Defining A Great Customer Experience – Starting at the Top

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Remember a time you fell head over heels for someone.  Now, if I asked to define the experience, you would know the feeling intrinsically, but may have a hard time explaining it.  You might comment how they made you laugh or how they dressed or became suddenly shy ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  You might be able to describe the peripheral aspects, but defining is hard.  Also, I am sure there are plenty of people who can make you laugh, or dress a certain way, or even lose all their confidence in front of a barista.  It’s a gut feeling, and articulating that emotional experience is difficult at best.

While a great customer experience probably shouldn’t compare to falling in love, but answering a question such as “What is a great customer experience?” has similar difficulties.  It is a hard and difficult question.  It is as independent and personal as “Why did you fall for <insert person>?”.  Similarly, when your career is listed as a Customer Experience Consultant (like mine) or Chief Customer Officer or Contact Center Manager or even Customer Service Representative, defining a great customer experience is almost never easy.

The simple answer to “What is a great customer experience” is Delivery > Expectations.  While true, like other simple definitions, there is a lot baked into those two words and a symbol.  I am going to assume, if your love asked you why you fell for them, and you stated Delivery > Expectations, this would not be a great experience for either of you.  

In terms of customer experience (for this post), let's start with expectations. Great experiences and customer journeys should always start at the top of the funnel, Awareness, Consideration, and Intent of [buying] a product or service; in other words, your first impressions and the origin of expectation setting.  


For most companies, top of the funnel expectation setting is the marketing, advertising, social media, and email marketing.  Marketing teams may consciously or unconsciously refer to promoting the Four P’s:

  • Product – what the product looks like, how it performs or outperforms competitors, what it accomplishes
  • Price – how much does it cost me, how much does it save me, how much less than other competitors, special deals running currently
  • Place – where can a consumer get the product or service (in store, online, IoT device, etc…)
  • Promotion – usually the dissemination of virtues of the product, price, and place via a variety of mediums (TV, online, social, billboards, business cards, flyers, etc…)

This process of expectation setting can put Marketing and Sales teams in a difficult position, how do we make the product or service sound outstanding without overpromising?  If you go back to the Delivery > Expectation equation, Marketing can make the Expectation so high, that greater Delivery is near impossible to obtain.  Here are a few ways that Marketing and Sales can help ensure a great experience.

End to End Funnel Communication and Delivery 

Having great end to end funnel communication and delivery is a fantastic step in creating a great customer experience.  USAA is a fantastic example where their marketing and fulfillment communications flow down to the agent level to ensure a seamless experience.  Once marketing media or customer fulfillment documentation is created, the information is also loaded into USAA’s customer service system or CRM.  So when a customer calls and asks about an offer received in the mail, the customer service agent can retrieve that exact document to understand what the customer is referencing.

Start With Why

Some great experiences start with providing a "why" this product/service is right for you or your community. Apple is great example here. Their product isn't that much better, and their service is near poor (try calling Apple for customer support), but through design and marketed culture, they are considered a great experience by many and one of the most valuable companies in the world.  For more on Apple’s magical top of the funnel experience delivery, I highly recommend Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

Marketing the Service

The least discussed way top of the funnel Marketing teams can help deliver a great customer experience is by marketing the service.  Whether by paid, earned, or created media, Marketing teams can curate and showcase the care the consumer can expect when they buy or enroll in a company’s service.  Here are two examples.  Zappos' experience is very good, but there are plenty of very good experiences. One reason why Zappos is known as such a great experience is great marketing of their customer experience.  The stories of magical 10 hour customer service calls and agents ordering pizza for customers don’t just leak out of companies.  Much of their customer service fame came before social media stories of great and poor service arrived.  It is a great example of company leveraging an earned media experience, but probably a little created or paid media at the same time.  Another company, who has identified the value of marketing their service, is Comcast.  While Comcast’s service is typically not mentioned in the Zappos realm of customer service giants, they realized by better marketing their services and their service promises, they can reset customer’s expectations of possibly being provided a great experience.  

Understanding the importance of expectation setting and how it impacts delivery, is critical in developing a customer experience that customers can fall in love with.  Many service organizations forget that the expectations were set well before the customer fell into their hands.  When you look at your customer journey, be sure to start where the customer actually starts, at the top of the funnel.    

Michael Pace

About Michael Pace

Michael Pace, Principal of The Pace of Service, believes successful customers and associates are what make companies wildly successful. Michael Pace was previously the Director of Customer Support & Community Management for Constant Contact & Capital One, and a leader in transforming customer service to exceed the needs of the customer, especially in this new social landscape. He is considered one of the country’s leading speakers and writers on the topic of social media customer service, and has created scalable, high quality social support environments. He is an active Board Member of the NorthEast Contact Center Forum, New England’s largest call center community. You can connect with Michael on Twitter @micpace and on LinkedIn. For more about Michael and The Pace of Service

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