An Analogy of Customer Experience outcomes

You are a customer at a restaurant. You discovered this restaurant by some good reviews on Yelp, or perhaps a friend recommended it, or perhaps you had even been there before.

You went to the restaurant with a certain set of expectations: “I will eat an amazing mushroom pizza and no longer be hungry, while I enjoy a pleasant conversation with my friend, and enjoy the ambience of piped Italian music”. These were your known expectations. These would be the expectations you might voice openly if someone were to ask “Why do you want to go out to eat, and why do you want to go there?” We have subconscious or hidden expectations, too.

When you arrive, you wait a little bit long to be seated even though the restaurant is not crowded. Upon being given a seat at a table, it is poorly lit, is near a very loud kitchen, and you wait another ten minutes to be greeted by your server and given glasses of water. When you scan the menu, you don’t see the Mushroom Pizza, so you ask about it, and your server leaves to “go ask someone”. Five minutes later, your server returns and announces bluntly “we took the Mushroom Pizza off the menu because our supplier couldn’t give us consistent quality mushrooms and we haven’t been able to find someone else yet”. So, you look over the menu and decide instead to order a Veggie Pizza and some Coca-Cola drinks. Ten minutes later, you are surprised that your pizza has arrived already, but you must politely remind the server about your cokes and ask for red pepper flakes, because your table was not set with them.

Let’s stop right there. You have not even yet had a bite of what you came for. If there’s Italian music playing, you have not yet felt it’s presence because you’ve been managing a great deal of things, including many things that you did not even think about before attempting to go out to eat. Even though it was unspoken between you and your friend, and even though the reviews on Yelp were mostly all about the excellent food, your hidden expectation is that if the food is good and the atmosphere pleasant, that all the particulars required to efficiently run a restaurant would, of course, be in place. You probably didn’t stop to even think “Well, what if they cancelled their supplier contract who delivers quality organic mushrooms?”, or “What if the wait staff seems to struggle with managing the seating and table turnover”, or “How will I feel if I have to ask twice for my drinks, in front of my friend, no less?”, or “What if this whole process takes twice as long as it normally should for a pizza and coke?”

You haven’t asked those questions. But now, you wish you had. If you’re like most people, you tell yourself, “Well, it’s not the server’s fault”, as if you are subconsciously already wondering whose fault it is.

You take a bite of your pizza and… it’s lukewarm and greasy. Finally, your cokes arrive and you take a sip to wash down the grease and the coke is also lukewarm and watered down. It’s not… bad… but it wasn’t the ice-cold fizzy tasty image you saw on the menu a few minutes earlier. It’s disappointing.

You stop eating your pizza and you and your friend decide to notify the kitchen about the pizza and hope to get a fix quickly, as your hunger by now has started to become noticeable. You wait patiently for your server to check on you, but they are not in sight. When you finally see your server, polite hand waves don’t seem to catch anyone’s attention, so you get out of your seat and tap them on the shoulder to tell them about the pizza, not even bothering to mention the coke, because your faith in the restaurant is already (subconsciously) declining and you just want to take your C- experience and boost it to a B+. At this point, you have little hope of it turning into an A+ experience.

Here is where Customer Support comes in

Up to this point, your experience has been with the business, but from an operational point of view, the areas where your expectations have not been met were as follows: hostess, wait staff, cook staff, supplier, and perhaps even the Coke vendor who calibrated the drink machines. Even though these certainly fall through to the management of those areas (front-house manager, kitchen manager, restaurant manager, and of course, owner), and even though, in theory, had these been doing a fantastic job every day you would have experienced something different so far, you now have experienced a Pause – a pain point, a blockage – and have decided that you would reach out to Customer Support. You do this (in this example) by reaching the only person you know to ask: your server, even though your server may not likely be the best person to solve the problem, but for whom you hope (and assume) has been trained well-enough to involve those that can fix your problem, who can turn your night from a C- into a B+, at the least.

