#224 – Customer Centricity With Ilenia Vidili

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have Ilenia Vidili. Ilenia, welcome. Thank you so much for having me, Thomas. It is my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Of course. So, I am a customer centric city advisor trainer as well and speaker and author. I take care of the customer, basically. I help companies understanding their customers better and understanding the importance of customers and optimizing and improving their customer experiences. Thank you for the introduction. We were going to go over your story of it today and in prep for our conversation, I got that you actually quit your corporate job whatever about 3-4 years ago, is that right? Yes, Yes.  5 years ago. And what was the situation around that and why did you end up leaving? So, well basically I worked in corporate marketing for many years before I decided to quit my job and I realized that there was a massive gap between customers and employees and the company.

So basically in terms of values and that’s basically where the main clashes started for me internally as my values and my company’s values such as like the board, the directors and the company itself, they were completely different. Mainly companies want to maximize profit and they do it in a way that is destructive for customers and employees. And so I wanted to work for myself, because I wanted to work and live for my values and that’s basically why I left the corporate environment, because any company that I worked for it was the same music. So I now work with corporations that really — corporations and also middle, medium enterprises that want to change their business operations and become more ethical and help customers, and, well all stakeholders really, create value for all stakeholders.

So would you say it would be a fair summary to say that the reason why you were inspired to get into the business you’re in now was because of the experience you had regarding when you’re in employment, there was such a disconnect between, let’s say, the best interest of the customer and the business that was selling them, the product or the service. Exactly, yes. Interesting, so something positive came out of something which was negative. Yes, Yes. So you you start to have the thoughts that you want to leave, how long did it go from being a thought, maybe I should go, to actually handing in your notice. So it took me about six months when I started thinking about it and and then when I had the courage to take the leap it took about six months time, then I took a year gap.

I traveled around Southeast Asia to, yeah, to really think about what I wanted to do and if I wanted to carry on in business or I wanted to do something else with my life and I actually thought that, well, marketing was my passion, but it kind of vanished within, like, with the years and I thought I could actually work for changing what is the customer experience, what is the perception of marketing in businesses and for customers and improving the customer experiences and really helping businesses understand why customers are so important, why employees are so important, why their stakeholders and the community around them is so important, which is so undervalued in business and that’s why I started my own business right now and I help companies improve in all these aspects that really make a company much more important and grow.

Well before we we talk about the new venture and I do definitely want to get into that. Um I always find it interesting because I think about when my experience as well when I’m, let’s say I vividly remember sort of printing off the letter, the resignation letter and the scenarios and how I felt around that time. So can you, was it do you leave on good terms? And how did it feel when you actually handed in your notice? Yes we left on good terms. Um It was actually just before a promotion that was getting for the company and I declined it because I I saw myself working for another 10 years or even more for that company and having the same internal struggles working for in Asia basically. And I wasn’t happy as an employee, I wasn’t happy as with myself um with what I was doing and um I wasn’t really happy with some um the practices, the business practices that um companies carried out that have to carry out because their main objective is to grow and they do it um in any way.

So I under actually I had a meeting with my ex um boss and we decided well actually I decided he um he handed me a promotion with for another company. So basically I used to I used to be responsible for the marketing and communication and the placement of a venture capitalist. So we had a if you actually a very good number of um startups um under the umbrella of an edge found and I was responsible for all the companies and make them a bro that was my objective. Um But it wasn’t in an ethical way in a way that customers would want to, you know because mostly what companies do is to um maximize the outreach of marketing rather than trust or customers.

And I think that any trust of customers is the best marketing strategies these days. Um So when we decided that of my promotion then I took a week to actually decide whether I wanted to pursue that promotion or not. And then I just said to my boss that in a meeting I said to my boss that I wasn’t ready and I wanted to do I wanted better for my life. So then I took a year gap and I traveled around Southeast Asia because um I felt that my life was completely disappearing behind the desk and behind a computer without being happy. So I thought if I wanted to work 12:14 hours then I’ll do it for myself and I do to make um something better for myself any conflicting thoughts there because a lot of people don’t get the offer of a promotion before they leave. And so it makes it somewhat easier, but if you’re actually handed a promotion that is there any kind of maybe I shouldn’t do this thoughts going on at that point?

