In this episode we speak to Chantel Botha, MD and founder of BrandLove, a customer experience design consultancy based in Cape Town. Chantel is passionate about customer experience and sees it as a blend of art, magic and science. We couldn’t agree more.

We talk about the difference that can be made if executives and companies start thinking about the small changes they can make to deliver better customer experiences, and also the difference that can be made by focussing on the return on relationships as opposed to the return on investment made off of customers. When companies own the idea of customer experience, they are more likely to ensure that it is implemented.

We chat about the effect of COVID-19 on the future of customer experience and what the impact of this will be on big brands. Will brands that have empathy during a worldwide pandemic possibly be the ones that come out the other side as winners?

The conversation with Chantel:

Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading Design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac media.


Welcome to this episode of great minds design think alike. I’m super excited I have got Chantel Botha. She is the CEO  and founder of Brand Love. And they are a human centered design consultancy in Johannesburg. And I know that we have similar minds. And I’ll be stalking as Chantel mentioned in our earlier conversation. I have been stalking her. She said she has been stalking me. We do very very similar things. But I think where Chantel comes in is she has got a lot of experience. She has traveled. She  has spoken to some really key people around the world. I think it will be awesome if she could share some of that.


Chantel just to start off maybe just give people who haven’t heard about you, might be few. But who hasn’t a little bit about your passion for customer experience, human centered design comes from.


Alright stunning. Thank you Stuart for inviting me here today. It’s awesome to connect with light minded people but before I talk about my customer experience passion. Maybe let me introduce myself like this. I was once at a conference and the Mc wanted to introduce me. She wanted to say I’m a mathematician by education, which I really am. But she had a slip of tongue and said Chantel is a magician by education. And ever since that I kind of really like the concept of a magician. Because I think what really drew me to customer experience is this blend of science, art and magic and it’s really about understanding the customer through insights. But then mixing those insights in a weird alchemy with the designs. And then you end up with interactions that are so much more connected than the typical transactions that we are used to everyday. So that’s really kind of. When I left school. Long ago I said to my dad I wanna study art. And he said, “Do you wanna be poor for the rest of your life?” And I said obviously not. I studied math and computer science with business economics. And I think you know, I come from a very solid science background. But I really love the human sciences and understanding what makes people tick.


Yeah that’s amazing. You can see it in the work that you guys are doing. Give us a little bit about some of the work that Brand love is doing. Touch on maybe some of the projects that you guys are experienced in and highlight from those where you have seen some of the work that you do translate into this awesome customer experience. Something that people really enjoy now because it’s much more improved.


I think a lot of the early work we did was in financial services. Insurance, banking, we have worked with many of the prominent South African brands. And I think a lot of the, I mean they come to us. Saying can you help us with our customer journeys and usually they have done some customer journeys and it ended up on the wall somewhere.  And it’s kind of a process flaw  looking like artwork that has been collecting dust. And I think a lot of people struggle with, they know they want to get closer with the customer, they know they need to revitalize some of their value propositions. But it’s as if the tool that they show at it doesn’t get them to actually see their improvements. And I am very much My husband and business partner. He often challenges me, “You know Chantel, why are we charging people for common sense?” And I say because they struggle to apply common sense themselves. If we are the voice reason say get back to the basics. Do the basics right. A lot of why this is challenging is because getting your customer experience to be better is not doing one thing better or one thing right. It’s about doing 100 of little things slightly differently. 


And believing that if I change cause a few percent angle change is gonna take me to a different destination and I think the companies that we have loved working with are people who take that to heart and people who, once we have been a divine intervention. People who actually apply real discipline to it. And we have seen that in the work that we have done for Discovery on a new value proposition. When I said I owned this journey, the CEO put up his hand and he said I own this journey. I think when you get that kind of executive ownership and that almost evangelism saying if we do this we’re gonna get the customer. And we are gonna get the customer not for a few weeks but we are gonna get them for a lifetime. And that return on relationship rather than return on investment. If people get obsessed about returning to a relationship. I do believe that it’s gonna pay off. I think we love working with leaders that get this and leaders that want to make a real change but also love working with people that are highly critical you know. Your typical CFO asking questions about return on investment. Because if you can swing the critic in the room then you have got them.


