Create Elated Customers for Life by Delivering Surprise & Delight Customer Service

Surprise & Delight Customer Service

Surprise & Delight Customer Service

The following is what you will learn by reading this blog:

  1. The main business capabilities for a company to possess to deliver superb and legendary customer service

  2. The most critical capabilities to develop in order to enable your front-line employees to be able to deliver excellent customer service

  3. The introduction of the concept and definition of Surprise & Delight Customer Service and how the world’s top customer service companies deliver this consistently

  4. Examples of the best Surprise & Delight Customer Service that I have personally encountered and how they are linked to the critical components listed in #2 above

  5. Top customer service companies considered to be world-class in delivering Surprise & Delight Customer Service

  6. The programs you need to implement so that your company can deliver consistent Surprise & Delight Customer Service to your customers


SECTION 1: Benefits of having elated, “surprised and delighted”, customers:

The research I have conducted indicates that truly elated customers, who are consistently surprised by the level of service they receive from your company, go on to tell multiple friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers about your company, products/services and stories of their great experiences interacting with your company. This grass roots customer advocacy transforms your customers from just your customers into infectious and 24×7 adjunct company sales and marketing agents, convincing people they interact with to buy from your company.

Additional research also shows that this customer transformation does not come when they rate your company and service as merely “Satisfied” but rather only when a customer is elated and rates your customer service with a 7 , or “Extremely satisfied”, rating as shown here:

Sample Customer Service Ratings

Sample Customer Service Ratings


The following graph illustrates the correlation between the rating provided by a customer on their customer service and the strength of their company advocacy and likeliness to recommend a company.

Correlation between Customer Satisfaction Ratings and the Likeliness to Recommend/Advocate for a Company

Correlation between Customer Satisfaction Ratings and the Likeliness to Recommend/Advocate for a Company


SECTION 2: Capabilities required to deliver exceptional “surprise and delight” customer service:

There are more than 10 dimensions in developing and delivering customer service excellence including the following:

  1. Development of a customer-oriented vision and strategy.

  2. Development of service excellence standards that are institutionalized across the enterprise.

  3. Development and maintenance of a company culture that drives team unity and focus as well as customer service excellence and a mindset of customers first.

  4. Implementation of a customer errors, omissions and anomaly recovery processes.

  5. Implementation of a customer experience and customer service excellence measurement system.

  6. Inclusion of customers in helping define and develop the final customer management capabilities, content, methods, etc.

  7. Implementation of a customer bill of rights and non-negotiable customer standards.

  8. Development of customer emotional connection points based on customer journeys.

  9. Development of a set of hiring criteria and standards to be able to identify and source employees who have a predisposition for delivering exceptional customer service (friendly, outgoing, personable, believes in helping others, rates high on empathy, etc.)

  10. Deployment of training that ensures front-line employees are customer service excellence certified so that they can deliver world-class customer first service.

  11. Delivery of surprise and delight (S&D) customer service & experience through the development of S&D customer processes.

While all of the above are important I feel that the last three are of critical importance in making customers consistently extremely satisfied.  In the next section we will cover the definition of surprise and delight customer service and share real examples of its delivery across many service-related industries.


SECTION 3 – Surprise & Delight definition, examples:

Surprise and delight customer service is consistently going well above and beyond customer expectations such that customers feel both surprised and delighted by their treatment & level of service by your company.

Surprise & Delight Customer Service

Surprise & Delight Customer Service

Here are some examples of where I have personally encountered surprise & delight customer service:


1) Hotels:

A) High Peaks Resort, Lake Placid, NY: I recently checked into the High Peaks Resort in the Adirondack Mountains during the time of my birthday.  The front desk has a champagne reception for all incoming guests. When we were offered champagne, my wife told them that we were celebrating my birthday.  The attendant responded by saying, “we will take care of it” and took the glasses away. I said to my wife, “that was confusing as they said we will take care of it” and then promptly took our glasses from us.   We got to our room shortly thereafter and heard a knock on the door. It was a service attendant with a bottle of champagne and a personalized birthday card signed by the front desk staff. Talk about surprise and delight customer service!! We were so impressed! Obviously, this resort embraces and understands the importance of S&DCS as described in #11 below.

  1. Delivery of surprise and delight (S&D) customer service & experience through the development of S&D customer processes

Here are the thoughts and emotions I recorded just after this superb treatment by the High Peaks Resort:

  1. They really care about their customers.

  2. This hotel really goes out of their way to make their customer’s stay memorable.

  3. They know how to make a customer smile.

  4. That just made my day.

Bottom line, I felt emotionally connected to the hotel and its employees following this treatment and felt like it was in business to make their customers happy vs. merely making $$$.

High Peaks Resort, Lake Placid NY

High Peaks Resort, Lake Placid NY


As a global consultant I have had my share of extended stays at Marriott hotels. Here are a couple of surprise and delight stories that I have always remembered:

B) Marriott Shelton, CT.   I stayed at the Shelton, CT Marriott for nearly 8 months, typically staying from Sunday to Friday. When the hotel wasn’t busy for the weekend, they blocked out my room for reservations and let me keep many of my belongings in my room so I didn’t have to pack & unpack each week and could feel at home upon returning.  While away, they would gather all my dirty clothes for dry cleaning and have them hanging in my room closet upon my return.  On my last evening at the hotel the hotel staff threw me a surprise farewell party! They paid for everything – dinner, drinks, etc.  Talk about taking care of the customer with true surprise and delight service! I am willing to bet this instance of the delivery of S&DCS came as a result of both 9 & 10 on our list of needed customer service excellence capabilities:

  1. Development of a set of hiring criteria and standards to be able to identify and source employees who have a predisposition for delivering exceptional customer service (friendly, outgoing, personable, believes in helping others, rates high on empathy, etc.)