If there were a moment to freeze in time in this example, this would be it.

You tap your server on the shoulder, tell them about the greasy lukewarm pizza and then one of three scenarios happen:

Scenario C- (continued)

Your server says, “I’m sorry. I’ll get a manager”. You go back to your table and a few minutes later a person who looks frazzled and business like comes to your table and says “Your server told me your pizza wasn’t hot enough so I’m having another pizza come out to you right away and I’ll take this one for you”. The “manager” leaves, having said nothing about the grease, and ten minutes later, another pizza arrives, this one looking slightly better and which is now hot enough that you actually have to wait five more minutes to safely eat it. You manage to eat it, have some halfway decent conversation, some of which is sidelined by commiseration about “bad service” and both you and your friend feeling like no one listens in today’s world and other negative bemoaning about life.

Scenario F

Your server says, “Oh, really? Ummmm… okay… let me go ask my manager”. You go back to your table and a few minutes later, a new piping hot pizza arrives via your server. This pizza is even greasier than the first. The server says “Here you go” and leaves your old pizza laying nearby and takes off. You take a few more bites and realize that it is just too greasy. You and your friend that this place probably can’t get much right tonight and you decide to leave and just grab some Pizza Hut to take back to the house, even though you had hopes that this place would be different. And better. You finally flag the server down to ask for the check and ask them not to charge you for the pizza because you didn’t eat hardly any of it as it was too greasy.

The server says “I’ll ask if I can do that”, and walks away, leaving you and your friend a bit surprised. When the server returns, they say “I talked to my manager and they said we could accommodate you this time, so we took the pizza off”, and then drops the bill and leaves. As you look the bill, you see there are two pizzas on it, but one has been “comped”, which still leaves you a bill for one pizza and two cokes.

At this point, you are thoroughly annoyed and agitated and just want to leave before you lose your cool. The bill is $19.49, so you drop a $20 bill on the table and get up to leave just as the server comes back to clear your plates. The server says “Enjoy your night and thanks for choosing PizzaWorld” with a dry, bland tone. Your friend goes to use the bathroom while you wait in the lobby, anxiously waiting to leave and never return.

While you wait, you see your server swing by the hostess station. Your server says loudly to the hostess, “Man, the last people I had were impossible and they only left me a 50-cent tip. How can anyone survive in this business?”

Scenario A+

Your server says “I’m terribly sorry about that, and I also apologize I wasn’t able to get to you right away when you waived your hand. Let me fix this. I’ll be right over”. You go to your seat and your server comes over and says “I know you wanted the Mushroom pizza and the Veggie was a compromise. To be honest, we have had some complaints about the grease. I’m going to go personally oversee your next pizza to minimize that and to make sure it’s hot. Let me take that from you now. And while you’re waiting, I put in a order of cheesy breadsticks for you both as you must be getting hungry now. My manager will deliver them to you while I’m keeping an eye on your pizza. What else can I make better for you?”.

You are pleased a little, but still wary and suspicious. But you do mention the cokes. Your server responds: “No problem. We just had new machines put in last week on this side, and I think they are getting some kinks worked out. I’ll get you cokes from the machine on the other side of the restaurant”. Your server leaves and you shortly see the manager coming to your table with new cokes and two baskets of cheesy breadsticks. “I’m very sorry you have not had the best experience so far. We pride ourselves on making every customer not just happy – but thrilled. What other things did not meet your expectations today?”.

Emboldened, you say, “Well, I appreciate you addressing these things. I hope the next pizza is a bit better. But since you asked, the kitchen is a bit loud and we are having to shout a bit to talk. Could we possibly move to that other table over there?”. The manager smiles and says “of course. I am sorry you were sat here. We usually don’t seat parties of two or more back here because of that. I will definitely remind my hostess about this so other customers.” He moves you to the other table which is clearly for parties of 4 to 6, but the manager doesn’t mention or note this to you at all. A few moments later, your new pizza arrives and although it is still slightly greasy, it is a vast improvement over the first pizza. And it is hot, but not scalding hot.

