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The language of customer experience

6th Jun 2007
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Imagine a customer who asks a server to bring him some extra napkins. The server brings over the napkins with a smile and asks if there is anything else he can do for the customer. Now, imagine a different customer who asks a server to bring him some extra napkins. This server brings the customer a stack of napkins, grunts and turns away without a word.

In these two scenarios, we have different customers, different servers, different napkins and different experiences. However, the quality of the experience will vary, based in large part on the actions and attitudes of the servers, coupled with the expectations of the customers. In the second scenario, the server fulfilled the customer’s request, nothing more.

This interaction was functional, ordinary and unmemorable. While this customer will not be likely to lodge a complaint for the server's grunt and poor attitude, he also isn’t likely to recommend this establishment to others and frequent the restaurant on a routine basis. This customer will not be loyal to this establishment and will probably frequent other restaurants in the same area.

What this restaurant and other companies fail to understand is that merely offering functional experiences will never engender customer loyalty since customers will not return for experiences that are not memorable. By offering boring experiences, companies decide that product quality and convenience alone will attract customers. However, this approach rarely succeeds in attracting or retaining customers. The delivery of functional experiences will lead companies down the fast track of commoditisation and, ultimately, to their demise.

When evaluating the type of experience that they wish to deliver, companies should determine the objective of that experience. If, in the case of a restaurant, the only goal is to deliver food and extra napkins, then it will not matter whether servers are pleasant and speak politely (if at all) to customers. If the goal of the experience is to bring the customer back and encourage him to bring his friends, families and colleagues, restaurants will have to do more than just offer good food.

Commitment to excellence

Some of you may be scratching your heads wondering how I can be placing so much emphasis on the server-customer interaction. Does it really make a difference if the server nods, grunts, says thank you, or inquires if there is anything else he can do for the customer? Since customers often expect more than just a good meal, the answer is yes.

Customers may interpret a server’s grunt or nod as a sign that he doesn’t care and isn’t interested in them. What customers really want from restaurants, cell phone providers, banks and cable companies is their commitment to experience excellence. Companies will rarely succeed in delighting customers with employees have poor attitudes and don’t care about customers.

Now, imagine a customer who asks a server for some extra napkins, and the server smiles and replies in one of the following ways:
“Certainly, it will be my pleasure”
“It would my pleasure. Is there anything else you need sir?”

The server’s facial expression and choice of words indicates the extent to which he is interested in understanding the customer’s problem. Did the customer spill some wine or soup? Did his pen leak? Was he bleeding? Determining the root cause of the customer’s request is the first step to increasing customer loyalty, but ultimately, it is the employees’ reactions and choice of words that will measurably impact the quality of the customer experience.

Their facial expression and choice of words (that they use and don’t use) are all an integral part of the total customer experience. If the goal of the experience is differentiation, growth and loyalty, companies will need to ensure that their employees utilise the right words at the right times – grunts will not suffice.

Customer experience has a language so choose your words carefully and define your unique language for the customer experience. In the battle for customer loyalty, every word matters.

Join Lior at the Customer Experience Management Certification Program.


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Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for Lior’s newsletter at

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