What A Local Baker Taught Me About The Customer Experience

Mark Van Heijningen

We all know someone who has a good understanding of the customer experience. And I’m not talking about a big-name brand. In fact I have a smaller organization in mind. To be specific, the local baker. Mine knows my taste and precisely the sort of bread I like. He also knows I have a jam-packed agenda and that I don’t have time for a 15-minute chat. ‘My’ baker occasionally presents me with a type of bread he’s made “especially for me.” “I think you’ll really enjoy this, Mark,” he’ll say. Not only is the bread delicious – what makes me truly happy is that this small businessman hits the nail on the head when it comes to customer experience.

The effect of a personal relationship

I told this story when I opened the sales & marketing track of the new knowledge event, Connect to Innovate, co-hosted by SAP Netherlands. The day was all about customer experience. And why did I tell this particular anecdote? Because I’m really inspired by people like my baker. Customer experience doesn’t have to be difficult. The core of the story is simply delivering very good – no, outstanding – service. And that’s what my baker does!

You probably also know someone just like this. A person who makes you feel at ease and who gives you the feeling that he or she “gets” you. Whether or not it’s true is neither here nor there. Of course, it will always remain a business transaction: My baker ultimately wants me to buy bread. There’s no escaping that. But it demonstrates the effect that a personal relationship can have even when it comes to business objectives. There are two other bakers in my village but, thanks to my guy’s personal touch, I want to buy my bread from him. And even though he sells “my” bread to other customers, it feels as though he’s really baked it especially for me.

Knowing your customer inside out

Large organizations can learn something from my baker. At SAP, we are often asked whether we can improve the customer experience. Technology plays a big role, but the basis is knowing your client inside out. That means knowing what drives him or her, what makes him or her happy – or not, then giving your client the “special treatment” (like my baker does), even though your products and services for the next client are probably comparable. This is how you build a steady, loyal customer base. 

Making a difference exactly when it counts

How do you do that when you are talking about larger volumes and multiple channels? It’s true that it’s easier for a small enterprise like a bakery to deploy something like this than it would be for a multinational company.

In his Connect to Innovate presentation, Stephan van Slooten said you don’t have to do everything perfectly, but you should turn up at the moments that really count. That single moment that makes a difference is the opportunity you should take. Imagine that you’re on vacation and your bank card is swallowed up at the automatic teller machine. If that were to happen, it would be safe to say, it wouldn’t put you in a very good mood. But if the bank representative empathizes with your situation and explains that your card was withheld because it appears to have been skimmed, you think all of a sudden, “What a relief!” And if the bank offers to secure a taxi for you (because you probably don’t have any cash to pay for it) you feel even happier. And if they go the extra mile by assuring you they’ll provide enough cash for you to continue on your holiday, even though you don’t have your card available … Well, by this point you can’t be anything other than a fan of this bank. Those are the moments that count.

Technology comes into play

At moments like this, technology comes into play in creating these “wow!” moments. By having the right sensors in the automatic teller machine, the bank knows a customer has been skimmed. For a retailer, technology can identify when a customer takes an item from the shelf. If the person holds the item for longer than two minutes, a real-time message can alert a staff member that “a customer is interested in product X,” enabling the employee to assist in a more targeted way.

It can also go one step further: What if you know in advance who the customer is, which products he or she likes, and what his or her budget is? Then you can be even more precise in fulfilling the customer’s wishes and even start predictive work. We do this regularly online, but offline there are certainly as many possibilities that technology can present. 

The greatest thing …

I can give many more examples, but it all comes down to this: Make sure that you know the customer through and through. It’s not just the local baker who can create excellent customer experiences – you can too. To state the ingredients one last time:

  • Listen to your customer
  • Put their needs and wants first
  • Learn how smart technology can help

In searching for technology, look for a simple way to combine systems of records with systems of innovation to make the difference on moments which matter for your customers. This simple recipe for customer experience could be the greatest thing since sliced bread for your business.

Learn more about Influencing Customers Through Infinite Personalization.


Mark Van Heijningen

About Mark Van Heijningen

Mark van Heijningen is the Vice President of Marketing for EMEA North at SAP. His mission is to position SAP as a world leader in the cloud, Big Data, and analytics. With over 15 years of experience in business-to-business high-tech marketing, he shares his views and knowledge on marketing, technology, and innovation.