Anouk Vastert: Customer Centricity Transformation Leader driving Outside-in culture change

A motivator, planner, and connector, Anouk Vastert, Global Customer Experience Advisor at SAP, believes in the importance of bringing people together for better results. An advocate of cross-functional cooperation, Anouk is averse to silos which she feels are the biggest roadblocks in companies hampering the delivery of a good and consistent customer experience and a great employee experience.

She believes in Driving business results through product-, employee- and customer experience improvements. She loves to empower people and teams by first creating a Vision together and setting clear goals. These tactical goals and assets, which she calls Experience Principles, are created with everyone’s input, can be used by everyone, and are a clue towards a successful transformation.

Customer-Centric DNA

Born into a family of Hotel-Restaurant entrepreneurs, Anouk found customer-centricity in her DNA. Luckily, the first job she got was with Coca-Cola where she was nurtured as an Outside-In professional. It allowed her to learn professional Sales and Marketing skills and a customer-centric way of working and building professional customer partnerships. “I learned the service business by heart from my father and often remember his famous quote – the customer is King but only when he/she behaves as a King,” shares Anouk.

At Coca-Cola as a Key Account manager, she was always looking for improvements. Anouk noticed the Order Entry Services department operated separately and was situated on a different floor in the building. That hampered a good way of working towards their largest customers. So here was her Lesson One: if you make a good plan to improve, big chance leadership says ‘Very good idea, go do it! Here Anouk learned that you can do anything, there are no limits; just make a plan, propose, discuss, and GO.

Later when there was a problem with the Supply Chain at the factory in the south of the Netherlands, she went to work there as a Supply Chain Development manager. Her Lesson Two: If you stay a specialist, you might rise faster on the career ladder; I loved going wider from Sales to Supply Chain, learning much more about the overall business which makes you richer and very effective as a manager and cross-functional professional.

After 8 years with Coca-Cola, Anouk moved on to Royal Philips, a leader in Consumer Lifestyle products, Lighting, and HealthCare where she was responsible for the Marketing, Sales, and Digital Transformation of Global Consumer Care. Together with her team, she built and executed Customer Experience in the B2C part of Philips. A few years later, B2B Healthcare asked her to do the same there. That brought her to Atlanta for 2.5 years, building a Global Customer Experience or Customer Centricity Transformation program together with the USA team. Markets and customers were extremely happy with this focus and it brought great results for the company increasing NPS; resulting in increased order book and revenues.

Speaking at a few conferences in 2019 brought her to SAP, another beautiful large strong global company that was at that time hiring people straight from business roles instead of a technology background. For Anouk, it was a great opportunity to work with all kinds of companies instead of just transforming one.

Kickstarting Transformation at SAP

SAP is the Market leader in Enterprise application software helping companies to run at their best. 77% of world transaction revenue touches an SAP system. SAP will continue to be the engine for business, bringing powerful, proven innovations that serve companies both now and into the future. They are helping enterprises around the world transform their business models to accelerate growth, put sustainability at the center of their operations, build resilient and agile supply chains, and increase productivity. Whether companies are transitioning amid market uncertainty or are intent on getting ahead of the competition and being ready for fast-changing demands, SAP helps address top priorities: achieve business transformation at speed, gain easy-to-use innovations, and work with a trusted partner.

When Anouk started with SAP in 2020 as Global Customer Experience (CX) Advisor, she noticed SAP was talking about Customer Experience as if it was only a Digital or IT activity related to their CX Solution Portfolio. This is only partly true. Most companies worldwide talk about Customer Experience as an overall direction or transformation of the organization. And that is wonderful cause SAP can help them to get there. “Together we first create the Customer-Centric Vision and their Experience Principles. Then we do Customer Journey Mapping with a cross-functional team to find their top 10 pain points. This can be in Marketing, Sales, Supply Chain, Finance, or Employee experience. Then we support our customers driving the change in People, Process, Data, and Tools: in the end, bringing in the right technology to support that direction,” says Anouk explaining the process.

Anouk heads a team of 25 Global Customer Experience Advisors that are consultants for customers worldwide. They all come from Business roles at companies in different industries like Walmart, Caterpillar, Philips, Nespresso, ABB, Swarovski, PVH/Calvin Klein. Due to their experience, the conversations they have with Customers are in their business language instead of technology language and are outside-in instead of inside-out.

Customer Centricity as a Way of Business

The notion of having Customer Experience (CX) as an integral part of business strategy has been around for the past 2 decades. However, with the rise in discussions about Customer Experience, there has also been a rise in misunderstanding about CX, how a company can be successful through CX management, and the benefits that a company can expect from CX done right. To dispel the misunderstandings, and make customer-centricity more effective for business, there is a large Customer Experience organization in the world called CPXA. That is where Experience professionals meet, connect and share their work. The CXPA provides a great Exam for everyone who wants to become a Customer Experience Transformation professional: the CCXP. Anouk, a CCXP herself, feels that it is very important that many more CX professionals get this title as there are still so many more companies that need to go in this direction for long-term value.

