AAK: Leadership with customer journey as guiding light
By methodically surveying the experiences customers are getting on the journey with the company, you can lead, change and strengthen an already highly customer focused culture. The president for Europe in the global company AAK has been a key person in pushing the limits, and in this interview he shares opinions and methods for leadership through customer experience.
”People don’t care how much you know, before they know how much you care,” says Jan Lenferink, president, Europe, AAK. A favorite quote of his and it surfaces, when he explains how you can work with enhancing customer experience.
“You can ask your customers to be assured, that you are on the right track. And use it for branding. Or you can ask in order to address the issues customers may have. We did the latter,” he says.
AAK is world leader in value-adding vegetable oil solutions for the food industry. Headquartered in Sweden AAK runs 20 production plants and 25 sales offices around the world. 3600 employees are behind net sales of more than 27 billion Swedish kroner and a net profit of close to two billion kroner in 2018. Results have been steadily and substantially improving over the last ten years, and AAK is a partner to most multinational groups with worldwide brands in foods.
“We’ve enjoyed a quite unique performance over the last decade, so when we decided to work even more methodically with the customer experience, we came from an already strong position. But we knew that we could improve,” says Jan Lenferink.
“We needed customers to give us candid feedback. We needed to hear the truth, a reality check and not just ‘swim in our own soup assuming everything is great’. It was not about just another survey. It was about really listening and making our customers part of our improvement process.”
The customer survey carried out in summer of 2018 should prove to have impact on top management decisions and on the culture and management all over the company. The scope and scale of the survey also addressed leadership issues at AAK.
“When we were about to identify a partner for the survey, we immediately were attracted to the concept put forward by the consultants from Customer Agency. They did not only talk about the survey. They talked about the entire customer journey, and they clearly had the appetite, mentality and insight to work very closely with us before, during and after the survey,” says Lenferink.
The partnership with Customer Agency drove a chain of effects in the company, as the customer journey perspective highlighted all aspects in the entire interaction with often very big corporate customers.
Two processes connected
Delivering ingredients for the products of the customers is about partnership. AAK is subsequently claiming to be ‘the co-development company’, as the company is working closely with customers to develop new products and methods. Customer co-development is a cycle from opportunity to final solution. Operational excellence is a cycle from order to delivery. Both types of interaction with customers are extremely important to a B2B supplier. To be recognized by our customers as a reliable business partner one has to be good in both.
“Having the customer journey perspective present in the survey made it very clear to us, that all functions and roles in the company impact the customer experience. You can’t be number one in co-development if you are below expectation in delivery,” says Jan Lenferink.
Often you see functions and departments within a company not being aware of their role and importance in the customer experience. By giving the customer a voice you can establish better internal dialogue and a better dynamic. Even before sending out 2222 individual surveys to professionals in different functions at the customers, AAK addressed this leadership issue.
“We addressed the false perception that customer satisfaction is solely an issue for the sales team. Therefore we launched the initiative with all departments present, and everybody had their aspect present in the survey. This really created buy-in on the results and had the effect that everybody understood and learned more about their role in the overall customer experience,” he says.
With a response rate of close to 50 per cent, AAK was left with a huge dataset with relevance for everyone in the organization. Results can be sliced and diced and made relevant to each plant, functional area or territory.
One effect of the customer journey perspective was the definition of ‘superior KPI’s’. With an outside-in-perspective these overarching indicators tie the organization closer together to enhance the customer experience.
“Indicators need to reflect reality. And the customers perception should always be our reality,” says Jan Lenferink. “Let’s for example assume, that we have problems in our delivery. We may push the delivery date two times and finally deliver on time on the third promise to customer. In one respect it is 100 per cent on target. But the overall real customer satisfaction is probably very low.”
The consultants from Customer Agency have been integrated to a series of workshops, meetings in the executive committee and they were presenting at the global leadership conference in AAK. When AAK recently acquired a new refinery, it was in part a decision matured by the feedback from customers in the survey asking for stronger contingency plans from a trusted partner.
Co-development in action
The system and entire approach to global customer surveys is now developed, and AAK will most certainly use Customer Agency for the next survey.
“We’ve integrated quite closely with Customer Agency about taking our customer experience to a higher level. They have been a key factor in raising internal awareness. The fact is that our internal relationships is all part of creating the customer experience, and the recognition of that is probably the single most important result from this effort,” says the responsible president for sales and operations in Europe.
“I usually don’t participate in supplier partner success stories or testimonials. This is kind of an exception, because of the extremely high quality, we have met with these consultants,” he says.
“What Customer Agency did with us is a perfect embodyment of that customer-co-development approach we aim for with our customers. They listened, they were able to translate it into a method and a data model, and they have been with us after the survey to apply the new knowledge in our decisions. They are self-confident but never arrogant. I like that,” he says.
AAK plans to run the next survey in 2020.
“We needed customers to give us candid feedback. We needed to hear the truth, and not just ‘swim in our own soup’. It was not about just another survey. It was about really listening.”
Jan Lenferink, President Europe, AAK
Facts about AAK
AAK is a leading provider of value-adding vegetable oils & fats. The company has expertise in lipid technology within foods and special nutrition applications, and a wide range of raw materials and broad process capabilities enables AAK to develop innovative and value-adding solutions across many industries. Customers are in Chocolate & Confectionery, Bakery, Dairy, Special Nutrition, Foodservice, Personal Care, and more.
AAK’s proven expertise is based on more than 140 years of experience within oils & fats. The co-development approach brings customers’ skills and know-how together with AAK capabilities and mindset for the creation of lasting results. Listed on Nasdaq Stockholm and with headquarters in Malmö, Sweden, AAK has 20 different production facilities, sales offices in more than 25 countries and more than 3,600 employees.
AAK obtain raw materials from all over the world. Originating in the plant kingdom, they are renewable and have minimum impact on the environment. The vegetable oils and fats are used in production to make, for example, substitutes for butterfat and cocoa butter, trans-free solutions for fillings in chocolate and confectionery products, and for products in the cosmetics industry.
AAK is organized in three business areas: Food Ingredients, Chocolate & Confectionery Fats, and Technical Products & Feed.
Raising the CX performance coming from a strong position
Globally anchored setup for measuring customer experiences with clear follow up initiatives, Mobilization of management to act on customer insights
Group-wide approach to a stronger differentiation on superior customer experience as platform for profitable growth.