So you were talking a bit about the guys having done this work before. It’s sitting on the wall. It’s not being used. Outside obviously getting that evangelist that ownership inside, where do you think companies are sort of aware of what they have to change but they dont take that step from their current situation to where they wanna change. Where does that obstacle and that challenge sit at the moment within organizations?


So I think organizations usually gets things done by packaging stuff and making it silo. So finance you are responsible for XYZ. ops you are responsible for XYZ. and in that they make the boundaries clear and they make the responsibilities clear. But very often the silos get, we call it silocities because you just stay within your boundaries and what’s really complex and what’s hard about customer experience and employee experience is it reverses these silos. And I think that’s what makes it really hard. I have seen organizations make the bold step to say we need a customer experience division. and then they create yet another silo. And everybody hates them. Nobody wants them to do journeys for them. And they just become the evangelists that irritate everyone and nobody wants them to middle in their business. So from that extreme to hiring a team of 12 consultance to come and do it for you. That’s another extreme that’s just as bad. 


You know where we very much believe in empowering people and getting them confident to do this themselves. So from a business perspective I don’t want to get into a client’s account for years. Because there is a lot of shit going around. You know, I’m not concerned about business because there is so many broken experiences that are. We have to show people the way. So the more I can empower people to do this for themselves the better and if someone designs it for themselves, they take a whole different pride in that. It’s like some days I tell my children I brought you into this world. I will take you out of this world. But i probably won’t, because birthing them and looking after them and nurturing them for so many years. I have got a vested interest of seeing them succeed. Seeing them reach at least 20. But I think that’s the same for ideas. We have been birthing an idea for 18 hours without a fucken epidural. You have got to make sure that idea sees the light of day. For me that’s it. That’s kind of a cool principle we operate by. Is helping people with generating ideas and birthing ideas. Because then it will succeed.


I think you have hit the nail on the head there. I think what’s important is having them across those multi divisions and those silos. Because in our experience very often you tend to a customer experience which is the people who are facing the customer. But then there is that silo, it’s the back office that’s letting down those people that are facing the customer. Then it affects the whole customer experience. Even though the people on the frontline understand what it means, it takes to give a great customer experience. 


And the neater and organizational hierarchy is and the oak chart. The neater it is, the more difficult it is to change. I spent some time in the United States in March this year. I went on a quest to see the real experience at Zappo. I was invited by Ritz Carlton to spend some time in their executive program. And I went to Zappos. They took us on a tour of the offices. And we went into their auditorium. And at the back of their auditorium there was like weird stuff against the wall. It looked like little map pins with pieces of paper and some string. And I said what on earth is that? They said no, that’s our organization structure. They like mapped up on the wall this elocrisy structure that was messy because one person can literally report into 20 different projects. Because they become almost like a profit center per project. And i went this is interesting because this isn’t neat. It’s a little bit overwhelming. But that’s how they break down these silocities. So that people collaborate across boundaries. And it’s not about anyone’s egos or anyone in particular s budget. It’s more about what are the shared objectives. And how do I measure whether I achieve those objectives?


It’s interesting to have looked at that I suppose model of elocrasy for ourselves and it’s a difficult one to put into your business when you got those pre defined structures that you had before. And now you are looking to put these new structures into your business. It’s very very challenging. But it’s a very interesting business model. I have actually done some amazing stuff with it.


And I think they speak quite openly about their challenges with it. But I think it attracts a different kind of a person who has been a part of a very structured command and control organization isn’t gonna like it. I mean I look at us as a, I shouldn’t call ourselves a start up. We have not been a start up for a long time but we have got a very much self management vibe. You know if any of my team have a great product idea i will say well  go and develop it. What do you need from us? We have seen people come through our organization. That can not deal with the ambiguity, that can not deal with command and control and not being micromanaged. And I think that’s probably one of  the biggest challenges where we are sitting right now id with many many companies who never had a work from home policy, and their systems couldn’t work and they did not trust their people. If I can’t see you, how do I know that you are working? And all of a sudden in one cell suite that’s now a reality. So all of sudden people need to manage themselves. Leaders need to let go of control issues and they need to become so much more clear on what their expectations are.