  2. Deployment of training that ensures front-line employees are customer service excellence certified so that they can deliver world-class customer first service.

Here are the thoughts and emotions I recorded just after this superb treatment by the Shelton Marriott:

  1. I’d recommend this hotel to anybody.

  2. They really appreciate a customer’s business.

  3. I have never been treated so well by a hotel.

  4. What a welcoming place to stay – they made me feel at home!

C) Marriott Princeton, Princeton NJ: Another extended stay required me to stay at the Princeton, NJ Marriott for 7 months.  One evening I was entertaining clients at the bar after a day of numerous long meetings. One client was fond of Remy Martin King Louis XIII cognac which sold for about $145 per shot at the time. A tradition of Marriott was, that if you had the last shot from the bottle, they give you the bottle, made from Baccarat crystal.   My client ordered three shots over the course of several hours which emptied the bottle. The bartender, being new, said he never heard of giving such an expensive bottle away and refused to provide the bottle to my client. I complained to no avail as the bartender refused to budge. The next morning while dressing, I heard a knock at the door, and it was the hotel GM with the empty bottle of King Louis XIII as well an additional half full bottle. He asked me to accept his sincere apology for a relatively new and untrained bartender who was filling in the previous evening and promptly gave me the two bottles. Needless to say, my client was thrilled by this surprise and delight turn of customer service events!! I am willing to bet this instance of the delivery of S&DCS also came as a result of both 9 & 10 on our list of needed customer service excellence capabilities:

  1. Development of a set of hiring criteria and standards to be able to identify and source employees who have a predisposition for delivering exceptional customer service (friendly, outgoing, personable, believes in helping others, rates high on empathy, etc.)

  2. Deployment of training that ensures front-line employees are customer service excellence certified so that they can deliver world-class customer first service

Here are the thoughts and emotions I recorded just after this superb treatment by the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal Village:

  1. That general manager is a class act and knows how to run a hotel.

  2. I was shocked that my disappointment wasn’t the end of the story and it turned into a positive event I will talk about for years.

  3. It was refreshing that they admitted a mistake and then went above and beyond to make it right.

  4. Wow! Talk about doing a 360 and turning a disgruntled customer into a surprised and delighted one!

Marriott Hotel, Princeton, NJ

Marriott Hotel, Princeton, NJ


C) Marriott Philadelphia West, Conshohocken, PA (Philadelphia suburb): I was a senior executive at a consulting company in Conshohocken and traveled into the area frequently. The first several times in the area I stayed in several different hotels trying to find one that I liked. Since I was previously a Marriott top tier rewards member, I decided to give the Marriott Philadelphia West in Conshohocken, PA a try. The first time I stayed, I didn’t use the concierge lounge.  On my second visit, I did use the lounge in the evening and I fell in love with the place because of one incredible (a 1 in 1,000,000 person) great human being and Marriott employee.

The person’s name is Luigi and he not only manages the concierge lounge, he IS the concierge lounge and is the epitome of what a customer should experience at every concierge lounge across the globe. Luigi has been the manager of the lounge for many years and when possible, I go out of my way to stay at this hotel due because of his level of exceptional service.  Luigi always remembers my name, my wife’s name (even though he never met her), my favorite drink, food likes, dislikes, etc. I could be away from the hotel for many months and yet he always provides a warm friendly welcome” “Hello Mr. Jeffes – so nice to see you again!!” as he gives me a hug. He will tell you about all the appetizers and desserts being served that evening and then suggests some favorites. He entertains his guests by playing movies during movie night in the lounge. When he first introduced movie nights, he used his own money to provide the DVDs. Luigi clearly goes above and beyond and I can recall many surprise and delight moments where Luigi delivered superb customer service to me and many other guests. When you’re a road warrior like I was at the time, it’s the little things that make all the difference.  Seeing Luigi who makes a Marriott feel like your home and provides a relaxing haven when traveling, always puts a smile on my face. Luigi has surprise and delight customer service ingrained in his DNA and I have lost count of the number of times I have encountered this from him. One occasion stands out more than others in that I had an unusually dreadful day with many things not going as planned. I started early this day and worked unusually longer into the evening. I hadn’t slept much the night before and I was tired, hungry and feeling the pressure of the awful day I just had. When I went into Luigi’s concierge lounge, Luigi immediately picked up on my unusually sour mood as I must not have greeted him in the usual upbeat manner. He immediately sprung into gear, taking the following actions:

  1. Unsolicited, inquired of the front desk if there were any upgrades to a suite for me that evening.

  2. Asked if he could order my dinner to have it sent right to the lounge or my room.

  3. Handed me my favorite drink without asking.

  4. Since the lounge was very empty that night, asked me what I wanted on the television so I could unwind.

  5. Got me a hot towel to wipe my face and relax.

As a result, I started to immediately forget about the crappy day I had just had and started to feel myself relax. After about 30-45 minutes I was back to my old happy self with the experience of a bad day a distant memory.

What would happen to your service-oriented business if you had a Luigi? Your business volume and customer following would explode! Your customer loyalty would increase and customer service would become a distinct and immeasurable competitive advantage.


Luigi is a natural at delivering exceptional customer service and this 1 in 1,000,000 person and service comes as a result of Marriott getting lucky enough to hire someone so exceptional. How do I know? I have stayed at Marriott properties and other hotels across the US and have not met anyone that even comes close to delivering the level of service that Luigi does.

