The “Customer Experience” – What Does It Take?.

After teaching World Class Customer Service In Rochester, NY, a flight to Philadelphia on USAir gave a number of examples of how to create the customer service experience and how not! A Customer experience differs from customer service in that the customer walks away with a memorable experience. They feel cared for and important and the organization providing the service goes out of their way to make it happen.

The flight from Rochester started out with a delay in boarding. Not significant – about 10 minutes, but at a gate across from the one advertised on the overhead boards. Upon boarding, the flight attendant was not very engaging. A woman boarding the plane saw that the overhead bins were all full in coach class and started to put her bag in the overhead bin in First Class. The flight attendant in first class said, “No, these are for First Class.”

I would agree except first class was already full and there were spaces for about four bags in the overhead. She worked her way toward the back of the plane and as suspected there were no more overhead bin spaces available. She was told to take her bag back to the front of the plane ‘to be checked through to the destination at no charge!”

This now meant she would have to go to baggage claim when she arrived. In addition, the flight attendant in coach was chomping on gum and her appearance was less than stellar. I perceived the flight attendant in First Class as disinterested until she overheard me tell another passenger that I teach Customer Service.

That should not be an issue and every flight should be made as memorable as possible, whether or not a person teaches customer service. There was also no beverage service offered. The attitude of the flight attendants gave off an energy of discontent in my perception.

The next leg of my journey had a very different experience. Many flights in and out of Newport News, VA are on small planes and today was no different. Although the plane was not as new, the flight attendant made all the difference in the world.

This segment of my flight on USAir was on Piedmont airlines and upon boarding was greeted by an illuminating smile of Heather our flight attendant. Throughout the flight her tone of voice was engaging. As she conducted the beverage service, she smiled and chatted with passengers. When she finished the service she offered me the rest of the juice in the can instead of discarding it. During the flight she kept us abreast of the flight status as did our pilot. People make all the difference in creating a customer experience.

So, what are the elements that make the customer service experience?

  • Attitude: A cheerful greeting, with a smile goes a long way toward making a person feel exceptional.
  • Appearance: Every aspect of appearance goes into the customer service experience. From the appearance of the personnel to the look of the surroundings including written material.
  • Communication: Both verbal and nonverbal communication goes into creating the experience for the customer. At tone someone determines whether they are for or against them.

As stated, it is the people who make a difference in creating a customer service experience. Ironically about 90% of people who have a poor customer experience, never complain, they just no longer do business with an organization. In most instances it is the behavior of one employee who turns someone off and they generalize it to the entire organization. With a little additional effort, employees can not only support their organization, but secure their futures.

I Know What I Saw or Did I?

It happens all the time, someone says or does something and we believe we know exactly what they did and why they did it… or do we?

Every day we spend our time assessing our environments and the behavior of others. A person says something and we immediately put meaning to what they said.

Problems occur however, when we do not take time to check out our perception for accuracy. You see, the meaning you put on a situation came from within you and often it was not the intention of the person doing the behavior. That is why 4 people can witness a situation and walk away with very different perceptions of what they saw.

Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon. Every time we interact with another human being, we bring to the conversation every life experience we have had up to that point. Our education, upbringing, religious beliefs, and our memories of all our other interactions, and then we filter what we see based on those experiences.

For example, if you had a bad experience with someone of a particular race or ethnic group, it will often influence how you would interact with others from the same group. This is the basis of prejudice, when we generalize the behavior of one or a few to an entire population. In addition, if you had a bad experience with someone who looks like the person you had the difficult time with, it may influence your perception of any individual who looks similar.

This became evident in a story of a woman who was sent to treatment for addictions. She called a few days later saying she wanted to leave and she hated her counselor. The woman said she was a terrible therapist and she hated being in the same room with her. She had signed a release so the facility was called and they reported that the counselor she had one of their most experienced and gifted counselors. She was encouraged to stay and a few days later she called to say she realized that the counselor looked very much like her aunt who had abused her as a child. She went on to make major breakthroughs and loved her counselor.

