Recipe for Great Customer Experiences

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Sam Walton

One of the keys to longevity for any business is repeatedly providing a good (or better yet, great) customer experience. Without customers, businesses fail – finding and engaging customers is lifeblood. Perhaps one of the greatest masters of customer experience, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame, said, “The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.” Sounds reasonable? Well it isn’t so easy to implement, so we’ll dig into it deeper and share our recipe for great customer experiences.

What is Customer Experience?

So that we have a clear idea of the goal, Customer Experience (sometimes abbreviated as CX) is where your customers’ desires intersect with the services you deliver.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Steve Jobs

One component of customer experience is customer service, which is what most customers associate to customer experience. Customer service typically involves an exchange with a company representative via email, chat, phone or in person. In the exchange, the representative has the opportunity to deliver excellent customer service and a memorable customer experience. But your business may have numerous touchpoints, from online conversations to phone calls to trade shows. Any place you interact with a customer contributes to that customer’s feeling about your business.

Why Does Customer Experience Matter?

In a nutshell, your service is your brand. A product or service only has to be 10% better than a competitor’s to generate 50% more sales and 100% more profit.

When you think of Four Seasons Hotels, you probably associate the brand with ultra-comfortable accommodations and four-star service. Contrast that with Motel 6, where your customer experience is no-frills but inexpensive. Expectations of customer experience are set in advance.

What you believe about customer experience may conflict with reality. A couple of years ago, Bain & Co. surveyed 362 leading companies, finding that 80% of those companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience. In reality, only 8% of their customers agree. Your actions speak louder than your words.

Recipe for Great Customer Experiences

Now that we have a better understanding of what customer experience is and why it matters, we can look at ways to improve our delivery. Here are some key ideas to consider.

  • Define your ideal customer personas

    We start with personas, which are fictional characters based on real customers (or desired customers). We typically write them up in short (1-2 page) documents. A good persona creates a narrative that describes their skills, attitudes, environment and goals. Having a persona document creates a foundation for mapping your planned customer experience and the language you want to speak to engage ideal customers.

  • Map your “normal” customer journey


    Where do you interact (visibly) with customers? Where do your employees interact with each other (e.g., handoffs) that affects the customer? Each touchpoint offers the opportunity to be successful (or not) in engaging customers. Factor in your website, social media, telephone calls, in-person meetings, advertising and other transaction points. Drilling down, for example, on your website, are the pathways to the most common tasks obvious?


    What would you expect to be the customer mood at each stage? Curious? Nervous? Mad? Happy? Like obstacles, setting up the challenges helps you manage the flow.


    It’s useful to document potential obstacles. For example, if you’re selling an expensive product, “trust” may be an obstacle, or if you’re selling flowers, “timeliness” may be a challenge. Knowing the hurdles will help you reduce friction during the customer journey. To overcome them, you could offer a money-back guarantee or provide testimonials about how great your products are.

    Visible & Internal Interactions

    Some touchpoints are visible, but others are not. For example, accounting sending an invoice or products being shipped are not entirely an interaction, but they affect customer experience greatly (e.g., what if the invoice is incorrect?). Mark touchpoints with their visibility.

Create Goals and Track Applicable Metrics

Getting things right at each customer touchpoint requires an adaptive, iterative approach. What works today may not work tomorrow, and one customer’s satisfactory is another customer’s unacceptable.

We’re proponents of capturing, measuring and analyzing data at each customer interaction, preferably from the start. Whether you are with an individual, small business, large corporation or multinational operation, chances are good that you can improve customer experience. You’re probably engaging customers through direct mail, phone calls, in-person meetings, your website and social media, which provides a checklist for measurement areas. You need to add in feedback loops to know what customers like or dislike.

  • What systems capture data?

    If you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, there are certainly reports you can tap to measure performance, such as leads captured, contacted and closed. Your website should have analytics baked into every page so you can track online performance. You may have other customer support systems, like help desks or return authorization tickets.

  • Is there a scorecard?

    Chances are you collect a great deal of data, but many companies do nothing with it. You should consider having a dashboard or reports that make it easy to understand what is happening. It’s a great idea to have varying levels of detail (high to low) for those who need to examine them. For example, the CEO needs high level information to make decisions, but frontline employees may need to know specific details.


Implementing Customer Experience Plans

Customer experience is best viewed as a continuous feedback loop. Set your plan, measure what’s happening, review the metrics, and adjust accordingly.

  • Set expectations with your customer (messaging)

    Before you ever officially interact with your customers, you’re creating the customer journey. Through your advertising, public relations and social media, customers develop an impression. That notion gets accentuated with any prior experience, word of mouth or events where they interact with your business.

  • Be consistent

    Be “Steady Eddy” with your customer experience practices. If one employee does things one way and others use their own philosophy, customers will feel it. It starts with your company’s culture and relies on regular internal communication.

  • Respond to mistakes

    Stuff happens. Own it. Respond with compassion and you can turn it around. It can actually work in your favor to do something unexpected and appropriate to a mistake.

  • How can you maximize good experiences? How do you communicate successes?

    Do more of what works! Let your team know that certain items are having positive impact so they can re-purpose ideas in other areas. For example, marketing sent a reminder email before a trade show that brought in many new visitors. Why? Find out and share.

