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Customer Experience: Do You Roll Out the Red Carpet?

by Leigh Duncan-Durst  |  
November 18, 2010

Recently, I did a follow-up piece on the Dave Carroll effect. You'll remember him as the "United Breaks Guitars guy." My point was: All the data mining, reputation monitoring, Klout scoring, follower counting and mixing it up online won’t tell you whether one squeaky wheel might rock your company’s world tomorrow.

Why Everyone Matters

Dave Carroll may not have had an AdAge Power150 marketing blog, a stratospheric Technorati rating, or a huge Twitter following. Like the other David, Carroll slew his Goliath with humble means:

  • A good story, artfully told

  • A clear plight that resonated with others

  • Proficiency with You Tube and other social channels

  • Creativity and personality

  • Incredible tenacity

  • Helpful pals

  • A little dumb luck

We bat around terms like “influence” but when push comes to shove, it’s all terribly subjective and unstable. I’m not saying we can’t call people “influencers.” However, it occurs to me that, oftentimes, the people who assail us most effectively largely emerge from left field. Play along with me for a second.

Imagine that you are call center supervisor. Who is more important?

  • Plain Jane with a seemingly straightforward service issue

  • Influential Tom who is ticked off

  • Corporate Fred who is on call number five and is getting the runaround

But here's what you don't know:

  • Plain Jane's issue impacts thousands of other customers and is costing you thousands per second.

  • Influential Tom exposes companies for a living, and he's armed to tattle on you to 1 million consumers.

  • Ordinary Fred just happens to know your boss.

Everyone Has the Potential for Influence

This doesn’t mean that everyone will prove to be influential---it just means they have the potential to matter greatly to your business. Now, if we truly believe this, everyone must matter to us. If we truly believe this to be the case, we have no choice but to respond by making sure we treat people accordingly. We must listen and applying critical thinking instead of running people through hoops and  homogeneous "chutes" for processing, like cattle. This goes far beyond lip service, because it is our actions that speak the loudest. Do we listen? Do we demonstrate empathy and care? Do we take action on their behalf? How do we handle people, their issues and carefully respond?

Bad Things Happen When We Assume People Don't Matter

When was the last time a brand or company communicated (explicitly or implicitly) that you don't matter? How did it impact your feelings toward the brand? When act on bad assumptions, rotten things can happen---to our prospects, customers, partners---and to our businesses themselves. Borrowing from our example above, lets say we blew it in our handling of Jane, Tom or Fred.

  • Plain Jane gives up because no one she encounters "gets it" when she tries to explain what transpired. Her issue isn’t escalated and costs your company $850,000 before it is properly discovered.

  • Influential Tom tweets his experience in real time in a highly entertaining manner, making you and your company look ridiculous in the process.  His resulting blog post creates a mountain out of a mole hill, which results in bad press and a PR fire drill.

  • Corporate Fred calls your boss to complain, pinning the responsibility on you. In reality, his issue is really a larger company policy matter that is beyond your power to resolve, but nothing is done about it, and the issue is bound to repeat itself.

Now, I'm being intentionally one-sided here. It's true that cases like these might be a minority---but it's food for thought and illustrates a good point: If it is what we don't know that can hurt us most, why aren't we actively listening and responding like people matter?  In the end, even a Plain Jane matters simply as a good customer. However, she will matter even more if she's unhappy and decides to combine her voice with 20,000 others.

Treat people as if they do not matter, and they may decide to prove you wrong. Consumers have more resources at their disposal today, and they're intent on using them to be heard. In this light, companies have more to lose than they might think.

So, Do You Roll Out The Carpet For Everyone?

In a manner of speaking, yes. But don’t get me wrong. It’s entirely worthwhile effort to create  tiered service levels for customers who fall into various relational tiers or "premium" experiences for high-value customers. However, these elevated levels of service should be offered over and above the already great service you offer. The problem is, many companies emphasize key segments (frequent buyer, frequent flier, target demographic or insert segment here) to the detriment of everyone else. As a result, they fail to create a baseline customer experiences and service levels that unilaterally treat people like they matter---and this becomes a critical flaw. It's also a flaw when these segments become the primary focus of things like Voice of the Customer programs.

When we decide to ignore the "lesser masses" (limiting the avenues customers have for self expression, suggestion, or obtaining service, response and resolution, or plugging our ears to their plights), we create disservice and frustration. This damages customer experience and produces corporate dysplasia, deafness and blindness that destroy relationships. This is more common than one might think!

Customer Experience Is the Litmus Test for Corporate Values

It’s essential to make sure we deliver solid, consistently pleasing baseline experiences. This is where the real, dirty, operationally intense work is.  Everything else we offer is icing on that cake. In this era of "social commerce," this means companies must be oriented to:

  • Actively and expansively listen

  • Apply critical thinking and common sense

  • Respond with care

  • Assess. learn and improve

We must do this  not by just using our "owned infrastructure"  but within the cloud and social web as well. While this is more challenging now than ever, it's also more exciting and promising because of the dynamic applications, tools, and solutions at our disposal.