As the world continuously wants to run better; be more sustainable, efficient, and customer-focused, there are not many things hampering the progress of customer centricity. Things that might stand in the way of moving faster are the original strong technology culture and short-term sales focus at the industry side, and the lack of customer focus at the company’s side. Anouk still gets surprised about the amount of (mostly B2B) companies that can deliver a difficult experience to their customers. There is likely an inside-out, old-fashioned mindset and the company is clearly not investing enough in making it easy to do business with. So, there is still a lot of work to do!

For a few years, Anouk has been a Judge at the International Customer Experience Awards organized by Awards International. “This is beautiful as it brings ALL companies in the world together with their best Customer Experience or Employee Experience projects and results. A great way of seeing what’s going on in the world and where can you learn from it. This year I have been asked to join the Steering Committee of the ICXA,” she shares.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace

SAP aspires to be the most inclusive company and therefore there are many initiatives across the world. They recently launched an initiative called ‘SAP Allyship for Inclusion’; to create an environment where each of us feels included, all of us have a central role to play as allies. “Allyship is the intentional use of our privilege and voice to support and advocate for those who might not have a seat at the table. The beauty is that each one of us needs an ally and each of us can be an ally, and together we can lift each other,” explains Anouk.

Currently most of her efforts go to taking care of respect for each other. There are many different cultures and it is important that everyone understands each other related to behavior and language differences. Native English speakers can take more care of the non-natives by speaking slower and using less slang or word jokes. “We want everyone “in the teams call” to feel included and understand what is being discussed. Here we touch Employee Experience which is a big pillar of Customer Experience hence extremely important to take care of,” says Anouk.

Handling Difficult Situations

Challenges are a part of a professional’s life. When a company is going through a Customer Experience transformation or an IT implementation, many leaders think this is a rational or technical thing. But the biggest challenges often sit with the people. Most times budgets for change management are way too small or taken out and Change is brought back to just a few communications. Same happened in Philips when Anouk was implementing CRM worldwide or during the CX transformation period. Her lesson at that time: “A Fool with a Tool is still a Fool”. They had to increase investments in people for them to understand and drive the change.

As an example; Customer Journey Mapping is not just a rational exercise finding customer pain points, but an opportunity to bring 40 cross functional people together for better understanding of each other’s challenges and teaming up to improve the customer experiences. This also tackled the second challenge which is the silos in the organization. Bringing people together reduces silo thinking and silo way of working.

“I am really allergic to silos and a red thread through my career has been connecting people from different departments to work together cause I truly believe in 1 + 1 = 5.

Especially in Customer Centric or Customer experience transformations, change management is extremely important. Create a Vision together and make the implementation practical, tactical and enjoyable. Make sure to free enough funds and FTE’s for this if you want to be successful,” shares Anouk.

Coming up Next

The Customer Experience Advisory team in SAP will continue to build an outside-in, customer-first way of working within SAP, and they support their customers’ transformation to a customer-centric organization where all capabilities are designed outside-in. Anouk and her team have also developed “Firestarter”; an external thought-leadership and innovation

community crowdsourced by a growing network of business members focused on business topics, issues, and outcomes.

Words of Wisdom

Anouk shares the following gem of advice for budding entrepreneurs:

“Customer First: whatever product you create and sell, make sure your Customer is really at the Center of everything you do. Do not just focus on the technology or selling but make sure your (potential) customers can find you easily, reach out easily, get their questions answered fast and easily, and solve their problems with your products fast and in the way THEY WANT it, not the way you want it. Immediately develop (or hire) a true outside-in mindset in your team.”

Living by Her Rules

“Well-behaved women rarely make history” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Anouk lives her life on her terms and loves to discuss the Status Quo or be a little provocative (her perfume is Provocative Woman by Elisabeth Arden) not just for the sake of it but to get people out of their routines, comfort zones, and flip their thoughts 😊

Anouk is based in the Netherlands and has 2 dogs. As she works full time across the Globe they have a Nanny at home for 2-3 days a week and go to daycare. She didn’t start a family on purpose as she liked her life too much with just work, travel, and friends. She is also a part of an all-women band with 23 other spirited women who love to make some music and have fun.

As a volunteer, she is currently on the board of the animal shelter and this July with her niece Nynke (20, daughter of her sister) she’ll be off to Malawi, Africa to work at the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary.

Quote: “I have a very positive, always motivating personality and I love big challenges.”