  • How can you minimize bad experiences? How do you communicate problems?

    Fix issues as soon as possible and do less of what hurts customer experience. Share problems with your team (don’t blame, just explain). For example, shipping took longer than expected, which turned out because the order wasn’t processed before a holiday. How can you adjust to avoid this happening next time? Seek input and share ideas.

  • How can you reduce friction?

    If you can make it look easy, your customers will rave about you. Four Seasons Hotels keep a dossier on guests, and when they return, they use it to make the stay better, without anyone asking.

Customer Experience Is About Satisfaction

The result is either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction (or ambivalence…). With metrics in place, adjustments can be made. In the past decade, the company that has “written the book” (literally) on customer experience is Zappos. The online retailer’s dedication to creating “wow” experiences has impacted many industries by showing what is possible. Their reputation sets a high expectation, and simply stated, they’re magnificent at each touchpoint in their customer journey. They measure, communicate, iterate and, as a result, prosper because of their CX. You can implement a recipe for customer experience that does that too.

About the Author

SBEC Director of IT: Scott HerringScott Herring is the SBEC’s Director of IT. He has been a software developer for almost 30 years and is a serial entrepreneur. Scott is currently focused on his digital agency Twisted Puppy, helping small to mid-sized businesses grow using ultramodern online marketing techniques.You can find out more about Scott’s business on his company website.

Leadership: An Insider’s Guide

Leadership can be defined in many ways, but I view it as a succession of roles that one must take in an organization in order to develop a team. Since we are clarifying the terminology, I would characterize the success of the leader as being defined by the ability of the team to cohesively work together to strategize, implement and execute the shared vision of the team and leader.

The leader must first take on the role of Coach. As a coach you must lead by being the Energizer and Motivator for leading the charge, and leading the change. The change element (ability to lead organizational change) is the most difficult aspect of leadership and the change agent happens to be you as the leader. It will not be anyone other than you, and if you are really a pro, or have a bit of luck on your side, you might be assisted by those whom you have engaged and convinced of the worthiness to accept the proposed change and vision of the future state. As a coach, you are the team builder and you are responsible for the development and oversight of the growth of your direct reports. You also must determine the positions of your team members to best play to their natural instinctive skill sets. Many times you may have the right people, but they may be in the wrong positions and as a strong leader (coach) you must make position changes, substitutions and trades.

Once you have realized and surrounded yourself with the right team, your role significantly changes as a leader. Now your primary objective is to improve the team’s performance, play to their strengths, and to get them to be accountable. Accountable is defined as getting the team to do the right thing most of the time without your oversight. It is also critical that you are open and admitting of your teams weaknesses and that of your own. In fact, I encourage you to admit your own weaknesses to the team, and ask them to help and compliment you as the leader by working on those weaknesses with you. This will create the “trust” environment which allows people to be open, honest, and to thrive, primarily because you have given them the right and the responsibility to “call it as they see it”. Please don’t let this technique be thought of as building consensus, or building chaos. This is not a technique to teach everyone to think or act like you do either. In fact it encourages people to have an opinion, to search for improvements, to point out the flaws in the organization and maybe even strive to perfection to find the broken areas of your business and to take the correct measures to fix them on their own accord. In this process, you must coach the “trust” concept, and you yourself must “trust” that your team will make the right decisions given the fact that you have given them the right tools.

As the team progresses, so does your role as the leader. You can think of this phase as building the trust, but the bottom line in building trust is “allowing them to make mistakes” and more importantly getting them to think through their actions before they react or respond, knowing they will have to tell you why they did what they did in that situation. In this moment, you must encourage them as a team to learn from their mistakes, and figure out how they could do it better next time. Unfortunately the days of reprimand for mistakes does not work to build the organization. Help them and help yourself by taking a step back or a step out to see how they will handle situations without your coaching. Also remember that no one will do it the same way you do, and that this is a good thing!

The next phase as a leader is to recognize and reward the right behaviors. This is the fun part. Encourage each of the team members with your own leadership style. Let them know how they are doing and let them know what you are happy with in their performance consistently and regularly. This is not done at an annual performance appraisal. In fact if anything needs to wait to be discussed in an annual, then you have failed as a leader. Each team member should know in “real time” what you value and where they stand. You may find that once you lead changes through the team’s efforts, and not yours (picture the team pulling the rope in the same direction versus you pushing the rope), you will achieve the desired results with increased speed and team ownership. Remember that it is extremely important for you as the leader to be comfortable with change, and also to be open to the way that the team approaches the objective, because in the end, it is allowing them to accomplish the goals.

As a final note, I find it mission critical to communicate praise often, and work through negative situations through the postmortem process. The goal of the postmortem is to ask “what did we learn from this? , and what should we do differently the next time?”.

    Here are a few tips:
  1. Be excited about change, and let them see your excitement and interest
  2. Recognize and Reward the right behaviors
  3. Put the right people in the right positions
  4. Be willing to do any of the jobs that the team is doing
  5. Communicate well, and repeat often
  6. Put the Customer before the Team and “Put the Team before the Individual”
  7. Be willing to admit when you make a mistake
  8. Be relentless in your search for “perfection”
  9. Remember that the team is always watching you and looking to you as an example
  10. Acknowledge, Reward, and celebrate Success!