New course, new standard

‘We finish every project with an 8!’

Bluff or arrogance? Neither. ‘Put your money where your mouth is’, say Michiel Hulshof and Kobe van Looy. ‘We have been saying for years that we aim for the highest quality.’ Their customers know and show it with high scores in customer satisfaction surveys. They also get the most out of it. Obviously, you should not mess around with food safety. The Belgian and the Dutch are happy to share their success formula.
That’s quite an opener. Seriously, an 8?

‘Or higher! We focus on our customers even more than before,” says Kobe. “Our operation is set up for that as well. This new structure is paying off. Working on a project with a good alignment of the wishes, expectations and goals of the customer, delivers the quality that the customer is really waiting for. With 25 years of experience within a strong team, we believe in what we do. We just know the tricks of the trade.’ ‘Internal focus has shifted to an external focus,’ Michiel responds. ‘After a lot of planning and fine-tuning of the organisation, we now have a solid foundation for our customers. They are not satisfied with a piece of glass in the bread and neither are we. Food safety always comes first. The message about the 8 simply represents who we are.’

This sounds like KTBA has embraced a new way of working.

‘That’s right, we are working more with regional managers who closely monitor their projects towards customers’, Michiel continues. ‘These regional managers provide clarity, have an overview of interim results and adjust them in time. This is of course done in close cooperation with the customer. Short lines guarantee quality within the set deadlines. Don’t forget, as a consultant you need to be aware of the interests of customers and stakeholders.’ ‘This turnaround means we are even closer to the customer,’ Kobe experiences. ‘This translates to more time and attention for the goals and ambitions of our customers in the longer term. This change can take you, so to speak, from a flat service provider to a partner.’

Talk about ambitions. What are yours?

Kobe: ‘Ha, they don’t differ much from those of our customers. Trying to get the best out of yourself, striving for the maximum. That is not only what we want, but what every company in the food industry that takes itself seriously strives for. When it comes to food safety, which has been our core business for 25 years now, you cannot opt ​​for ‘somewhat safe’. Products must be 100% safe. Even that is not enough for some companies, they go for the 200%. Our experts also meet these needs perfectly.’ Michiel: ‘As a company, you can be satisfied with the 8 that we guarantee as a minimum, but you can also aim for higher. Why not? I have never seen a director or owner who was not proud of his company. The entrepreneur who works hard every day to make his company successful and future-proof. Pride goes beyond being satisfied. Quality stands for more than satisfactory. We like to work with clients who also embrace this vision.’

Kobe van Looy (37) ) is managing director at KTBA Belgium and started eight years ago (another 8!) at KTBA. ‘If you stay somewhere that long, there must be something good,’ he says of KTBA. ‘The organisation and I are an excellent match. I learn each and every day.’

Do you also meet a lot during your work?

‘Absolutely,’ says Kobe. ‘You can’t get around that. Developments are taking place in Belgium that could be important for the Netherlands and vice versa. We are close neighbours, but we also have cultural differences. Fifty years ago, as a consultant, it would not have been possible to get into a Belgian company. Just observing in the kitchen was not done, you were not going to hang the dirty laundry outside. Our marketing was also a bit dustier in the past. Partly because of our Dutch colleagues, we have chosen a different approach that is experienced as very refreshing by our customers.’ Michiel adds: ‘The training courses within KTBA are a good example of refreshment. They have also evolved. It used to be that you were staring at a PowerPoint presentation with about ten people. Now staff and employees participate in modern games where you can grow and learn. Such cooperation is also mutual. Participants can even win a medal. This playful method also appeals to Belgians!’

What characterises you in terms of the working method?

Michiel: ‘To be honest, we have harmonized our working method quite a bit in recent years. Partly because of my age and my grey hair, I can say that I am now more of a strategic partner for my customers than a service provider. When I first started working here, KTBA had positioned itself much more in a dependent position towards the customer. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. I am now used to acting on a level playing field with the customer and I like that role.’ Kobe: ‘Indeed, we have closely coordinated our approach. Results show little difference. When I look at Michiel, I see that because of his experience he also works with the customer on a different level. More like a partner. I find that inspiring.’

Michiel does not have a background in food,
is that an issue?

‘Not at all, that’s a big plus,’ says Kobe. ‘Michiel brings other knowledge and experiences to the table and lets me look critically at the organisation in a different way. This added value broadens your view and offers more room for new ideas. I experience this as a challenge.’ ‘I come from the financial services industry,’ confirms Michiel. ‘I have held multiple positions within the consultancy branch for fourteen years. Hard targets were common practice for me and putting things into perspective was not one of them. I find that Kobe can do that better than I can. He sometimes is more nuanced. Kobe can appreciate the 8 while I sometimes wonder why it wasn’t an 8.5. Kobe challenges me to reflect more on the 8. From there, striving for more makes that challenge more beautiful.’

Michiel Hulshof (50) joined KTBA in 2017 and has been the operational director at KTBA Netherlands since the beginning of 2021. His direct focus is on the growth of the organisation, both in business consultancy, software development and LabelCompliance. ‘My work is fun and challenging. I aim for a 10, but am satisfied with an 8.’

Finally. From a business perspective, what is the biggest difference between the Netherlands and Belgium?

Michiel: ‘De relatie is in België veel belangrijker dan in Nederland. In Nederland is die relatie natuurlijk ook belangrijk, maar wordt het resultaat nog meer centraal gezet. Overigens zie je nog wel een verschil tussen corporate organisaties en MKB/KMO. Bij MKB/KMO zit een directeur met wie je een persoonlijke band opbouwt. Iemand die vertrouwen in je stelt en met wie je als partner het gezamenlijke traject ingaat.’ Kobe stipt een ander punt aan: ‘In België zal men niet snel voor een paar euro’s minder overstappen naar de concurrent zolang ze tevreden met je zijn. Belgische klanten zijn trouw. Dat weet ik zeer te waarderen. Maar daar moet voor hen wél iets tegenover staan. Dat vinden wij niet meer dan terecht!’Michiel: ‘The relationship is much more important in Belgium than in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, this relationship is of course also important, but the result is even more central. Moreover, you still see a difference between corporate organisations and SMEs. SMEs have a director with whom you build a personal relationship. Someone who puts trust in you and with whom you, as a partner, will embark on the joint journey.’ Kobe raises another point: ‘In Belgium, people will not easily switch to a competitor for a few euros less as long as they are satisfied with you. Belgian customers are loyal. I really appreciate that. But there has to be something in return for them. We think that’s only right!’

KTBA MaQAzine 10 september 2021

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