Corporate Customer Experiences Need Startup Mojo

I’m a Dropbox customer. I originally signed up for the basic plan — 2 GB for free — but ran out of space quickly and decided to upgrade to 50 GB of storage. So I forked over my $99 and got the following confirmation page:

A gold star! A hand-drawn cartoon! Now I know this page wasn’t designed specifically for yours truly, but when I saw it, I felt special. Like the people at Dropbox actually gave a damn that I had just given them $99 of my hard-earned money. 

Compare that with the $700 I spent recently for several nights at a large hotel. My final bill was printed on a plain white sheet of paper and was so devoid of any brand messaging that I feared it would raise eyebrows with our finance department! Consider the $1,600 I just plunked down for a multi-leg transcontinental flight. The airline’s confirmation email didn’t waste any time trying to sell me on a rental car, hotel room, and credit card — but didn’t even wish me a pleasant trip. Or take my credit card company — which processes tens of thousands of dollars of business expenses for me each year. When I look at my bill, the things that pop out are how much I owe them, by when, and a late payment warning — key pieces of information, yes, but reading that bill leaves me feeling like I need a shower.

These small touchpoints — a receipt, a confirmation email, a bill — play a functional role in customer interactions. But they also represent prime opportunities for companies to reinforce their brands and (perhaps even more importantly) make customers feel good about where they spend their time and money.

So many startups do it right. I’m thinking of Twitter’s fail whale, which makes service disruptions somewhat enjoyable, Groupon’s exclamation of “That’s Wonderful!” when I make a purchase, and Zipcar’s big orange “Congratulations, you're done!” message at the top of the reservation confirmation page.

But large corporations, more often than not, waste these precious opportunities because:

  • The complexity of the customer experience ecosystem has crippled them. Want to change the wording on a page of a big corporate website? You’ll need to consult with five different lines of business, the marketing and brand teams, the SEO folks, the web designers, the content management team — and don’t forget legal. While all of these people play an important role, too many good ideas cave to organizational complexity.
  • They’re overly focused on ROI. Dropbox’s cartoon made me so happy that I’m honestly looking forward to the next time I need to upgrade. (Will the little box be that much bigger? I’m dying to know!) And how much did this really cost the company? Perhaps it cost a couple of hours for someone to sketch and scan the image and another couple of hours to code and test the very simple page change —  work well suited for a trusted (but cheap) intern.
  • They’ve lost track of time. Startups treat every day as a new opportunity to add customers and turn their balance sheets black — and often work around the clock to make it happen. In contrast, large corporations work on glacial time. Initiatives span multiple years, and employees’ day-to-day activities center around emails, reports, and meetings — not on making changes to real customer interactions.

So start thinking like a startup. What will you do today to directly improve your customer experience? (Seriously, tell me.)


Well Spotted.

Dear Kerry thats really well spotted , it these smaller touchpoints which do make all the difference at times. But its amaizing how many companies miss out on them or sometimes misuse them for creating immediate shortterm profits . Marketing is taken as a bloodsport nowadays , but i think its more like gardening , nurturing and care are of outmost importance and its small moments of sunshine like these that go a long way in building that relation

Gardens and sunshine

Your metaphor just brought a huge smile to my face.

BigCo Miss Small and Large Opportunities

Sure large companies miss the small details that separate satisfaction from loyalty. They also miss the large and easy things, like "does the product work" and "am I easy to do business with"? The focus on near-term growth (which is how Wall St judges and how compensation plans are aligned) comes at the cost of long-term relationships with customers. As a result, most of these company's customers are merely hostages until they're rescued by smarter, more nimble alternatives.

As to ROI, these same large companies have forgotten (and in many cases never knew) that ROI fundamentals rely on customers.

Yes, things big and small

Andrews, Great points about the broader financial context we work in and its impact on both big and small aspects of customer experience. I'm personally very interested in some of the new corporate structures that are divorcing firms from this hamster wheel.

I wonder if "divorce" is the

I wonder if "divorce" is the answer. Shouldn't we spend more time trying to link customer experience and loyalty with profitability. If corporations view the 2 as mutually exclusive we'll just miss more budget (investment) cycles.

Divorce comment not (directly) related to CX

Yes, I completely agree that as a professional community we need to get better at linking customer experience with real business benefits. At Forrester, we spend a lot of time doing just that.

