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Posted by on Nov 16, 2012

What Dutch dikes teach us about customer experience

What Dutch dikes teach us about customer experience


There’s a great experience going on all over the Netherlands : people are living, biking and ice-sailing, all at 3-22 feet below  sea level.

But how did this great experience come to be? Is it a miracle of engineering, a mastering of the elements by the engineers streaming out of the Delft University of Technology? Well, partly so. But as Andrew Higgins points out this week in Lessons for U.S. From a Flood-Prone Land in the New York Times / Herald Tribune, it’s mostly about a total approach.

In Holland, there is a national Water Guy, a Royal Prince who speaks on water issues,  regional Water Authorities, water communication to citizens and a national Water Tax to pay for it all.  And, since the goal is a “dry living” experience, the focus isn’t just on dike building, but also on stopping ‘piping’  (water seepage at high tide that washes sand away from under the dike) and trapping muskrats who nestle into the dikes.

It works because it is all-encompassing.

And in our experience, companies who design a product or service using this holistic approach deliver outstanding customer experiences.

Philips (another product of Dutch engineering) makes a great coffee machine in the Senseo, but it is Nespresso who designed all the interactions around the machine to deliver a stellar experience.

Paradigit Computers in Amsterdam has empathetic staff, but the underlying customer service stinks, while Apple supports the customer in its Amsterdam store every step of the way, from thinking to purchasing to using to repairing to recycling (well, not yet, but I hope that’s coming…).

This may sound obvious, but how often does it happen?

Most companies pick out one aspect of a customer experience and work to improve that: whether it’s front-line training, a better app, a new marketing campaign or an innovative product feature, these separate elements are thought out and designed in isolation from each other.  And, as a result, success is  only half of what it could be.

Luckily there is a Dutch saying for this, and yes, it refers to the dikes:

Dat zet geen zoden aan de dijk.

(Literally : that doesn’t put any sod on the dike, meaning : forget it, you won’t achieve much that way)











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