Forget About Customer Service! Create Exceptional Customer Experience

Have you heard about the experience economy? It’s here and it’s completely transforming our customers’ expectations.

When my mother grew up and it was her birthday, her mother went to the store and bought flour, sugar, milk, and eggs; came home and baked a birthday cake. When it was my birthday, my mom went to the store, bought a cake mix and baked me a birthday cake.

When my kids’ birthday came, I did neither of those things. For about ten bucks I went to the store and bought a pre-made cake complete with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on top. However when parents prepare for their children’s birthday today, a cake is not enough. There must be a party with games, prizes, balloons, and a clown.

This is what Harvard researchers Joseph Pine and James Gilmore call The Experience Economy. It is a fundamental shift in the marketplace where “work is theater and every business a stage.”

In other words, people come to businesses today with dramatically different expectations than they did even a few years ago. They don’t want an ordinary product or run-of-the mill service, they want an experience.

This is what will keep your customers coming back to your business again and again and again, the exceptional experience you provide. Or the lack of it that will drive them away.


Here’s how you can make every customer’s contact with your business an exceptional experience:

1. Cast Your VISION

It’s a quaint, yet insightful story told of a Londoner taking a walk downtown at the turn of the last century. He came upon laborers working on a construction project and asked one of the men, “What are you doing?”

He answered, “I’m layin’ bricks.”

Continuing down the block a bit, he asked a second worker the same question, and the man answered, “I’m buildin’ a wall.”

To a third a bit further down he posed the same question. The man stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, and looked to the sky saying, “I’m building a great cathedral!”

Getting very, very clear about the vision of your work, the great cathedral that you are building, has a powerful effect on people. It transforms ordinary, routine jobs, like laying bricks, into a cause. And when people are committed to a cause, nothing can stand in their way.

In short, vision creates passion. And passion for one’s work is what delivers exceptional customer experience that is so critical to succeeding in this experience economy.

2. Empower Your PEOPLE

The carrot and the stick have proven to be poor motivators in the workplace because they do not move people from within. Positive input, encouragement, and genuine appreciation, however, communicate to people their value and worth and motivates them from the inside out.

When provided on a regular basis, work becomes a place people enjoy coming to instead of just putting in their time.

“Because of its power, ridiculously low cost and rarity, praise and recognition is one of the greatest lost opportunities in the business world today,” write Gallup researchers in 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

In other words, your employees are your internal customer. When their experience working for you is affirming and energizing, that positive emotion overflows to your customers creating the exceptional experience you seek.

3. Live Your VALUES

One of the most infuriating customer experiences is to be told by someone that your reasonable request cannot be met because, “It’s not our policy.” Many companies develop policy manuals as a rule book to keep people in line and keep customers from stepping out of line.

Leading companies, however, do not do this. They teach people values and how those values apply to the many, and varied, situations that may arise with customers.

Visit any Marriott® hotel and you will experience this phenomenon. “Do whatever it takes to take care of the customer” is their mantra and they live it every day.

The heroes at Marriott® are frontline employees who give money out of their own pocket to help with a guest’s cab fare or take special care of a package so that a traveler’s child receives it on their birthday. Talk about exceptional customer experience!

Not surprisingly, this also impacts the bottom line. Marriott® consistently stands as one of the most profitable businesses in the hospitality industry and in 2005 won an award for best customer service for any hotel chain in the United States.


When I visit Washington, D.C., there is only one hotel I will stay at, The Willard Intercontinental.


Not because of the complementary bottle of wine that was in my room. Or because when I arrived bleary-eyed from the west coast in the dead of night, the manager came out to greet me. All nice touches!

It is because of a cleaning lady.

I conducted a leadership seminar at The Willard Intercontinental and took off without the power cord from my laptop. Replacing one of those is a pain in the neck, not to mention living with a dead computer until you do.

But on my way to the airport I received a call from, you guessed it, the cleaning lady who found it and took the time to figure out that it was my power cord. She then OVERNIGHTED the cord to me and I had it to use the next day.

What an exceptional customer experience!

Yes, there are much cheaper hotels in Washington D.C., but the experience I had there was unmatched. Why would I want to stay anywhere else? You see, that’s how the experience economy works.

Would somebody get me a piece of birthday cake.