How do you see that and the situation that we are currently in affecting customer services. I mean we often get these messages saying when you call the customer center expect to hold on a little longer because of the situation. Do you see anything there that fundamentally could change quite quickly and make a big difference to customer experience?


So I think this is a bit of a reset button that’s reprioritising what we really value. So we have seen companies that spend a lot of money and a lot of time on their customer journeys and there is a lot of nice it is and a fluff in those journeys. And some of it is really remarkable. But some of it is really really broken. So I think those extremes of building those nice sophisticated stuff into your journey but just don’t do this because at that point its gonna break. I think companies are now called to go back to the basics. Let’s prioritize. Let’s really really prioritize the basics. Get your basics right. And then you can start differentiating. And I think everyone is now jumping on the online bandwagon. But some of the stuff that they didn’t get right before. Is gonna just be exaggerated by online. So now they have an opportunity to use the best methods. If I look at , let me give you a good example. 


Early on in the lock down we did a Covid 19 patient journey. And I had arrived from New York on pretty much the last direct flight to Cape Town. So I had to like lay low and not come near my family. And part of that process was going for a Covid 19 test at a test center and that experience in itself was completely broken. Because the test centers that was listed did not take people. You know they pointed me away. And the test centers that I could go to needed a doctor’s referral. And it was a really really complex thing. So when we met with our client we said well you know it’s one thing sitting on your couch at home imagining what the journey is like. And then really looking at what’s happening on the ground. And at that time it was as easy as going onto youtube and putting in what it’s like to go for a Covid test. And you get all the possible focus group information that you could. So I think it’s about now really understanding your customer. From a real empathetic perspective. And then building the journeys for those customers. Whether it’s digital or its in store, whether it’s masks and gloves, it’s the same principles.


In one of your talks you actually talk about, cause we are in Covid right now. Which has kind of changed the focus of what the year was gonna be about, and a lot of businesses obviously kind of where they were going that kind of thing but you got to talk which was on the trends that you are seeing in 2020 which just share a bit with us about what you are seeing as opportunities for great customer experience.


Yeah Stuart I feel kind of guilty about some of the material that’s out there about the trends, because for the last 5 years I stood out on stages and I have predicted that big brands are gonna drop out of this market place in a flash. And you know, I can’t always say it’s the arrogance that brings them to a fall. I never imagined that it would probably be the combination of a virus and arrogance that brings them to a fall. But I think a lot of companies were focusing on the wrong things. If I look at our personal prioritization. If I look at something as simple as our shopping list. Our grocery shopping list have changed dramatically over the last four months. Right, we buy a lot less luxury items. We buy a lot more flour. You know we bake, we bake. We make recipes that we have never tried before. I’m not very domestically inclined but I do love cooking. You know I’m making traditional meals that I haven’t made like in 10 years. Because we have got time. We value family time a little bit more. I think that’s the same for any consumer out there. Where we are very fortunate. 


There is a consumer base out there that’s really really low on Maslow’s hierarchy right now. So from a trains perspective my advice for brands would be to focus on the basics. Get the basics right. Don’t try now be sophisticated. You know, don’t try and go over the top. Just get your experiences to be simple and respectful. One example of a call center that I spoke to, they phoned me because I had defaulted on my credit card. It was a few days late. And the way the person spoke to me was, I could clearly hear that this experience was designed. And I said ok give me the inside scoop. I said, what are you seeing right now? Are these conversations difficult for you? And the agent said to me: no they have trained us. They know people are going through trauma at the moment and they have asked us not to be like in your face with debt and stuff like that. So first we ask how people are and if they start talking about their health, we know how to handle that. And I could clearly hear that this guy was great because he shared the inside scoop with me. But I think that those companies, the ones that are now using empathy as an antidote. Those are the ones who are gonna win this race. 