By implementing #9 on our customer service excellence capability list, you will have much better odds of hiring someone comparable to Luigi:

  1. Development of a set of hiring criteria and standards to be able to identify and source employees who have a predisposition for delivering exceptional customer service (friendly, outgoing, personable, believes in helping others, rates high on empathy, etc.)

Here are the thoughts and emotions I recorded when it comes to Luigi and his level of service:

  1. I’d drive a long distance out of my way to spend a relaxing evening with Luigi.

  2. Luigi is a 1 in a 1,000,000 in terms of delivering exceptional customer service.

  3. Marriott is so lucky to have Luigi working for them.

  4. If Luigi were to become the head of training for all Marriott service employees, Marriott would blow away their competition in terms of delivering exceptional S&D customer service.

I won’t list the thoughts and emotions for the remainder of my S&D examples, but the point is that delivering exceptional customer service delivers a lasting and positive emotional connection between the brand, product/service and with the customer.

Luigi, Concierge Manager at the Marriott Philadelphia West Hotel

Luigi, Concierge Manager at the Marriott Philadelphia West Hotel


  1. Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, NYC. Ritz-Carlton is one of the top models for superior customer service world-wide and was a client in the past. Ritz-Carlton trains all of its employees to spot a customer opportunity in that they are trained to listen to and record each customer’s individual needs, issues, preferences, wants, wishes, etc. Employees are then empowered to deliver the type of service the customer wants without having to ask.


A great example is upon arriving at the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, NYC a number of years ago, I remember casually saying to the bellman, among other topics, that I loved the view of lower Manhattan and that I didn’t eat on the plane.  I had just flown in from San Francisco. Upon checking in, the woman at the front desk smiled and called me by name before I mentioned it, told me that she arranged a high room with a beautiful view of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty and said she arranged for a snack to be waiting for me free of charge when I arrived at my room.  She said, “I heard that you didn’t have a chance to eat on your way here”. All of this was noted by the bellman and passed onto the front desk without my knowledge to deliver Surprise and Delight Customer Service upon check-in, something Ritz-Carlton is legendary at providing. I would consider Ritz-Carlton the platinum standard for delivering S&DCS as they possess and effectively deploy all 11 of the customer service excellence capabilities listed above. Their excellent service is not by luck or chance; it is ingrained in their culture and at the center of Ritz-Carton’s core values, policies and processes.


2) Restaurants:

A) Water’ s Edge Lighthouse, Schenectady, NY:

Water’s Edge Light House on the Mohawk River, Schenectady NY

Water’s Edge Light House on the Mohawk River, Schenectady NY

There are two local restaurants that my wife and I have frequented that have world-class professionals working at them. The first is the Water’s Edge Lighthouse in Schenectady, NY who employs a gentleman named Greg.  We had originally met Greg at another restaurant that sadly closed. Greg is the type of individual that remembers your name when you arrive, makes you feel at home when he is serving you, makes conversation about you and your family and takes every chance to ensure you are having a great experience. He gets to know his all of his many 100’s of customers by name and goes out of his way to anticipate and suggest my next need as I am in the process of thinking about it. My wife and I now call this level of customer service “the Greg standard”.  One time, we arrived on a Saturday night, having made a reservation earlier in the week.  Somehow the reservation had been misplaced and the restaurant was full.  When Greg learned of the situation, he said to me, “don’t worry we have you covered” and then made room for us in very short order when the place was absolutely packed. Talk about surprise and delight customer service. There was zero questioning of me about whether I had forgotten to make a reservation, which I hadn’t since I recorded the name of the person who confirmed and the time of day when I called).  Greg and the team just made it right.

Like Luigi, you would be lucky to hire someone like Greg, but you’ll need a lot of luck as he too, is one in a million.  By implementing #9 on our customer service excellence capability list, you will have much better odds of hiring someone comparable to Greg:

  1. Development of a set of hiring criteria and standards to be able to identify and source employees who have a predisposition for delivering exceptional customer service (friendly, outgoing, personable, believes in helping others, rates high on empathy, etc.)

Greg with the Manager of Waters Edge Lighthouse, Joey

Greg (left) with the Manager of Waters Edge Lighthouse, Joey


B) Mario’s New Lebanon, NY:

Mario’s Restaurant, New Lebanon, NY

Mario’s Restaurant, New Lebanon, NY

Sarah from Mario’s in New Lebanon, NY is another person who stands out as meeting “the Greg Standard” with her warmth, professionalism and exceptional service.  Sarah gets to know each of her customer’s names, likes, food and drink preferences.  She remembers the new wine that you tasted the last time you were in and makes everyone feel special.  We sometimes don’t even have to look at the menu as she will recommend a special that she thinks we will like or asks if we are ordering one of our known favorites.  At peak hours, Sarah handles customer requests with a sense of calm and professionalism. When she is serving numerous drinks, dinners and taking orders in person and via phone, she always finds time to smile and accommodate requests, chat, ask questions, etc.

My surprise and delight example from Sarah came when I atypically came in without a reservation due to a change in schedule.  Sarah looked at me and said they were full and then said, if you can wait a minute, I’ll see what I can do. Sarah did her magic and creatively asked the customers if they could move down to accommodate another guest which they all surprisingly and enthusiastically did.  Sarah has a “following” that enjoy dining at the bar when she is working.  Due to her pleasant demeanor and professionalism, I was able to get a spot for dinner, and even though the bar had squeezed in one more person, Sarah handled everything without a hitch and made me feel welcome.  Over the years, customers have shared with me that one of the main reasons they go to Mario’s is because of Sarah and the great food. Just like Luigi does for the Marriott Philadelphia West and Greg does for the Water’s Edge Lighthouse, Sarah’s presence adds to the overall experience of enjoying a delicious meal in a great atmosphere at Mario’s. Luigi, Greg and Sarah are all 1 in a 1,000,000 service professionals who are naturals at surprise and delight customer service and you’d be extremely lucky to hire someone like them.