When push comes to shove, when we fail to deliver the customer experience fundamentals well, there's a likelihood that many, many people will know. As I said to a senior airline executive in my last post, Pandora’s Box is already open! If we play games with people and refuse to listen and respond, they will make themselves heard somewhere else. Treat people like they don't matter and, like Dave Carroll or Jeff Jarvis or Motrin Moms, they may just prove you wrong.

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Leigh Duncan Durst (leigh at livepath dot net) is a 20-year veteran of marketing, e-commerce, and business and the founder of Live Path (

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  • by BitShare Thu Nov 18, 2010 via blog

    Great read and thoughts. Very well said. I wrote up a blog not to long ago on CS. It was more of just off the cuff than anything, would like your thoughts on it though.


  • by Lucretia Pruitt Thu Nov 18, 2010 via blog

    Oh yes Leigh!! This exactly!

    I wish I had this post in hand on so many occasions that are long past. "These elevated levels of service should be offered over and above the already great service you offer" is just so fundamental that you'd think you wouldn't have to say it. But i'm very glad you did.

  • by Beth Harte Fri Nov 19, 2010 via blog


    YES! YES! YES! I wish more organizations thought like this. Customer experience above all else is key. And great experiences can lead to so many more business advantages: new product ideas, better business processes, customer evangelists/advocates that help sell products/services with their WOM. I could go on, but I won't :)

    Christine Perkett of Perkett PR recently had a terrible experience with a local Toyota dealer. What did she do? She blogged about it! She is influence online and locally. But more than that, she shared the sales tactics of the dealer that overall give the car industry a bad name. As I keep saying... You never know who is a blogger. And, as you masterfully pointed out, it doesn't even matter if someone has influence. Google likes all kinds of links.

    This post needs to be printed out and shared inside organizations...just to give them pause enough to think about the reality of today's business world.

    Beth Harte
    Serengeti Communications

  • by Leigh Durst Fri Nov 19, 2010 via blog

    @lucretia and @beth...

    I'm in the middle of home renovation right now... we're prepping to sell our house. Right as we started, we encountered some horrible rain and had a flood in our basement, which forced us to spend a lot of time and energy fixing things right so it wouldn't happen again.

    Because of the time and money we spent on our foundation -- we had to cut back on other improvement projects that were more cosmetic in nature. Will the person buying the house know this? Maybe not immediately... but they will be glad the next time there's "Act of God" rain and our neighbors flood, and ours doesn't.

    My point: We often get so caught up in "innovation" we forget to attend to our foundation.

    Creating a solid foundation for experience is not really glamorous operations work. It's a LOT more fun to slap bells, whistles, polish and "innovation" on top. However, if there's a BAD foundation you'll merely end up with a pretty MESS, and people (like Christine) will recognize it.


    @bitshare will check out your article, thanks.

  • by Mark "Chief Alchemist" Simchock Mon Nov 22, 2010 via blog

    Good stuff!!!

    Some things I'd like to add:

    1) For all the reasons mentioned above, I actually find the term customer to be dated. I prefer to use the concept of The Guest. (Yes, it should be capitalized.) That is, not everyone is a customer but everyone should be treated like a guest (for we know not who they might know).

    2) That being said, The Guest isn't always right either. To somewhat paraphrase Zappo's Tony Hsieh, "The right Guest is always right." The issue isn't that wrong Guests are wrong. It's how going down that path is handled. A full hotel doesn't say, "Get out of here we're full!" No, they remain polite and might even make a recommendation as to where you should go instead. That person you turn away might be an influencer, or they might be a further right Guest. Keep that in mind.

    3) Yes, we should be mindful of the custom experience. However the key is, it is they who define that experience, not us. Yes, we can influence that experience but we are not in control of it. What we say and do to exert that influence is important. But what's most important is what is said and done back to us. Listen and participate, it's an experience for the brand as well.

  • by Leigh Durst Mon Nov 22, 2010 via blog

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think you make some really salient points. I prefer to refer to them as PEOPLE! Prospects, customers, partners.... they're all people. And you are correct - they are NOT always right.

    The problem with saying that the CUSTOMER defines their experience is that it can be misleading. People may make decisions along their journey to brand discovery and interaction, that influence the path they may take toward being a customer. Companies, however, can proactively design our customer experiences to make those paths interconnected and more pleasurable -- defining pre and post sale experiences from marketing to customer service so that they generate satisfaction. While I don't disagree that people have choices .... it really is incumbent upon companies to map the paths and avenues people have to our brands to sure the way is intuitive, clear, interconnected, cohesive, efficient and consistently pleasing. ;-)

  • by S Nicole Hamilton Tue Nov 23, 2010 via blog

    I totally agree, every sale is important. The $2 order means just as much to some as the $2k order means to others so for our company, everyone is a red carpet star worth all of our attention, time and ultimately our best.

  • by Leigh Durst Tue Nov 23, 2010 via blog

    It sounds to me like you guys are on the right track, Nicole. What size is your business and how do you use the social tools? I think doing this is a lot harder with a mass market... even moreso with a complex array of channels from bricks, to clicks. Thanks for your comment.

  • by Gary Muddyman Wed Nov 24, 2010 via blog

    You have brilliantly articulated something I have just been thinking about. Thank you.

  • by Leigh Durst Wed Nov 24, 2010 via blog

    Well thanks, Gary. Interested to know in what context! ;-D Happy Thanksgiving.

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