Your partner in British Dutch Business

NBCCSpotlightRob Surminski 3


NBCC were pleased to interview Daphne Thissen, Founder and CEO of Thissen Consulting.

Thissen Consulting is an international business-to-business consultancy specialising in One to One Customer Feedback interviews, reports and recommendations for clients in the built environment and other services industries.

  1. Can you provide an overview of Thissen Consulting and the range of services it offers to its clients?
    Thissen Consulting was originally set up to provide relationship building, networking training and coaching to partners and senior directors of architecture firms. From 2018 onwards the focus shifted to delivering our unique Independent Client Feedback model to international firms in the UK-built environment industry. At the same time, the training offer has evolved. Currently, the training is complementary to the feedback services, i.e. training and workshops are informed by the pressing issues of concern to top decision makers we learn from client interviews on behalf of firms. Parallel to these services, I’m commissioned to facilitate corporate discussion groups, for example, discussions among senior management; anything from focusing on finding consensus on rural infrastructure to the best use of public funds invested in utility firms.

  2. As an SME, what are the unique challenges you face compared to larger companies?
    Things like marketing, business development, and day-to-day admin cannot always be delegated or outsourced. A small business owner has to develop these skills alongside growing business income. When I started in 2018, I had never run an SME before—I had managed substantial budgets and projects, but within the framework of the diplomatic sector and its resources. I had to literally learn on the hoof, exciting, but not always the easiest thing to do.

  3. Thissen Consulting emphasizes the importance of tailored solutions. How does the company approach each client's unique needs and challenges to provide customized consulting services? 
    Being an SME means I can offer agility in the level of engagement, which offers my clients the opportunity to benefit from feedback “loops” for a project; a few months in or on an ongoing basis. Aims and the motivation for commissioning Independent Client Feedback differ from company to company, which means that the priorities, questions and focus for interviews are tailor made and reflective of the kind of information a company seeks or needs at that point in time.  

  4. With the rise of digital transformation, how has Thissen Consulting adapted its business strategies to stay relevant in the ever changing market landscape?
    Lockdown in 2020 and 2021 meant I had to adapt my services to digital transformation by moving one-to-one interviews on Zoom or such platforms and delivering training online with the use of tools such as Miro boards. Most of my business meetings are now conducted online, to save my clients time, money and travel expenses. However, I make a point of seeing all my clients in person at least once every quarter

    I would like to point out that we are primarily one of those word-of-mouth businesses where personal introductions and recommendations are key. We may use digital communication, but for a company like mine, we don’t do digital “blanket bombing”. The areas in which we operate are so niche and specialised that digital advertising, for example, delivers nothing—we know, we’ve tested it. In many ways we are an “old-school” business that operates on the core principles of networking.

  5. How big is the NL - UK market for you?  
    It’s difficult to say, because our primary market was UK-based. Since 2018, I have focused on delivering my services to the built environment sector i.e. engineers, architects and project management firms. After launching the business and getting a feel for the landscape, I felt it important to focus rather than try to conquer several industries at once, even though I worked with other sectors—such as telecommunications and FMCG—in the early days.

    However, this means that my offering in the UK market is potentially bigger than I have had a chance to tap into. Independent Client Feedback is widely used in the legal profession for instance. The NL market hopefully has lots of potential for me; I bring a diplomatic background and although Dutch, I can look at Dutch commercial interactions from an arm’s length perspective, informed by years of representing Dutch organisations in the UK.

  6. How will you handle cross border challenges?
    Fortunately for me, my business does not move goods. So, the challenges are minor and mostly related to travelling, which can be disrupted due to various circumstances. Today’s banking means invoices can be paid in euros or USD directly into a UK business account. I invested in good accountancy services at the outset, so I leave any technical details relating to specific invoicing arrangements and specific surcharges up to them. Conversely, the UK no longer being part of the EU also means I do not charge VAT on invoices for Dutch clients.

  7. Building strong client relationships is often a key aspect of successful consulting. How does Thissen Consulting foster long-term partnerships with its clients and ensure their ongoing satisfaction?
    Communication is always key in any partnership through asking questions, expecting mutual accountability and offering insights. Active listening and regular communication as well as engaging in more social interaction helps me keep in touch with both current and former clients. Part of the USP for Thissen Consulting is that I will always lead on interviewing clients. In the vast majority of cases, I will actually be the person interviewing my client’s clients; decision makers in C-suite management. If the scale and timescale makes this unrealistic, I will always offer my clients a menu of options and full transparency on associates, from appropriate professional background and well versed in NDA’s and client confidentiality, who could be brought onto a specific project. But the choice is always with my client.