Sarah from Mario’s Restaurant

Sarah from Mario’s Restaurant


3) Retail:

 A) Amazon:


There is a now famous story brought to light by the New York Times titled “Put Buyers First? What a Concept”. It details how a customer, by no fault of their own, didn’t receive a shipment of a PlayStation for his son just before the holidays. Here is an excerpt from this article and a potentially disastrous situation was turned into a surprise and delight customer service moment: “It was early in the morning, and I had awoken with the sudden, sinking realization that a present I had bought for one of my sons hadn’t yet arrived. It wasn’t just any present either; it was a PlayStation 3, a $500 item, and a gift, I happened to know from my sources, that he was hoping for. Like most things I buy online, the PlayStation had come from So I went to the site and tracked the package– something, thankfully, that is a snap to do on Amazon. What I saw made my heart sink: the package had not only been shipped, it had been delivered to my apartment building days earlier and signed for by one of my neighbors. I knocked on my neighbor’s door, and asked if she still had the PlayStation. No, she said; after signing for it, she had put it downstairs in the hallway.

Nonetheless, I got on the phone with an Amazon customer service representative, and explained what had happened: the PlayStation had been shipped, delivered and signed for. It just didn’t wind up in my hands. Would Amazon send me a replacement? In my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I was pleading for mercy.

I shudder to think how this entreaty would have gone over at, say, Apple, where customer service is an oxymoron. But the Amazon customer service guy didn’t blink. After assuring himself that I had never actually touched or seen the PlayStation, he had a replacement on the way before the day was out. It arrived on Christmas Eve. Amazon didn’t even charge me for the shipping. My son was very happy. So, of course, was I.”  Source:


B) Zappos:




Right in-line with this blog article, Zappos is an e-commerce company whose #1 core value is to “Deliver WOW Through Service”.  In addition, in keeping with a customer first mantra, CEO Tomy Hsich states that Zappos is “a service company that just happens to sell shoes.” Here is a story I read while researching this article that definitely applies to Surprise and Delight Customer Service.  “Recently, a newly-married couple were packing up their belongings in preparation for moving. The husband packed his wife’s jewelry inside one of her purses, and packed the purse inside what he thought was a spare Zappos box. The wife, it turns out, was intending to return that purse to Zappos using that very box. Which she then does, having no idea that inside the purse now were several thousand dollars of her jewelry!

When the couple arrives at their new home and starts to unpack, bedlam breaks out as the wife figures out what has happened and why her jewelry is missing. The rep she reaches at Zappos decides to reroute the box directly to his desk, but once it arrives, the rep fears for the safety of the valuables if he were to ship them, and purchases a plane ticket to hand-deliver the package himself.  When he arrives, the incredibly grateful couple invite him in for dinner. Now they’re customers for life, as you can imagine.” Source:


Section 4: Top Surprise & Delight Delivery Companies:


Here is a list of several larger companies I consider to be at the top of their game and world-class in delivering surprise and delight customer service:

  1. Ritz-Carlton (consulting client)

  2. Marriott (consulting client)

  3. Zappos

  4. Amazon

  5. Southwest Airlines (consulting client)

  6. American Express (consulting client, 4 different projects)

  7. Costco

  8. Chic-Fil-A

  9. Wegmans Food Markets

  10. Publix

  11. Apple (consulting client)

  12. USAA Insurance


Section 5: How to implement Surprise & Delight Customer Service for your company or organization


How do companies like Amazon Ritz-Carlton and Zappos consistently deliver exceptional or legendary levels of customer service?  Do they rely on being lucky enough to hire the 1 in 1,000,000’s like Luigi from Marriott Philadelphia West or Greg from the Waters Edge Lighthouse or Sarah from Mario’s above, or do they possess something else, like a secret sauce to deliver this type of amazing customer service? Having consulted for Ritz-Carlton in the past, I know that many follow a similar 5 step process detailed below.

Step 1:  Map your customer journeys:


Leveraging an integrated team of process experts, customer service and front line employees, map the various ways customers journey through an experience with your company. Examples include:

  1. Customer prospect, exploring your potential services and/or products

  2. First time website visitor, buyer.

  3. Repeat or renewal website visits.

  4. Existing customer, new product and/or service purchase.

  5. Customer returns, complaints or warranty claims.

  6. Service termination or account closure.

Here is a chart that illustrates examples of these various types of journeys:


Customer Experience Journey Sample, Example

Customer Experience Journey Sample, with Measurements


Step 2:  LISTEN TO AND CULTIVATE meaningful and valuable customer needs, preferences, etc.:


In parallel with mapping you customer experience journeys, develop a program that continually gathers customer insights into what is most important and meaningful for each individual customer. A gift card could be given to any customer, but to know that customer A likes Starbucks, and customer B would love a Amazon Kindle gift card and customer C would value an ITunes gift card goes a long way to demonstrate that you are paying attention.  It also demonstrates that you are in tune with customer interests and care about them as individuals.  These 1-to-1, personalized surprise & delight moments build loyalty and  make a customer feel valued.


