Is Your Customer Experience Smashable?


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Joshy enjoys his extended vacation at the Ritz-Carlton

When was the last time your loss prevention team became an Internet sensation because of excellent customer service? Well, that’s what happened when Joshy went missing.

Joshy is the beloved stuffed Giraffe of the youngest member of the Hurn family. Sadly, Joshy didn’t return home from the vacation with the rest of the Hurns. Desperate to console a distraught toddler to sleep, the family told him that Joshy decided to stay a bit longer on vacation, but would return home soon.

When Joshy was finally located , he returned home with a scrapbook documenting his extended stay, his own loss prevention badge and some goodies for the rest of the family. Can you guess where the Hurn’s stayed? Yep. The Ritz-Carlton.

We all read business books that meticulously document models and methodologies to ensure that we craft excellent customer experiences. These models always seem daunting, expensive and impossible to implement. One of the darlings and frequent case studies found in those books is the Ritz-Carlton.

However, what the Ritz did in the Joshy incident doesn’t require a change management behaviorist to be on call 24/7 or a major Cap X investment. Instead, it was a piece of a smashable brand and experience.

The Smashable Experience

In 1916, Coca-Cola executives approached the Root Glass Company with a challenge—design a Coke bottle that would still be easily identifiable even if smashed into shards. The result was the Classic Coke bottle. Martin Lindstrom wrote about smashable brands in his amazing book Brand Sense.

Lindstrom argues that your brand experience should be like the Coke bottle—easily recognizable even in pieces. Some of the examples he uses are the Harley Davidson sound, the voice of Disney, the smell of Abercrombie and the Intel tone. Each of these pieces adds up to tell the overall brand story in a unique and identifiable way.

As retailers, we need to be deliberate about what those brand impressions are when it comes to our experiences. Surely, the Hurn’s visited a lovely resort with posh beds, clean rooms and friendly staff. That’s what you expect from the Ritz-Carlton, right?

However, do you expect loss prevention to be as amazing as the mojitos by the pool? Clearly, the Loss Prevention team considered themselves an integral part to the overall ethos. Moreover, they went out of their way to prove it. That is what makes the Ritz-Carlton brand and experience smashable.

Is Your Experience Smashable?

When you shop your stores, how smashable is your experience? Do you ‘feel’ the ethos of the brand? Is it easily distinguished from your competitors? Do all of the pieces add up to tell a brand story? And does the resulting story align with what you discuss when you are sitting around the table in corporate headquarters?

This is why those business books and customer theory books seem so daunting. The problem is not just in one department or store. Instead, it encompasses everything from merchandising to store design to marketing to even loss prevention. So where do you start?

Creating a Smashable Experience

If you really want to create a smashable brand and experience, you have to do an honest assessment of where you want to be and where you are. I typically take executives on an ’empathy field trip’ in their own stores at the beginning of a consulting engagement. Sometimes they love me at the end of it and sometimes they hate me, but I force them to be brutally honest with themselves.

Once you have created the map of current experience then you need to consider:

  • Have you clearly identified what that experience is going to be? If this is not aligned with your brand-neither can be smashable.
  • Have you identified ways that you can do things that are differentiated from your competitors? And whether or not your customers really care about those things?
  • When you enter your locations, does it look, smell and sound like the experience you want?
  • Do your employees behave like the embodiment of your brand?
  • Do you hire people who reflect what your brand stands for and is it part of your culture?
  • Do you train employees in what type of experience you want to create?
  • Do you speak to your customers in a consistent voice across all channels?
  • Do you choose the things to go the extra mile on wisely?
  • Do you have ‘delight metrics’?
  • Are there ways to share stories to create a virtuous circle?


You don’t have to frame break your entire customer experience and strive to be the Ritz-Carlton today. Instead, figure out what your unique customer experience is going to be.

Even small improvements, if they are deliberate, can help you build your way to a smashable brand. Surely, the Ritz didn’t have a policy on what to do with lost stuffed toys. Instead it had clearly defined customer experience in mind and this permeated every department.

Unlike the Coke bottle, you don’t have to build it all at once. You can start from the shards and fuse them together to build a smashable experience. Just identify where you want to start, what you are building towards and rally the troops. Your customers will thank you. The Hurn family certainly thanked the Ritz.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Sheridan Orr
Sheridan Orr is considered the Ralph Nader of the customer experience. She is a noted speaker and author as well as the managing partner of The Interrobang! Agency, a consulting firm focused on crafting customer experiences. Her primary area of expertise is consumer behavior in a connected world. She has over a decade of experience working with some of the world's most recognizable brands. When she's not waxing poetic about the modern, connected customer, she's an avid skier and atomic soccer mom.


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