genius! But then we failed miserably because the other corporate functions simply didn’t go along with it, they were so stuck in their silos and the time simply wasn’t yet ripe to really push it throughout the entire company.

Elisabeth Leyser: What you’re describing is that even if you have a very innovative view of how to deal with customers, there can be difficulties or challenges if the other aspects of the company are not as far along. And at MetaShift, we are convinced that in order for a company to be successful in the long term, it actually needs to have a very consistent quality of brand, marketing, corporate culture, leadership style, etc. And now I’m wondering how the whole topic of customer experience and customer orientation fits into that? How would you make the connections so that exactly what you just described doesn’t happen?

Alexandra Nagy: Well, first of all, I agree with you 100% that all of these topics that you’ve just mentioned should be viewed integratively and together. And customer experience or the customer is definitely a very, very important component. That’s what I’ve learned, or if I now look back on my now almost 30 years of experience in companies or now also in consulting with many other entrepreneurs. We very often talk about silo thinking – we, I don’t mean my company now, but in general. And of course that also has a lot to do with leadership or how I position myself as a leader. So I’ve spent a lot of my life, thank God the last ten to fifteen years not like that, but I was an absolute advocate of my silo. I’ve fought for resources, I’ve fought for people, I’ve fought for budgets, and I’ve really made sure that I’ve kept my flock together. And you can’t do that in companies these days. So to be really successful now, sustainably, so your title is „How to Kill a Great Organization?“. And that’s exactly how you can kill an organization, and this change towards reflecting on your own thinking as a manager and saying: Hey, what am I doing? There must be another way.

Alexandra Nagy: And for me, I have this image of. So I see it like a spotlight, you’re in a dark room and now I’m responsible for some area. It doesn’t matter. It can be digitization, it can be marketing, whatever. And I illuminate a room or a corner in this room with my spotlight and see only that and imagine that this is the most important thing for the success of the company. And I believe that the customer can illuminate this space, so in the sense of the customer is what can connect everything. And the customer, of course, also has an impact on branding and the customer also has an impact on corporate culture. And so how do I deal with the customer? What is the importance of the customer? And that’s from me this image that I, that I have, this brightly lit room. And that represents the organization. And I firmly believe that the customer has the power to unite and connect all these silos.

Elisabeth Leyser: That’s a very exciting statement for me now, because I think to myself that the customer is actually ultimately the „why“ in every company that operates on the market. Why will do that. And the way you bring it to the fore now, that then changes the view of very many things that happen in the company. And then I would like to ask you right away: If you would like to recommend something to our listeners where they should pay particular attention right now, what would that be? And maybe you also have an idea where they could start doing something different right now or start looking at it. If it is really important to them to follow your point of view also and to say: Actually these are not empty words, the customer is in the center, it is often said – but: Strictly speaking, the whole company only exists because there are customers.

Alexandra Nagy: Yes, exactly. So, thank you very much, Elisabeth. You’ve already summarized it wonderfully. So with all these topics, whether it’s corporate culture, leadership style or also customer orientation, service, orientation, whatever. With which perspective we look at it, all these things are very often difficult to grasp. Or it is immediately connected with the fact that one thinks to oneself: My God, well, that is then again a gigantic project, extremely resource-intensive. And does something manageable or something actually come out of it that really takes us forward, where we can stop ourselves? And it’s kind of the same with customer experience, for example. Or with customer orientation. And I always like to translate that very much with that, so that it becomes more attackable, in a positive sense. And then I always say customer experience means „making a difference.“ So you make a difference for your customers in the experience of, for example, different contact points or in the experience of products, of services. This making a difference breaks it down once really very well. And that’s already my first recommendation that I would like to give to everybody very, very much. Take a look at what experiences your customers have with you and try to make a difference. And my favorite story about that is this. Yes, and it’s one that everyone can relate to very well. Imagine you’re having a milestone birthday and you’re having a party and you’re getting gifts and then you might get a gift basket or a gift certificate.

Alexandra Nagy: Of course that’s a really great gift and you’ll be happy and you’ll thank them. And if it then really quite great and would not have been necessary. But then there are gifts, they unwrap and all at once. So they see something there and it doesn’t have to be anything expensive or big, but they get something and they then look at their counterpart and say, „Hey, why did you know that I needed just that?“. Or, „How did you know that’s what I wanted? That’s awesome, I’ve always wanted that.“. And that’s where your heart goes out to you. And you feel valued. You feel understood. And you realize that the other person has really made an effort to please you. And on the other hand, when you give such gifts, it is of course great, because you get this feeling back from the recipient. And that’s exactly the feeling I wish you could achieve with your customers. So to achieve this feeling that the customer says, „Hey, this is exactly what I need. And this is exactly what I’ve always wanted.“. And that’s when companies can make a difference. And that, of course, is then expressed in customer loyalty, in customer satisfaction, and in good customer relationships. And that’s what customer experience and customer orientation are all about.

Elisabeth Leyser: Thank you, Alexandra. That was very touching for me now, also because it ultimately leads back to the fact that customers want to be perceived as people. Clearly one knows nothing about oneself and that a personal surprise, which is really as close to the point as possible, gives much more pleasure than the standard gift basket. And that is however surely naturally a question of very much professionalism that one really gets that then also as enterprise that there with a large quantity of customers still this personal support becomes noticeable. And I think you, in your role as a consultant, will certainly have great ideas about this. And in that respect, I’m sure you’ll be happy to help. Thank you for the interview, Alexandra. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed our latest episode, we’d love for you to subscribe. If you give us a five star rating, recommend, whatever you can support us to continue to broadcast, to continue to attract exciting interviewees and interlocutors, and also to explore in depth the important issues around necessary change Transformation Change. Looking forward to next time! Goodbye!