Step 3:  Map customer S&D opportunities along your customer journeys:

Once you have determined and documented the majority of your important customer journeys and determined what is meaningful and valuable to each of your customer’s preferences, start overlaying customer surprise & delight opportunities along these journeys. Here is a real example of how a client mapped a surprise a delight moment for high value customer issues. The key is to develop business rules that need to be satisfied in order for that surprise and delight moment to be fulfilled. In this case, a high value customer whose order was misplaced and later corrected once error was discovered, receives a gift as an apology for the error.

Customer Experience Journey with S&D Opportunity Process Example

Customer Experience Journey with S&D Opportunity Process Example


Example: Value of item lost $500. High value customer A would receive a $100 Starbucks gift card, customer B would receive a $100 Amazon gift card and customer C would receive a $100 ITunes gift card.


Step 4:  Develop & deploy customer S&D policies & procedures:


The next step is to distill all of the surprise & delight opportunities mapped along customer journeys into a set of front-line employee policies and procedures. Here are a couple of examples of each:


  • We will compensate high value (high value is client specific) customers for errors and anomalies that are of no fault of their own.

  • Front-line employees shall be responsible and rewarded for turning satisfied customers into delighted, loyal customers by empowering them to easily and quickly deliver surprise & delight moments.

  • Each front-line employee shall undergo front-line customer service certification training to ensure they are prepared and equipped to delivery legendary customer service via surprise and delight moments, customer needs cultivation, etc.

  • Cultivate and reward the best employee surprise & delight customer stories from each quarter and showcase and provide rewards for ‘the best of the best’ at the end of the year.


  • If a high value customer is calling to complain about a missing shipment of high value that was lost of no fault of their own, we will compensate with an item of meaningful value to that customer worth 20-25% of the missing item.

  • Prior to checking into the hotel, we will check the customer preference and need profile on record to ensure all needs are met during the upcoming stay.

  • Employees are to document all cultivated customer preference insights during their current visit in the global customer preference database in order better serve the customer’s individual likes, preferences, needs, etc. Details on how to do this are documented in the global customer preference database procedures manual and trained on during front-line employee customer service certification.

Step 5:  Develop a set of S&D hiring standards & train on S&D policies, procedures, etc.

The last step is to ensure you are hiring the best employees that they have the highest Exceptional Customer Service Aptitude (ECSA). In addition, you need to continually train and certify your employees on customer service policies, procedures, processes and how to consistently deliver exceptional, surprise & delight customer service.

1) Screen for the Best:

To hire those with the highest ECSA, you need to develop a customer service screening questionnaire as I have done for many clients to be able to consistently hire those who are predisposed at delivering great customer service and screen out those who are not. By doing this, you are screening employee candidates to find and hire only those who posses the characteristics that are most like Luigi, Greg and Sarah who are naturals at delivering exceptional S&D service.


2) Train to be the Best, Continually Improve:

The next sub-step is to develop a set of high quality customer service training materials and processes to certify your front-line employees on exceptional customer service delivery policies and procedures. All new employees should be certified via the training and all existing employees should have to re-certify to ensure adherence to the latest exceptional customer service policies and procedures. Ongoing training for all employees will help ensure a high level of customer service is being consistently delivered.



You can either hope for good luck in the hiring of natural and exceptional customer service employees that are 1 in 1,000,000 or you can develop a holistic Customer Service Excellence program with multiple dimensions and capabilities such that all employees perform to the level of a Sarah, Greg and Luigi. By hiring, training and enabling your front-line employees to consistently deliver surprise and delight moments for your customers, your company will develop a cult-like customer following similar to Zappos, Amazon and Ritz-Carlton.  Your customers will remain fiercely loyal and will actively advocate to increase your revenue, margins and brand reputation. With all this being true, there is no excuse to not actively work on creating the best surprise & delight customer program possible?!

If your organization is seeking experienced assistance in deploying legendary levels of “surprise and delight” customer service, then give me a call or e-mail me at 518-339-5857 or

Lastly, this is just one article of over 50 articles I have written on Customer strategy, customer experience, CRM, marketing, product management, competitive intelligence, corporate innovation, change management – all of which I have significant experience in delivering for Fortune 500 companies.  In fact, my blog is now followed by nearly 121,000 world-wide and was just named one of the top 100 CRM blogs on the planet by Feedspot, alongside, Infor, Microsoft, SAS, etc. – Reference this informative site here:

The Future of Marketing and Customer Engagement – Introducing the Emerging and Rapidly Growing Practice of the Customer Defined Experience

Did you ever consider the following questions related to the future of marketing and customer engagement?:

  • What are the levels of progression of an organization’s customer engagement and marketing capabilities – from the most basic to advanced?

  • What percentage of companies fall into each customer engagement & marketing capability level?

  • What is beyond the current advanced level of customer engagement and marketing capability and the wave of the future?

  • How do you simultaneously and significantly reduce the overall cost of customer engagement and marketing delivery while also significantly increasing your overall customer engagement and marketing effectiveness?

  • What does the future look like in terms of increased customer engagement and marketing ROI?

  • What is the most effective method for creating maximized customer engagement?

If you did, then this blog is for you as it succinctly answers these questions and more.

Future Leading Practice: The Customer Defined Experience
Future Leading Practice: The Customer Defined Experience

The above chart depicts the 3 primary & existing levels of customer engagement sophistication as well as the wave of the future which is The “Customer Defined Experience”. These four (4)  levels of organizational customer engagement capability are as follows:

1) Level 1 – “Shotgun Customer Experience”, very unsophisticated, yet inexpensive. Practiced by approximately 25% of companies.

2) Level 2 – “Segmented Customer Experience”, somewhat sophisticated and moderately expensive. Practiced by a majority of companies, approximately 70%.

3) Level 3 – “1-to-1 Customer Experience”, very sophisticated & expensive, Practiced by <5% of companies.