My "divorce" comment was related to the new B corporations that are focused on solving social and environmental problems first, profits second. An interesting model, and I wonder what customer experience looks like for these companies.

I love this example

A Forresterite (who wishes to remain anonymous) just emailed me this example:

I don’t buy shoes online, but recently became a big fan of Zappos just because I was so blown away by the site, particularly the style of writing. For example, when I registered as a user, instead of the check box saying something like, “Sign up for our email alerts”… Zappos said, “Check this box to receive shameless promotional plugs from us.” A little thing, but it showed some humanity.

The Root of the Problem

Great point that even the smallest details of a company’s customer interactions can have a huge impact on customer loyalty. As a Customer Experience Analyst, I think the three factors you identified definitely contribute to the problem of unbranded interactions, but aren’t the root cause.

What keeps these large corporations from making the most of these opportunities is the fact that corporations largely subscribe to an antiquated notion that engaging customers’ feelings belongs in the backroom, not the board room.

Until CEOs and COOs start asking essential customer experience branding questions, like “what percent of our customer interactions are branded?” “how engaging are our frontline reps?” or “have we trained our customer service reps to deliver our core marketing messages?”, these large companies won’t have the institutional inertia to carry their big marketing ideas through to the front line. And that means they won’t be able to keep up with the hip Zappos-types and Dropboxes of the world.

How do you get executive support?

I've actually just started a discussion over in our customer experience community on just this topic: How can you convince your execs to commit to customer experience initiatives?

I'd love to get your thoughts on what's worked (and what hasn't) for you.

Key Challenge Getting Exec Buy In

The advantages of taking a hard look at the customer experience are nearly endless, and include customer loyalty building as well as risk management (it's what you don't know that can kill your company). That said, my observation is that
only execs. with a fairly high degree of intellectual curiosity ever commit in a serious way to customer experience initiatives. In other words, I'm not sure it's possible to convince but I too am open to any and all ideas!

It's the little things


Great idea behind this! One thing I am noticing is that these larger companies that do not do anything to foster the customer experience are constantly advertising that they "are the leader in customer satisfaction". Like you mentioned, they are quick to ask us about switching our TV service or to sign up for their credit card, but do they not realize how far a "thank you" or even a smile (which is easily faked over, especially in a phone sale) would go in making the customer want to shop there again.

Think cannot remember off hand which hotel it is, but one is advertising right now about something as simple as giving you a warm cookie at check in. Little things like this go a long way. I try to shop local as much as possible because of the way I am treated as soon as I step in the store. These smaller business want to keep me coming back so they do what they can to keep me.

However, as long as companies that don't seem to care keep receiving our money, I don't believe they will change. How they can get so far away from where they started blows my mind.



I deeply apologize, I scrolled away too quickly and did not realize that I had addressed my comment with the wrong name. Again great post, and my sincerest apologies.

A challenge...

Yeah, for a while now I've been tracking companies that are advertising their customer experience in some way. Some companies' claims are legit (JetBlue and US Cellular come to mind), but you're absolutely right that many large firms with poor reputations like to talk about their "superior" customer experience. It's ridiculous.

My question for you -- and everyone else: When are you going to stop giving your money to companies that don't provide a good customer experience? :-)

American Airlines

Good question. I had such a terrible experience with American Airlines almost a year ago that I vowed to use alternate air carriers if at all possible (surprisingly easy with competition). That experience caused me to estimate the lost lifetime value of my business:

For some companies, the only thing that talks to them is your wallet.

Love it!

Andrew, I love that you've actually voted with your wallet -- AND figured out what the value of this bad customer experience meant to AA.

Have any other readers deliberately switched their business because of a bad customer experience?

Mapping interactions to value

With all of the multichannel explosion going on, the number of touchpoints/interactions is growing exponentially. This has made it very difficult for businesses to keep up with (manage) all of these interactions. Moreover, they often lack the ability to understand which touchpoints create the most value or frustration in the eyes of the customer. Using a tool like a Journey Map or Touchpoint map can help an organization audit all of the possible interactions. But the real value comes once you can map each interaction to the customer's experience and range of emotions they feel along the way. The best maps and automation tools should effectively capture the "value" of each interaction, measure the effectiveness of each interaction, and then create a prioritized action plan to address the touchpoints that are costing them most in terms of lost revenue or retention.