When I think about excellence in Customer Experience, the company that immediately springs to mind is Zappos.

Zappos is a bright, shining, super nova example of a company who have made Customer Experience their main thing.

There are so many warm and fuzzy examples of customers who have been sent membership upgrades, hand written cards, bouquets of flowers, and so on.  Zappos customer service people have been empowered to identify a customer who is having a difficult time, or just had a significant event happen in their lives, and reach out to them with a gesture of kindness and support.

People may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”  Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zapps

You can check out a slide show of some warm and fuzzy Zappos stories here


Zappos completely understands that the thing about Customer Experience today, is that customers do not want to be treated equally. They want to be treated uniquely!

But in order to treat customers uniquely, you have to first understand them, their needs, their context.

One of the key things that Zappos gets right is that their entire company is focussed on the Customer Experience. They think of themselves not as a shoe company but as a company who deliver happiness. And to achieve that, they know that their people have to become experts in delivering happiness.

Compare this with a story I heard recently about Aviva, an insurance company in the UK.

As part of a mission to help senior execs walk in their customers shoes a project was established to demonstrate the entire customer journey – every interaction was recorded using hidden audio or video equipment.

A car was provided specifically for the project, and an insurance policy purchased. The car was then crashed (into a tree) and a claim was lodged.

There were many frustrating (and unnecessary) touch points along the way. But what I want to focus on (because it is the polar opposite to a Zappos experience) is what happened when the driver called the call centre.

“Aviva’s agent explained a blanket policy that required customers’ vehicles to be towed to a service destination within five miles from their home – not from where the accident occurred. After the consultant explained that he was a few miles from his office, but 100 miles from home – and that he was in a rush to get to a meeting at his office – all the agent could do was apologize while following the rules”.  Beyond Philosophy Case Study

You can read the whole case study here.


It is a vivid example of how disconnected a C-level team can be from their customers. And how a disempowered agent can cause a moment of misery, for an already stressed and upset customer – making the customer feel like a victim all over again!

Aviva actually had a 73% Customer Satisfaction score – so on the whole they were doing a great job. However, as this example demonstrates there were gaping holes – accidental moments of misery which were undermining the company’s ability to consistently deliver an excellent customer experience.

The holy grail of customer experience is when your customer feels a positive emotional connection to your brand – a relationship that transcends your individual people and customer touchpoints. But how can that be achieved – especially in a world where companies are investing heavily in digital experiences and relying less and less on human touch points?

It all begins with understanding. Understanding your customers, their context and their needs.

Understanding is the lynch pin. To treat customers uniquely, you have to first understand them. And you can only do that by listening to them.

Hubspot (www.hubspot.com) talk about “obsessing about the customer” and “solving for the customer”. Customer surveys can be a good way to address this…but only if they are a good customer experience in themselves!

The other important factor is that you must empower your staff by allowing them to use their initiative. The Avivia agent knew it was crazy to tow a car 100miles but was powerless to intervene. Zappos agents on the other hand, are empowered to offer refunds, discounts, send gifts. It all has to be monitored and managed of course – but through sharing experiences, both from an agent and customer perspective, you can inspire customer advocacy and create a customer experience that will be one of your greatest strengths.

Customers love companies who “go the extra mile” for them. Who don’t just understand their needs, but anticipate them and pro-actively look for ways to help them and add value. But it’s just not possible to do this unless you’ve invested time and effort in getting to know and understand your customers, your supporters, your crowd.