4) Level 4 – “Customer Defined Experience  which is an emerging leading practice, only practiced by <01% of companies, but the number of companies that are moving toward this capability level is growing fast. I am predicting that this will be, by far, the most effective method in terms of both ROI and cost effectiveness.

The Customer Defined Experience, Marketing Illustration

The Customer Defined Experience Using Marketing as an Example

We will now isolate marketing as a functional example (vs. customer service, sales, etc.) to illustrate how the customer defined experience will be different than traditional marketing practices. The above chart depicts the traditional levels of marketing sophistication and the expected ROI of each level. The newest trend in marketing and customer experience is also revealed in future level called “Customer Defined Experience, Marketing”. Each level consists of the following marketing practices:

  • Level 1: Primary focus on “Shotgun” marketing (approximately 25% of companies). In this approach, companies  send the same offer to as many people as possible with the hope that some of them might take the offer being put forth. With this practice, companies send the same offer to customers and prospects, regardless of their unique interests, needs, wants, history, etc.

  • Level 2: Primary focus on “Segment Marketing” (approximately 70% of companies). This approach models the behavior and history of customers in order to group them into unique ‘tagged’ needs groups. They are then sent offers that appeal to that distinct segment group.

  • Level 3: Primary focus on “1-to-1 marketing” (<5% of companies). This approach combines sophisticated modeling techniques and artificial intelligence to ascertain the unique needs of each customer or micro-segments (depending on the level of marketing technology sophistication, pure 1-to-1 marketing might not be able to be achieved). Companies that use this level of sophistication are few and we can point to major credit card companies, Amazon, Google as models utilizing this type of approach.

  • Level 4: Future Emerging Practice “User Defined Marketing”. (<.01% of companies, but growing fast) Companies like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Marriott and Southwest Airlines are headed in this direction with the increasing querying of their customers on preferences, needs, wants, likes, etc. The extension of this is to allow customers to define their own experience – how/when they would like to be marketed to, by which channel, which content/tone they prefer, etc. As evidenced by increasing numbers of customer insights groups, this is the trend of the future. Instead of expending all of the effort in modeling/AI/etc. to attain 1-to-1 marketing which attains a 80+% match, why not ask your customers what they want/prefer which will ensure a 100% match to their needs nearly 100% of the time? Research I have conducted has indicated that 72% of customers want a more interactive ‘relationship’ with the companies they do business with, including defining their own customer-company experience – across all of their company touch-points: sales, marketing, customer service, warranty claims, etc. More on this point later in this article.


Customer Defined Experience, Marketing Example

Customer Defined Experience, Marketing Example

The above chart is arranged by the levels of marketing sophistication across the top with the following categories arranged on the left for each marketing level:

  • Primary Marketing Focus – What marketing activity do organizations at this level of capability primarily focus their efforts?

  • Marketing Proactivity, Analysis Main Focus: For each level of marketing capability, how proactive is the marketing organization and what is the major focus of their marketing analysis?

  • Primary Marketing Technology Enabler: For each level of marketing capability, what are the primary technology enablers in order for them to achieve their marketing goals?

  • Main Marketing Metric: For each level of marketing capability, what are the most important marketing metrics?

  • Expected Marketing Approach ROI: For each level of marketing capability, what is the expected ROI and return on marketing for following this approach.

Level 1 Capability -Shotgun Marketing

Level 1 Capability – Shotgun Marketing

Shotgun Marketing Practices

Shotgun Marketing Practices


Let’s examine the first level of marketing capability, that being Shotgun Marketing. These organizations have the following organizational characteristics:

Primary Marketing Focus: The primary focus for these organizations is to expand their pool of those who will receive their marketing promotions so that there will be likely someone in the mix who will be interested and respond to their canned & generic offer. I heard a comment from a marketing organization I worked for whereby the general manager (overall leader) of the business actually said to me – “just widen the list and I don’t care if Mickey Mouse is on the list, as long as we have 1,000,000’s of folks to send our e-mail to.”

Marketing Proactivity, Analysis Main Focus: The main orientation and focus for organizations at this level is generally a reactive,  whereby the main focus is post campaign execution analysis and ‘seeing how we did in terms of number of responses they had to their offer(s)’.

Primary Marketing Technology Enabler: As you would expect at this level of marketing capability, technology  is generally very basic, rudimentary and inexpensive and would typically include simple and flat file (i.e. Comma Separated Value (.CSV) files) list generation using MS Access or Excel for list generation and very similar and simple spreadsheet type tools for post campaign analysis.

Main Marketing Metric: Since the focus noted above is reactive and post campaign focused, the main metric almost obsessed on by organizations at this marketing capability level is response rates (vs. true sales lead creation rates and actual conversion rates).

Bottom Line with Shotgun marketing organizations: With approach you save $$ by relying on very unsophisticated marketing personnel, processes, technology but this approach rarely produces a high marketing ROI with response rates generally in the 1-2% range due to the inherent high outbound volume. This approach also annoys customers and marketing recipients with mostly irrelevant offerings, products, services, etc., customer risking opt-outs, complaints, ignoring any/all offers by customers/prospects from the same (annoying) company, etc.

Level 2: Segment Marketing
Level 2 Capability: Segment Marketing
Segment Marketing Practices

Segment Marketing Practices

The 2nd level of marketing capability, is Segment Marketing. These organizations have the following organizational characteristics:

Primary Marketing Focus: The primary focus for these organizations is to ensure that the right marketing and sales offers are deployed against the appropriate segment group in order to ensure a marketing lift vs. shotgun marketing practices. An example of this is sending the frugal buyer segment offers for saving $$ by buying quantity of product or by sending offers for products that are discounted (i.e about to be discontinued products) vs. full price products.