Every day we filter every interaction we have with others and come up with our perception of the situation. To ensure you have correctly perceived a circumstances, you need do a perception check.

First, determine your perception of what took place. Next, force yourself to determine what else may be going on. Third, and most important, check it out with the other individual. Approach then and ask to check something out with them then in a respectful tone inquire as to their intent.

Even if you took something sarcastically you can say, “When you said _____________, I felt confused because it sounded like you may have thought I ____________.

Is that accurate?

It is a good way to clear up misperceptions or address issues that may be brewing before people get resentful and communication totally breaks down. Checking things out can clear up problems before they start.

Is Seeing Believing or Not

A survey of most organizations finds one of the top three issues to be poor communication in the workplace. With the growing diversity of our workforce coupled with different communication styles, communication at a basic level often is the fault of most workplace issues. Steven Gaffney wrote “The average employee loses seven weeks of productivity every year because of troublesome and unresolved communication. Lack of open, honest communication is at the root of 80 percent of problems at work.” Many of these problems occur due to a difference in perception.

Differences in perception

We often wonder how 3 people can witness an incident and walk away with different perceptions of what they saw. Do we question who is being dishonest? The reality is the meaning in any conversation or situation lies in the person, not in the words or event. We all filter what we see and hear based on every life experience we have had up to that point. These filters bring into play any previous or similar incidents we have experienced. There are many ways in which perceptions result in problem communication.

Inference –observations confusion

One of the most prevalent problems in perceptual differences is when a person fails to distinguish between what is actually observed first hand and what was only assumed, then acts on the inference as if it were fact. For example, a person you were helpful to walks by and appears to ignore you. The first time it happens you may not think much of it other than, “That’s odd?” Say it happens again the next day and not only does the person ignore you, it looks as if they stick their nose up in the air. How do you respond, or do you just become offended and take it personally? What would you think if later you found out that the person or a loved one was just diagnosed with cancer and they were emotionally absent and did not even see you? Every day, we put meaning where there is none or our meaning is off base because we filter it based on our life experiences.

Confirmation Bias

Another communication problem occurs when we selectively remember things based on our preconceived notion about a person or situation. People tend to view ambiguous information as supporting their beliefs. This can be illustrated by thinking of a good friend saying something that could be misconstrued as mean to you. Often we would think, “Gee, they must be having a bad day. I better check in with them.” Ironically if another person had said the same thing to you, it may have been perceived differently.

Let’s look at another situation. You interact with someone you do not like very much and they complement you. What do you think? Do you think, “Gee that was nice,” or “Okay, what do they want. I better watch my back!”


A third problem occurs when we assume that meanings of words are the same for all people. This causes many issues where people assume they have communicated accurately only to find a misunderstanding has taken place. While teaching a class on communication skills, the question was posed, a manager comes in and says they need a report as soon as possible. “What does “as soon as possible” mean? Some people responded they would drop everything and do it immediately, but others thought they would work on it as soon as you finish what you are working on. Still others thought it was fine if they finished by the end of the day.

With poor communication causing a dramatic percentage of the problems in the workplace, many issues can be resolved by merely creating a feedback loop for understanding. Let the person know you want to make sure you have communicated clearly and have them repeat the expectation. Frequently problems can be cleared up before they occur.

Another option is to make sure you select words to describe clearly your expectation. Instead of as soon as possible, you may say, “This project has become the number one priority could you please have it completed and on my desk by noon?” You may also want to clarify with the individual that you realize this will effect the project on which they are working and establish some clear guidelines for that project as well. By clearly communicating you can reduce stress and minimize misunderstanding.

Finally, when you experience an interaction with another person, instead of just developing your perception of what occurred, follow up with the person to create a shared pool of understanding. Inquire in a manner that will allow the person to hear you without becoming defensive.

With a little extra attention, many of the problems that occur due to poor communication can be resolved and positively influence the bottom line of your organization.