Well, yes, but um it was very conflicting, but in a way that um I was really excited and actually when it happened that I I said to my boss, I wasn’t, I’m going to pursue that promotion, then I had a massive sense of relief and um pride and satisfaction for my decision. Initially it was really difficult to to take that decision, especially because I didn’t know what it was going to happen in the months ahead, but I was actually in a better place with that uncertainty rather than going to work with tears in my eyes. So I just wasn’t happy, you know, for me, happiness within myself, it’s better than having a promotion and in much more than before.

So it really depends what someone looks for. They’re gypsies, thank you for sharing that. That’s all right. So, so weight off your shoulders and when do you determine that you’re going to go traveling? Oh, straightaway, basically, I just needed a break from the business world and I needed it straight away. So I basically, after months, I was already in a plane and um and traveling, I decided to go straight away with one way tickets. One way ticket, interesting. So you get, am I right in saying that the travel gives you clarity about how you want to proceed next? How long does that take? Yes. So I don’t know actually, I don’t, I don’t remember the timeframe there. How long did it take me? Probably about eight months to first of all, I didn’t want to think about what I want to do next. I just, I was just enjoying my time with myself, you know, a lot of the time when we work 95 or even more, we really don’t enjoy that time or we do enjoy our time, but we don’t think about time for ourselves.

Making time for ourselves because it all the time is dedicated to work to the house, to the family t um I don’t know just all the things rather than things for ourselves. So for me it was making time farms for myself. That’s what I needed, you know? Um and it took about eight months to um going back into that’s some career, ah thinking um and um and deciding, okay, this is what I want to do, this is what I feel doing. And yeah, I took about eight months and then I started to do within this time was traveling and also doing a lot of research, reading a lot and that research and and reading, talking to a lot of people going to a lot of events, you know, business events to see if um things will kind of like fire things within me, you know those those kind of topics and events still in marketing and branding and business opportunities and business network and would fire um things in myself.

And it took about eight months to decide and digest that I wanted to pursue my entrepreneurship adventure um in consultancy and training. So before we go to the the new venture, did you learn anything else on your, should we say your time your headspace that you got from traveling? It was, it was a lot of um introspective analysis. So I talk about, it was 10 days in a mountain in the north of Thailand for a silent retreat. Uh literally is a silent retreat. You’re not allowed to speak to anybody rather than yourself. And I think it’s it’s I think everybody should do it honestly because what makes you say that well, because we are just, we live in a world that is too busy and too loud, too noisy.

And we don’t make, as I was saying earlier, we don’t make time for ourselves for our sorts, for what we want, why we’re here. Do you know what I mean? What’s our purpose in life? So we work as roberts, we live our life as as roberts as as what society wants us to be. And So it took me 10 days. Those 10 days were really good To understand that my life is not just about working 9-5, But if I want to work with 95, then it has to be for something that, I really truly, believe in. and and that’s why afterwards, um it helped me to understand what I wanted to do, um which is why I’m here today. Great silent retreat. A and have you considered doing another one since? Yes, I would love to do another one.

So we were in lockdown for like two years and I want to do the next one in Nepal or Tibet, I’m organizing myself to do that, right? So eight months in, you decide or you shall we say reflect and decide what you want to do, what happens next. Oh, it happened that, so I was still in Asia and I started my business actually there in Singapore. So I started attending a lot of events, business events in customer experience, and um stakeholder capitalism as well, so why a company should do good as well as doing creating generating profit. So, and I was very fascinated about this aspect of business. And so I started my business there in Singapore, and I started doing consultancy for companies over there.