Marketing Proactivity, Analysis Main Focus: The main orientation and focus for organizations at this level is generally what I call a ‘retrospective plus’ organization whereby the main focus is post campaign execution analysis and determining the quantitative results (response metrics, plus  perhaps ROI metrics) PLUS the main root cause analysis as to why the campaign yielded in these quantitative results.

Primary Marketing Technology Enabler: At this level of marketing capability, technology in use is fairly sophisticated such as using SAS for building segment models and customer deciles and tools for campaign execution like and post campaign analysis tools like Adobe and Tableau.

Main Marketing Metric: Since the focus noted above is quasi-reactive and post campaign, the main metric  obsessed on by organizations is overall campaign and segment level response rates as well as ROI if the organization has built a direct response attribution model for campaigns (matching campaign responses to actual customer purchases).

Bottom Line with Segment marketing organizations: By utilizing this approach you spend more $$ by relying on somewhat sophisticated marketing personnel, processes and technology.  This  approach also produces a higher marketing ROI than basic shotgun marketing with response rates generally greater than the 3% range. This approach also ensures segments and marketing recipients within those segments are receiving mostly relevant offerings, products, services, etc. in respect to their needs, wants, preferences, etc.

Level 3 Capability: 1-to-1 Marketing
Level 3 Capability: 1-to-1 Marketing

1-to-1 Marketing Practices

The 3rd level of marketing capability is 1-to-1 Marketing. These organizations have the following organizational characteristics:

Primary Marketing Focus: This strategy strives to ensure that the right marketing and sales offers are deployed against the appropriate individual customer (vs. segment groups)  in order to ensure additional marketing lift vs. segment marketing practices. An example of this is recommending a product that uniquely suits and individual customer’s needs when they are your website for another reason (customer service, billing, warranty claim, etc.).

Marketing Proactivity, Analysis Main Focus: The label is place on organizations at this capability level is generally what I call a ‘proactive predictive’ organization whereby they are recommending items to customers in real-time based on their specific needs profile. The analysis focus of this type of organization is real-time algorithmic learning by analyzing the effect of the real-time offers and then adapting algorithms to further refine the offer (e.g. slightly different product, slightly different price, better warranty coverage, etc.)

Primary Marketing Technology Enabler:  The technology in use for 1-to-1 marketing is very sophisticated and correspondingly expensive.  The goal is to use artificial intelligence for building individual customer profiles based on observed customer behavior.  Automated response engines are then used for real-time customer interactions and offer generation as well as ‘adaptive learning’ algorithms based on offer acceptance/rejection.

Main Marketing Metric: Since the focus noted in 1-to-1 marketing is proactive and real-time, the main metric is customer longitudinal behavior and associated key metrics like lifetime value, loyalty rates, etc.

Bottom Line with 1-to-1 marketing organizations: With this approach you spend a great deal more $$ up-front by relying on very sophisticated artificial intelligence with automated customer analytics and offer engine technology.  This approach does produce a much higher marketing ROI than segment marketing with response rates conservatively greater than the 8-10+% range.  This approach also ensures customers and marketing recipients are receiving extremely relevant offerings, products, services, etc. in respect to their needs, wants, preferences, etc.

Level 4 Capability: Customer Defined Marketing

Level 4 Capability: Customer Defined Marketing

Customer Defined Marketing Practices

Customer Defined Marketing Practices

The 4th level of marketing capability is The Customer Defined Marketing (& Experience). These organizations have the following organizational characteristics:

Primary Marketing Focus: The primary focus here is to ensure, for those customers who are willing to co-define their own experience with your company and brands, that there is an opt-in conduit whereby customers can self-define what type of marketing and customer experience they will have across all touch-points. Examples of this is allowing customers to define, through their own personalized ‘preference portals’, customer experience parameters such as the following:

1) Their tolerable periodicity of how often they want to be marketed to;

2) Selecting the channels they prefer for marketing, customer service, product recalls, etc. ;

3) Preferred time of day, week that they would like to receive marketing, communications;

4) When it is warranted to override their current opt-out settings (i.e. critical product defects notifications).

5) The specific types of content customers are interested in subscribing to;

6) The types of offers customers would like to receive – closeouts, higher end products, types of products/services, etc.;

7) …Many more customer defined parameters.

By enabling these customer-defined preferences above, you are approaching 100% in terms of ensuring the customer receives the right offer, by the right channel, at the right time, etc.

Marketing Proactivity, Analysis Main Focus: The main orientation and focus for organizations at this level of (future) capability is generally what I call a ‘proactive, holistic, continuous’ organization whereby the company is continuously seeking to deliver the desired customer experience with the goal from each customer is rating the company as being rated as extremely open, engaging, encouraging proactive listening, is a good and reliable brand partner, drives high levels of customer satisfaction, etc.

Primary Marketing Technology Enablers: With this level of marketing capability, the technology is not as sophisticated (or expensive) as in 1-to-1 marketing, but requires a paradigm shift back to aligning with the basic premise that the customer is always right and enabling customers to self-define their preferred marketing and overall customer experience through preference portals (enabling the self-defined experience) and through business process rule workflow engines like Pega Systems to deliver the customer defined experience.

Main Marketing Metric: Since the organizational orientation as noted above is proactive and continuous, the main metric almost obsessed on by organizations at this marketing capability level will be ongoing levels of customer engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.