    Regardless of what tasks are being undertaken by those in the back office, my clients are assured that only I will speak directly with their clients, unless otherwise agreed.

  8. Leadership development is crucial for the growth of any organization. How does Thissen Consulting help its clients identify and nurture leadership talent within their teams?
    Independent Client Feedback can help identify leadership talent by adding questions about staff performance. For example, how consistent was the team throughout the project? How were challenges handled? Was there enough interaction from senior team members? And so on.

    We often deploy training and coaching for clients to nurture leadership. Or, perhaps more accurately, to help them to create internal processes for doing this. In the past year, Thissen Consulting Ltd. has developed an innovative training concept that helps firms build their capacity to build partnerships; designed to help junior partners gaining a place at the table. It offers senior partners a way to connect with junior partners, through open discussion and finding consensus, facilitated by experienced change management experts with whom I collaborate for this offering. 

    However, I should stress that we work primarily directly with senior management, people who are in these roles precisely because of their expertise at identifying and nurturing talent. We’re not a generic corporate training provider. We help C-suite decision makers hone their processes.

  9. ESG, Environmental, Social and Governance, has become increasingly important for businesses today. Could you share some of your initiatives in this area and the impact they have had?
    As an SME working primarily in “soft skills”, our own environmental impact is pretty low—we don’t have glamorous offices lit up all night. But, like many people, I do look at my own impact on a personal and professional level, perhaps informed by my Dutch background—my parents were early adapters of environmental commitments—and my work of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs supporting infrastructure and ESG projects in the developing world. For example, I do not own a car and travel by train to the Netherlands and other EU destinations; for work and personal journeys.

    On a social level, I’m a weekly volunteer at a London-based “Cost of Living Crisis Clinic” run by Westway Trust, highly respected for its work with some of London’s most marginalised communities. I help clients save money on utility bills, find local grants for emergency needs and fill in local authority financial support forms. I’m also a mentor for Mentoring Circle, where I help young professional women navigate the world of work in the real estate sector.

    In terms of governance, I sit on the board of the De La Warr Pavilion. This appeals to my education and background as an architectural historian. I feel I can bring my experience to positive social benefit. We are at the start of undertaking major restoration works.

    I am also a board member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. It’s a membership organisation—effectively the Scottish RIBA—going through major organisational change. I am also currently looking for a non-executive director role where I can use my relationship-building and client insight skills.

  10. Why did you join NBCC? 
    During my long time at the Dutch embassy in London, I represented Dutch culture: Dutch cultural organisations and Dutch creative companies in the UK—and, I should probably point out to our British members that architecture and the built environment is considered “culture” under the Dutch structure.

    When I set up my business, I aimed my services at UK firms to establish myself in the UK market—since I’m based here—and kick off my business enterprise.

    Some five years later, I’ve established my business base in London. My company services are by no means country-specific, as reflected by the work I deliver for key clients. But, I studied in the Netherlands before moving to the UK, initially working for English Heritage. I spent many years representing the Dutch architecture and built environment sector in the UK, and, of course, I speak the language, whether the architectural language or the actual language.

    Now that I have my “feet under the desk” in my established UK-based consultancy, I wanted to enjoy the luxury of interacting with Dutch professionals. My career and experiences offer a lot to Dutch clients.

    The NBCC offers me an opportunity to build relationships with Dutch clients, which is meaningful to me on a personal and business level. Ironically, because I spent the first part of my working life in the UK, I’ve not had a chance to build business networks in the Netherlands in the way I have done in the UK.

  11. What are your plans for future growth that you can share with NBCC members? What are your primary goals and aspirations?
    I want to continue growing and developing my service offerings in the UK and grow our client base in Europe. The Netherlands is the obvious “next step”. I have a personal target of some key Dutch clients by the end of 2023. Additionally, I am looking to increase collaborative engagement with companies that can utilise my expertise and services both in the UK and the Netherlands.

  12. Do you have any additional notes? 
    Brexit may have temporarily disrupted business interaction between the UK and the Netherlands, and, unfortunately, in some cases, for the foreseeable future. However, I am learning on an almost day-to-day basis of my clients opening subsidiary companies in the Netherlands. The strong bond between the two countries is deeply historic, right up to the horrors of the 20th century where we stood shoulder-to-shoulder. In the case of Dutch-UK relations, that shared history is as much about culture as business. So, I believe the genuine interest and sense of comfort between the two countries are the best ingredients for an ongoing engagement.

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