And, and then I decided that some, if I wanted to build a business that would be in europe, because all my family was in europe, and um my friends were in europe and I wanted to come back to europe, so after about a year there, I came back here in Europe, and then all of a sudden everything stopped because of COVID-19. Um so I carried on working in my business and it’s been it’s been great ever since actually I think also Covid was a silent retreat. Yeah, kind of different, but I do know what you mean. So you’ve you said you traveled for a year and you you’re eight months in, so I’m guessing that’s about four months of seminars, education on certain topics. When do you get your first client? First paying client? Oh it was actually right away because when I stopped um working for my previous um employment, um then after a bunch of months I started freelancing and doing a bit of marketing alongside and doing um user experience improvements for websites and also a bit of um um customer experience projects.

So I started doing freelancing, obviously I needed to work and and that was after a few months But it wasn’t full time. So it was one project here, one project there. Um So I was trying to understand do I want to still join, do this um freelancing for a long time or not. Then biggest client was um 2000 19 Because coming in towards in 2019 for a big multinational. It was a training, a workshop actually that I did for a big multinational and then I did for them a longer project which was involved in optimizing their customer experience designing their customer experience, so I would say the biggest one was about after a year and a half.

Okay, so you you had a bit of a side hustle going on. And would you say what happened when you come back to visit? Italy that you started your business after you got back from Singapore? Yes, I came back here. Yes. So would you say it all starts to take off at that point? Yes, absolutely, so can you share with us what that looks like? Um Yeah, it was, it was really good. So I basically what I do, I contact, I do prospecting a lot, so I use linkedin quite a lot for um looking for new business um but also my existing clients and past clients, they passed the words to other of their um acquaintances and people that they know, so I work a lot on referrals, um Lincoln is my main um social network of course and that brings a lot of business, for example, a lot of speaking opportunities come from there, a lot of workshops come from there.

So yeah, that’s basically where my my main business opportunities come from. Um a lot of them as I said to come from our pharaohs, so existing clients or word of mouth, so in terms of, I have heard linkedin be very good for business to business type Activities if it doesn’t necessarily need to be in your business, but if any sort of business B2B business, if they were just starting out, what kind of advice would you give them about? What you’ve learned so far? I would say create a lot of content, so you need to create your kind of personal brand, use your personal profile, don’t use your business page because linkedin um prefers you to use. So it gives priority to um people profiles rather than business profiles and you need to learn how the algorithms work, you need to learn how to create content.

It needs to be authentic and real conversation, it doesn’t have to be a business conversation too much. Um So basically you showing your yourself, you need to show your real self because linkedin is not just a business and professional platform but is a real social network. So it’s a way is a way to show who you are really in real terms and um what you do, so connect with people many different levels. So personally business wise and many, many different levels and emotionally as well, there are so many people that share their vulnerabilities and it works very well because we connect with people that are similar to ourselves, right, We don’t connect to businesses, we connect to people, we buy from people and that’s why linkedin works very well. Would you say I know you mentioned referrals but would you say you built a business from linkedin?

I can say so yes, I’d say so I think my my business is actually has grown around Lincoln yes, So can you share maybe some biggest wins from your business so far? Uh, my book, Um, so in 2021, I wrote journey to Central City, which is a book that’s um, it’s a customer centric framework that I propose to my readers to optimize and to put the customer at the center of the business strategy and I’m very proud of this book because I share on my values, I share the way that I believe businesses should operate these days. And, and yes, so this my book is my biggest win. And um it took me, I don’t know, yeah, a full year to write it. It was very, very difficult project for many, many reasons, but it’s also the proudest piece of my professional life so far, not only of this business, but of my professional life.

Congratulations on becoming an author. What made you decide to write a book in the first place? Well, again, I think when you strongly believe on your values, when you have integrity and when you want to share your values and the way that you believe businesses should operate, then I think the writing book was the best way to share um my opinion, my views, and because you can write an article, you can write a blog post, you can write um a post on linkedin, but it doesn’t stay there and it doesn’t quite share the same message. A book has authority and it stays for a long time. And and it’s also it’s it’s it’s um it’s a tool that you put central to your business, you know, because it helps you build authority credibility and and it connects you with the radar.