Bottom Line with Customer Defined Marketing (& Experience) organizations: With this approach you spend less $$ by relying on sophisticated marketing personnel, processes, and technology.  The strategy  is expected to produce a much higher marketing ROI than all other marketing capability levels by enabling the customer defined experience and inherently having 100% accuracy rate (customer defined needs/preference = delivered customer marketing/experience).  This approach also ensures customers and marketing recipients are receiving TOTALLY (self-defined)  relevant and preferred offerings, products, services, and communications.

In implementing this solution, companies will have to take into account the following considerations:

1) Not all customers will want to opt into defining their own experience. By using lucrative opt-in incentives companies have been able to achieve nearly 70% participation rates by customers. The remaining customers can be managed by simultaneously utilizing any of the two previous capability levels of segment marketing and/or 1-to-1 side-by-side with customer defined marketing.

2) Delivering a unique customer experience, once defined, will be difficult. By utilizing automated work-flow and business rules engines in conjunction with marketing automation and service automation tools, pathways (e.g. customer use cases) can be set up to automatically deliver the desired customer experience for sets of customers with the same defined preferences.

3) The customer really doesn’t know what they want. I constantly hear  from business leaders and CxOs that the customer doesn’t really know what they want/need so why waste the time and expense to ask them. These are the same executives who are shocked when I provide customer insights or focus group feedback that consistently and totally contradicts their own perception of how the customer perceives their company and brand(s). I applaud the business leader brave enough to ask for these insights since the majority of business leader tout their great pulse on their customer base to internal stakeholders without ever validating these claims with actual customers. In addition, customers today are extremely savvy, sophisticated and aware and want to be in control of their own company/brand experience.

4) Customer won’t really spend the time to tell us what they need/want. A customer insights group I helped developed has 5,000 current members who are required to volunteer several hours a week providing a Tier 1 US bank with feedback on different pre-market launch products, services and approaches. There are another several thousand on a waiting list waiting to join this insights group to volunteer several hours a week to provide company/brand insights. Additionally, the loyalty level of this insights group toward the bank is 57% higher than non-members with members providing verbatim feedback on their participation in the insights group as follows:

1) “Finally a bank that listens to its customers”

2) “We consider bank {xyz} to be a great brand partner”

3) “{xyz} bank totally breaks the paradigm of most ivory tower banks just throwing products at you to buy, they actually care about our opinions and listen to us”

4) “They actually give us feedback on how our suggestions are shaping their future products and services – WOW!”

Therefore, the bottom line is that customers today are very eager to become a brand-partner provided you ask them, allow their direct company-brand participation.

Expected Marketing ROI Per Capability Level
Expected Marketing ROI Per Capability Level

The above graphic points to the fact that, with every increase in marketing sophistication and accuracy in providing your customers and prospects what they need/prefer, the increase in ROI also rises dramatically. The holy grail of this is the practice of Customer Defined Marketing and the abandonment of the expense and exercise of hypothesis building and refinement (iteratively guessing at what your customers want/need) and simply providing a conduit in order that your customers tell you precisely what they want/need/prefer. My research has shown that over 70% of a typical sophisticated customer base is more than willing to tell you what they want/need from your company.

Join the ranks of market leader like Wells Fargo, Marriott, Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, Bank of America and many more joining the customer defined experience future who query their customers on their wants, needs, preferences, likes/dislikes, etc.

Therefore, instead of your company spending a great deal of $$ on ever more sophisticated hypothesis building (intelligent guessing) what your customers want and prefer, just simply ask them and join the ranks of these market leaders that are participating in the emerging practice of the future – the customer defined experience.

Customer Emotions that Drive Buying Behavior

Find out why most companies miss the mark in terms of focusing on generating positive customer emotions


Solutions to Problems AND Good Customer Emotions Need to Exist for Long-Term Loyalty

Good products and services are only part of the equation in terms of generating customer repeat business, loyalty, long-term retention


Some Customers Will Work to Destroy Your Business While Others Are Willing Partners in Helping You Grow, Be More Successful

Some customers will actually work to kill your company and brand(s), namely dissenters and defectors, while others will work tirelessly to bolster your sales, reputation, customer acquisition efforts, etc.


Guidelines for Generating Positive Customer Emotions and Relations

It is essential that all of your customer facing team members are representing the company and brand well, and that they adhere to your stated customer principles


Sample Steps to Developing an Environment Where Customers Are Motivated to Buy from Your Company

Your customer facing team members need to develop a customer interaction playbook that is consistent with your brand and customer mantra


Alignment of the customer delivery ‘value chain’ is Crucial

Every aspect of your customer delivery ‘value chain’ needs to be synchronized to deliver a highly consistent and high quality (emotional) experience as rated by your customers


A Chief Customer Officer’s (CCO) role is to Advocate for the Customer within the CxO suite

** Refer to previous blog article on the 5 R’s of customer loyalty –

If you rate customer satisfaction and loyalty as a high company priority, then they must be represented by a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) that will truly advocate for customers and set the customer standards that drive positive customer emotions

Summary:  The following points summarize the content of this blog as follows:

  • In order to develop customer loyalty you must have both great products and services as well as the ability to generate positive customer emotions (customer delight, feeling connected to the company)

  • Segments of your customer base will work to destroy your attempt at market success while others are your partners in helping your company become even more successful.

  • In order to drive positive customer emotions and convert your customers into advocates and super-advocates, you must develop an internal customer relations playbook (develop customer vision, code of customer interaction conduct, etc.)

  • Every aspect of your customer delivery ‘value chain’ needs to be in-synch in order to deliver an end-to-end superb and fulfilling customer experience

  • Every company should have the equivalent of a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) in order to set the customer vision and standards and be the ultimate advocate for all of your customers.

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