About ten minutes into your meal, your server returns and asks how everything is and apologizes again for the less than stellar experience. By this time, you have forgotten most of the initial hiccups and are knee-deep into a great conversation with your friend. You have been enjoying the Italian music and are feeling relaxed.

Despite an initial C- experience, it has been boosted easily into a B+, but the server then says “I know this hasn’t been the best way to start your weekend, so we at PizzaWorld want you to have a little boost. Here is our dessert menu. Please pick what you like – it’s on us”. You and your friend choose a lovely dessert.

When your server returns, they mention the PizzaWorld app. You are almost ready to recoil at what first appears to be a marketing pitch. But your server quickly says, “Normally, if you download and signup for the app with your receipt at the end of your meal, it asks for your receipt number to give you 10% off on your next visit. But if you want, and only if you want, if you download the app on your phones now, or even if you already have it, I’ll put in a special code right now in my system with your email addresses and you’ll each have 50% off your next visit, including a 25% off your next take-out order if you’d like to ever grab some pizzas for the office”. You and your friend look at each other, take another bite of dessert, and start downloading the app.


No one would be surprised by the F Scenario. Once a pause or pain point has reached a particular point, it’s human nature to assume it will continue in a downward fashion, going from bad to worse. In fact, subconsciously, we might even be involved in its degradation, by getting more upset, making a scene, and pointing out even more flaws.

At best, we hope for some mild resolution and slight improvement to situations. We want to be heard. We want to be seen. When a situation improves, even slightly, we feel we were heard and seen. We feel we have made an impact. We feel… important. So, we often accept B+ Scenarios because they make us feel we are stemming the tide of incompetence, tomfoolery, and malfeasance and making the world a better place. For those with little control in their personal lives (feeling trapped at work, in personal relationships, in lifestyle choices), such B+ Scenarios can empower us.

But hear this out. B+ Scenarios for the business are Not… Good… Enough. And worse of all, B+ scenarios fail to capture an Opportunity to Amaze.

When a customer enters the Customer Support phase of their journey, it is usually unwillingly. They don’t sign up for services, or go to restaurants, and say, “Gee, I hope I get to read some help documentation, or get to send in a ticket about a problem, or ask to speak to a manager”. They are not shocked if they have to, but it is not how they want to spend their time. But when they ask for help, they want it and want it with professionalism. They want to be heard and seen, but even more than that, they want to be happy and amazed.

Customer Support more than any other department has that power – if setup and trained correctly. We can amaze. We can take a pain point and make it disappear. We can distract. We can show empathy. We can “stop the presses” and deal with a person as a person, not a customer, not a user, not a prospect.

We can not fix the problem reported sometimes. But we can fix the underlying problem which is dissatisfaction. Done right, we can be a steering group to pushback other departments and let them know how their actions (or inactions) are affecting the Customer Journey.

As a customer comes out of their Pause and heads back onto their path along their Customer Journey, our role in Customer Support should be to make them more excited about their future path than they were before. Accepting a B+ Scenario does not do that for the customer. It does not turn the customer into an evangelist for us. It does not give them peace and happiness. It does not result in more business for us, but less.

What is the chief obstacle that prevents more businesses from treating a customer’s paused journey as an opportunity for excellence (aside from a lack of vision)? Simply put, it’s because they wrongly see the direct cost as too high. Looking at our example above, a business manager might count dollar costs of such a transaction. Some managers feel that the customer might be “getting away with something”.

However, a manager who thinks about the business as if it were his business and the customer as if that customer was their only customer (i.e. taking ownership and accountability), would align their actions with an A+ Scenario.

One customer begets two customers begets four customers begets 8, 16, 32, etc…

At Customer Support, our role isn’t to fix the problem, but to see the raised hand (the support ticket, the phone call) as an Opportunity. That is the moment when everything else pauses and the customer is a person, for whom we empathize,

then assist,

and then amaze.