And it brings the basement opportunities as well. You got a favorite chapter at all. My favorite chapter, Art say ease leadership, which is all the good things start from. And what would you share from that chapter that would be beneficial for other people to learn? Well, I think we all should if we as business leaders um see the world from a different perspective. So if we for example, if we have the empathy to see the world from the employees, from the customers, from the communities and the society perspective, I think we have a better way of running our businesses. If we um run businesses from the perspective of revenues balancing balance sheets and numbers, then it becomes very destructive for customer relationships and for employees relationships.

And of course we um we don’t earn that trust that we should, that we um we need in business and societies today. It’s an interesting one because there’s an Earl nightingale example where he says that if you’re for example a restaurant and you set out to make the best food, then the success comes as a result of that. Whereas if you set out to make the most money most likely you get a restaurant which is not very good, people don’t want to go to it. So illustrates what you’re saying there. So thank you for sharing it. What was the writing process like for you? Okay, so writing process was very difficult. Um I interviewed 17 people because I wanted to provide practical examples and case studies of companies that I believe are customer centric these days. So I needed other people, other leaders, business leaders to um share the acknowledge and their experiences.

That itself was very difficult, because you have to you know, chase these people all the time. They are basically sharing. I’m sharing the journey with them and that journey took a year to complete. Um that was a very difficult process, but also the writing process, I don’t believe to be a writer. For example, for me writing it becomes difficult, you know, it is difficult. So it’s not easy for me to write. So I really needed to Um set my objectives down every day. For example, write 500 words every day no matter what. And and that was difficult itself. Um The beginning was interesting, you know, a few few months in was nice because it was like a new thing. But then the pressure of getting the book out because of business books as you know, it has to be out within a year or even less.

The pressure and the emotional as well. So managing those emotions and fears was very difficult. Um but but it was it was very difficult, but it was successful eventually, I think writing about kids difficult itself, you need a lot of mental strength to complete it to actually launch it and to publish it. Um A lot of authors write a book and then they get scared or they don’t finish it and they never get published. So it’s um that’s why I said to you, I’m very proud of proud of it, not just because the content, which is not the work. Um it’s not only me, doesn’t only come from me, but as I said, it comes from all the 17 people, but because I finished it, I completed it, which is really, really difficult. It’s a challenge. Well done again for all the hard work and actually producing something um your marketing, it helped your marketing experience, helped with the promotion of the book, would you say?

Yes, my marketing experience helps. Although um when you work in marketing for companies is completely different kind of marketing. You know here you have to do a lot of content. You you have to work with journalists and um editors. So it’s not guaranteed that your book gets featured in um in journals or magazines or um publications. So not all the marketing is under your control if you know what I mean. Um you need a lot of budget if you want to getting the numbers out for like any product as in any product as in any marketing campaign. And so I’m basing my marketing on LinkedIn content and also um where the mouse and it’s working really well, although it’s been only four months in that’s been published.

So it’s really early to say. After a year, I’ll be able to assess better whether it’s been working or not, but so far it’s been great. Alright, well, I did say I was going to ask you about this, it can relate to the book but it doesn’t have to. So, what does success mean to you? Success for me is, I wouldn’t say happy, but I mean being content with myself, living with my values, living, I don’t know if it’s correct to say, by my values or with my values, but working for something that I truly believe on and getting up in the morning and being excited for what I want to do and be an agent of change, that’s what I want it to be. That’s why my book came out and been happy with it. Great, well, would you share perhaps your best bit of advice from customer experience regarding, I don’t know, can be from the book or just regarding your business that you think that businesses should perhaps implement or think about.

Sure, what I’d say is be empathetic in whatever you do and that means walking into customers shoes to understand what are their pain points, what are their needs, what are their expectations? If we don’t understand customers on a deeper level, we’ll never be able to improve their customer experiences, and that’s not referred only the employees but especially to the leaders. Alright, well if people want to buy the book or perhaps connect with you, excluding LinkedIn, which we’ve talked about, where do they go? So the book is available in all major online retailers, including amazon. It’s available in all amazon marketplaces and also from my website so it can be available from ileniavidili.com. I’m available on LinkedIn as I said, and amazon everywhere. Well, thank you for all the value today. I enjoyed hearing your story and what you learn and thank you for being a great guest. Thank you, Thomas.