‘Customer Experience’-Experience


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The most powerful learnings come from reflecting upon your own experiences. And telling about them. Here’s a story I love to share:

We were sitting in one of the largest meeting rooms available. Still it was rather small for the audience of 15+ supervisors and their managers of a large holiday resort. Everything in the back-office was rather small, for any space that could be made available for frontoffice (read: commercial) activities, was made available to that. Smoking was still allowed, so quite some in the room did.

The managing director stood in front of us. I had no real idea who he was, since I had only set foot in the company as a management trainee a couple of days before. And it was only after I left the company that I realized how that meeting was the starting point of my career in Customer Experience. And how the events following it shaped my beliefs.

The managing director told us that top management had decided to put the Customer first in whatever they do. Even though Customer Satisfaction rates had been stable around 80% for as long as he could remember, top management believed that changing the metric (from answering a CSAT question on a scale of 1 to 10, to essentially asking the same question but changing the scale to a 4-box like this: minus/minus, minus, plus, plus/plus) would make a difference. “We“, the managing director continued, “are expected to meet a target of 80% in the top-box, meaning 80% plus/plus scores“.

It remained painfully quiet. No-one asked a question.

It was obvious to me that, although people were trying to get cues from their peers as how to respond, the general feeling was that this new metric was just another top-management toy that would do nothing more than to satisfy themselves. Customers would remain satisfied as they have always been. Business as usual.

The director wrapped-up the meeting with some trivial household stuff and everyone moved on.

Top management had invested millions of dollars in revitalizing the company by divesting some of the smaller locations and completely refurbishing the remaining ones. At the same time they expanded into other countries. It was their firm belief that, although guests would be willing to pay more for these new accommodations, they would only honor us with return visits if the experience on the resort was something a whole lot better than they have been accustomed to. Even though they rated their experience, prior to the transformation, with 80% satisfaction scores.

Fast forward 6 months. Another meeting. A town-hall with almost all staff of the resort. The managing director was standing next to a large video-screen. We had a live connection with the CEO of the company who told us he had some good news and some bad. The good news was that bookings were going up, across the company. Everyone cheered.

But“, he said, “top-box scores are falling behind expectations. Far behind.” Boom!

He was right. Everyone knew we had been receiving our new metrics for three to four months now, and we did not meet the target by far. Customers that scored us 80% satisfaction rates, turned into Customers that rated only 30% to 40% top-box. What happened?

Many colleagues argued Customers needed to be coached when filling out the survey, because they were not accustomed to this kind of rating-scale. Others claimed it was because of the refurbishment that Customers started to expect more and therefor rated us less, whilst the level of service was still great. Not to mention the price increase of food and beverage that was introduced after the refurbishment. There was little they could do. Some claimed more budget, so that they could hire more employees, but their productivity targets where already sloppy. That was never going to happen.

The CEO talked some more before ending with saying that he loved this wonderful company and expected us to deliver an experience that made Customers love it as much. Most left the room unimpressed.

Yet, something happened, for me and two of my colleagues at least. Together we started making plans to significantly improve the Customer’s experience. We asked our employees and guests, who brought in a ton of new ideas, and we implemented new, small, experiments weekly. From menu-changes to fun surprises during dinner or happy-hours. But most of all we established our ‘signature’-way of working towards our guests. We implemented our key-service promises, without showing them to our Customers by the way, but expected all to live by them. Some therefor could not stay with us.

And then things started to shift. We were creating a buzz. Not just with guests, but internally as well. More importantly, top-box scores started to rise, and rise fast. Within six months our departments hit target. And those were not the only targets we were hitting. Our revenues started increasing, productivity went up as did the gross-margin on our sales as we increased prices. I think I can sincerely say that this was the first time I experienced flow in a professional situation.

It also was my first experience with managing (sort of) a Customer experience turnaround. And through it I gained some key-insights that have shaped both my approach and my beliefs. This is where the love started. This experience is probably why I do what I do. Not in the last place because it taught me some important stuff that I still carry with me today. Here’s the top 5:

  1. If you want to transform behavior, transform the metrics.
  2. The only reason your CSAT scores are lower than you want is because your service is not good enough to produce the results you want, …regardless of where you live.
  3. (Some) people will blame – and try to game – the system.
  4. Involve your employees in the design of your service-promise(s). They’ll not only buy into it, they will demand their colleagues to do so too.
  5. Improving the Customer Experience is good for business!

Now, what’s your ‘Customer Experience’-experience?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Awesome story Wim. I particularly like the part about “Customers needing to be coached when filling out the survey.” I’ve heard that refrain before, disappointed that people don’t realize they’re solving the wrong problem.

    The lesson (at least the lesson I got from the story), is to stop focusing on the effect, and focus instead on the cause. If you do things right, and do the right things, the effect will look after itself.

  2. Demonstration of why enterprise performance is far less about the scoring than it is about the commitment and innovation which can be applied by employees on behalf of the customer. What isn’t discussed in the post – but is likely inherent in the results – is that a key sidebar benefit of improving guest experience is that employee experience was enhanced as well.

  3. Thanks for sharing the story Wim – as most CX Professionals recognise, story telling is a much underestimated skill an competency in the CX transformation journey!! I greatly enjoyed reading yours.


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