The dark side of customer experience thrills

I love a good customer experience story. I’ve even peddled them myself a time or two on these pages.

However, I’ve come to see they have a dark side.

You know the kind of story. Where Jenny buys something, but wait, there’s a problem. Enter the story of Company X going above and beyond the call of necessary to fix what was wrong and add a layer of wow that’s amazing. Cue self-congratulatory social media sharing.

It’s a kind of illicit thrill.

If those kinds of stories are your only reference point for what a customer experience should be like, then your expectations are going to be wildly and inappropriately skewed. They’re just not realistic.

And like any illicit thrills, they can be addictive.

Because those stories are great reading, they make you feel good; a kind of vicarious fix. The customer service call that mimics Star Trek characters. The shoes and flowers. Every guilty delight example that gives you a hit of euphoria and then leaves you feeling inadequate afterwards.

Before I go any further —yes, I sometimes do work with organisations to help improve the customer experience they deliver. Although I think (and hope my clients would back me up here) I focus on getting the basics right, consistently, before you even think about trying to do more.

For where sit and what I see, the effect of customer experience thrills, and the industry that has grown up around them, has been two-fold.

First, there are the escalating and often unrealistic expectations of customers. You’re not allowed to be human anymore. Organisations can’t make mistakes lest they are called out in the social media court of public opinion.

The vast majority of businesses are trying to do the right thing. But they will mess it up sometimes. There’s just no wiggle room anymore. My entitled expectations trump your right to have a bad day. Social media maelstrom ensues.

The flip side to this is when the above and beyond story goes viral. Great for publicity, clicks, likes and possibly short-term sales. The down side is you’re now defined by that one example and everything you do will be measured by it. Pity help the poor business that doesn’t literally or metaphorically invoke Star Trek or send flowers the next time.

Second, is the unrealistic pressure businesses put on themselves to not just do what they say, but go further. They often feel they’re not doing it right unless they’re providing that euphoric high — which is dangerous because those highs often come at a cost.

Most businesses are struggling to do the basics consistently. And focusing on that will generate a lot more everyday happiness.

You can learn more about why you shouldn’t be delighting customers here.

We’d all be better off with fewer customer experience thrills in our lives so we can get back to the deeply unsexy, meaningful everyday work of building the brand.

If you must, go ahead and indulge now and then; a little inspiration never hurts. The trick is if you do indulge, don’t try to copy it. Take that inspiration and filter it through the experience you’re delivering. In the long-run you’ll be happier and so will your customers.

See you next week.


Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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Mark Funkster
Mark Funkster
5 years ago

what a load of waffle

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