I agree with you 100%. I mean a lot of the conversations that we have on our podcast center around the empathize potion of design thinking and human centered design. And how important that is, I mean being human centered is listening and understanding what the problems are that the people you are looking to serve have. How do you from the perspective of Brand love and the kind of training that you do? How do you then get companies to take that on board? Cause you mentioned earlier that  you like them to be self-sustaining after they have engaged with you and continue with the kind of work that you bring to them. So how do you get them to continue the empathizing?


So you know, I think we have always used kind of very creative but quite invasive training methods. So once people have been on our training, I believe you change through evoking emotion. And in order to evoke emotion you need to get under their skin. You need to make them feel something. In a training course if people get pissed off at me usually my radar is quite good. They don’t need to curse. I kind of know they’re gonna get pissed off soon now. If I get someone to be angry at me about something then I’m evoking emotion. Then we are going through a shared experience. So im very much still on a high, we had a 5 days training course last week. One of our  flagship programmes called the journey architect you have seen some of the stuff we’ve done for that. And I didn’t believe people would sit on a zoom for 8 hours a day for five days. We had delegates from all over Africa with quite a large group from Kenya. And it was just a magical experience because people got immersed they got it moved in you know, brands that they had to work on they did a lot of group work.


 I wanted them to go away from this five day training course having done everything themselves. So on Friday we were treated to amazing group presentations and people present at what they’ve the journeys they’ve created for these brands and how they wanna transform these experiences and I was blown away. I could not believe you know the kind of the quality of work that the delegates come up with. So you know I think it’s about believing in people you know that they can do it and really equipping them with the skills. And yes the hard skills. So the tools and techniques. but a lot of it I don’t like the word soft skills I call it super skills you know Super skills that will give them superpowers when they work with other human beings. And I think you know the online world that has challenged us to facilitate in a different way. I attend webinar sessions and most of them are dead boring. Most of them don’t make me feel great about myself. And all of a sudden we see ourselves on screen all day long. I love the zoom hide function so I can just look if I don’t have to look at myself. 


But I think it’s so that’s kind of the one part of it is training people on a very specialized skill to design. And then in one of the other training programs and we’ve got at the moment we’ve got an intake of 220 people in one of our programs is called The Brand warrior program. And the Brand warrior program is about, I designed it about 6 years ago in response to brands coming to me saying Chantel can you make people live our brand. Can you come in and make our people live our brand.and I would say to them I’d love to believe that I can make people do stuff but it’s pretty much my husband that’s a fair amount of manipulation that I have applied to make him to make him do stuff. But other than that I can’t even make my kids do stuff.But my husband still. I got him around my little finger. So that’s a program that uses similar creative methods.But it’s really around people being motivated by internal pride. By getting back again feeling you know if I’m working in a call center that’s my craft. My craft is to convince people, to support people, to help people and I and I think some of this craftsmanship we have lost in the scaling and in the industrialisation of a lot of roles. We have lost craftsmanship. 


And part of the the work and I’m so grateful I get to do is me with my facilitation team where we give people skills and we just click on that little switch we just light that flame again in people’s hearts to say you know what this isn’t my vision and this is what I do love to do. And then we teach them the skills of how do you work together in a team? How do you better connect with the customer and the central theme is really a round connection. And I think that’s one of the trends as you know now that we have totally disconnected from each other in a physical way. We need to work so much harder to emotionally connect with each other and I would say in all of the work we are doing, if I look at the amazing experience we had last week with the group of 36 people. We use the techniques of human-centered design on designing that entire week for them. We put ourselves in their shoes. We created personas to say well you know if I’ve got someone in a rural area with interrupted Wi-Fi how can we design an experience for them? And I thought it was really about taking the extremes of what we deal with and designing everything we do so that it makes sense. And that it meets expectations and in places that it delights. And where at this point that we’ve pre predefined if someone has a bad experience, what are we gonna do about it?


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