In the 4th edition of the Art of Scaling webinar we explored a very exciting topic – delighting customers. Did you miss the webinar? You can rewatch a recording here.

We invited the leaders of two ventures that are excelling at delighting and retaining their customers:

Natalie Utkina


Joost Smaal


Natalie Utkina and her husband started eFarmer with the mission of making precision farming available for every farmer in the world. They make high precision agriculture software that allows farmers to automate their work, leading to higher profits and less environmental impact. The farming industry is a notoriously traditional one, which makes eFarmer’s growth all the more impressive – its innovative technology is used by clients in 50 countries around the world.

Facilicom is a facilities management company of over 25,000 employees. It is now aiming to become a disruptive new player in Food & Beverages by reinventing the office canteen with a new concept led by Joost Smaal – Food&I. It’s a fully digital approach that is focused on the needs of the end user (company employees), and is now being rolled out in 60 restaurants across the Benelux region. 

What does delighting customers mean to you?

Joost: Listening to the needs of consumers. Our relationship with the consumers is not only about price, it’s about helping them meet their business and strategic goals. In our case, delighting customers is not about selling employees sandwiches, but about helping our customers (the companies) have happy employees and a sustainable business.

Natalie: We are aware of the difference between a need and a wish. Many companies think they’re catering to their customers’ needs, but what they focus on is their wishes. For example: I want a cake, so I’ll go and find a cake. But what I may actually need is to feel better or improve my mood. We try to delight our customers by helping them solve the needs that will improve their lives. Farmers don’t want to adopt new technologies, but they need to, due to climate change, worsening soil conditions, lack of labour, lack of water, etc.

How do you find your customer needs/pain points?

N: We had a crowdfunding campaign, and I think that’s the best way to build a product. There are many advantages. First you know right away that there’s a product-market fit, if people are investing in the product/MVP that you pitched. Then they’ll start asking questions about how the product will work and which features it will have – they basically tell you what their needs are. And then you build that product! It’s funny – we’re actually not farmers, we’re an IT company. It’s our customers who tell us what they really need. We take their feedback in our apps and try to introduce the new features that they ask for. We also visit them and do demonstrations of our products. Seeing how they use the product in the field is a great way to test user experience.

J: Before launching Food&I we started with an in-depth study to understand what is happening in the market and what competitors are doing. We have two needs to fulfil: the customer (the owner of the company who wants to provide lunch for employees) and the consumer (the employees). So we need to understand customer and consumer needs. We developed a “living lab” in Belgium and the Netherlands. We conduct surveys where we ask consumers about food digitalization, the menu and sustainability. It’s so easy to connect with your consumer that I ask each member of my management team to be at least 2 times a week in a restaurant to talk to consumers. The food & beverages industry connects people to the table, it creates room for discussion.

What kind of metrics do you use in your consumer research?

Joost: We’re in the first year, so we still trust our gut feeling for a good amount. The KPIs we’re tracking are customer complaints, how many lunches sold, and digital reviews of meals.

Natalie: You can’t measure anything until you have your first customers/sales. Once you have customers it’s important to have regular communication. It’s great if you have it looped into your product. We use the Net Promoter Score metric. It’s very simple, and it matters for everyone. If someone becomes your ambassador, it reflects on the whole team – the product team did a good job, the sales team succeeded, and the support team wins because the customer is achieving their goal. In addition, once a year our sales team gets on the phone with every client and asks about how satisfied they are with the product.

How do you turn a happy customer into a loyal customer?

Joost: We don’t want customers to be stuck to contracts. What we do is define a roadmap with the customer, mapping their needs (more happy people, more sustainable food, etc.) for the next 3 years, for example. It’s not a contract, but we know that if we comply with the roadmap, then they will continue to be a client after those 3 years. 

Natalie: Working with farmers is a long-term business. It’s not for 1, 2 or 3 years. They only start to see the product in action after a full agricultural cycle. And once they see results (better crops, higher profit) for a couple of years in a row, then they really love you. At that point they become very passionate about the product, they offer to promote it with other farmers, do demonstrations in their farm, and become an official ambassador (taking commissions for referrals).

How do you keep your most challenging customers delighted?

Natalie: The challenging customers are the best. They’re the ones who can really help you improve your product. We have customers in 50 countries, but we mostly sell to Germany. Satisfying German customers can be a challenge. I think that’s why we’ve been able to make such a great product. We have amazing customers who care about every part of the product and have high standards. You need to love your challenging customers, and show care in your communication. When we get negative feedback, we host a session where we analyze their journey, draw insights, and how to help them. We discuss it on a very high level – management team and CEO – because it’s important to us. It’s uncomfortable, but when you start to talk to a unsatisfied customer you realize that they care, and that’s why they wrote to you. It’s easy to turn them into ambassadors once you show that you also care. Don’t see it as something negative, see it as a growing opportunity.

Joost: Exactly, we need complaining customers. When they are complaining they are fighting to stay with you. We need complaints to keep our team sharp.

In a nutshell, what’s your tip to companies trying to delight their customers?

Joost: Dig deeper.Connect to your customer and find the undefined need. 

Natalie: Don’t fall in the trap of making the product perfect before starting to sell. Try to get customers as soon as possible.

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In the last few years we have analyzed over 500.000 ventures, and worked closely with 130+ teams on the ground. On that journey, we have identified 20 factors that differentiate between those that scale and those that stall.

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