The Hidden Heroes of Customer Experience


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Photo credit: Ron Lach (Pexels)

Every member of your team contributes significantly to the creation of lasting memories. It is my belief that employees generally fit into one of three critical categories: the wounded victim, the hostile villain, or the overlooked hero.

The wounded victim is consumed by their circumstances and environment, taking no ownership or responsibility, often having abandoned any hope for genuine change. This individual tends to appear disengaged, uninterested and overwhelmingly negative.

The hostile villain, a variation of the wounded victim, embodies extreme frustration. Such individuals, having faced repeated disappointments, yearn for change but express their discontent either vocally or through passive aggression in discussions and meetings.

The overlooked hero, on the other hand, diligently performs their duties. They typically show greater engagement, possess a sense of joy and pride in their work and are not always acknowledged by their colleagues or team leaders. Without recognition and rewards, they risk becoming a wounded victim or hostile villain over time.

Through my various interactions, I have observed how dealings with each of these roles within an organisation can shape one’s view and relationship with the brands they represent. Having worked with employees across numerous sectors and roles, it is apparent that many organisations fail to comprehend or even acknowledge the profound impact their staff has on the brand promise.

Given that most of the service narratives we encounter are negative, it’s about time we highlight the invaluable, yet often overlooked, superheroes whose commitment to creating positive experiences goes unnoticed.

The first-class experience

The past week, my journey began at a renowned five-star hotel in Stellenbosch. From the moment I arrived at the security gate, I was embraced in a well-crafted experience. My car and luggage were swiftly managed, and I was personally escorted to the reception area. I was greeted by name, a small touch that spoke volumes, and guided to my room. This wasn’t just service; it was a seamless, well-designed experience where every employee understood their role and executed it with pride. Their understanding of the brand promise and their place in delivering it was evident and palpable. This is the epitome of a designed customer journey – every touchpoint planned and executed flawlessly.

The everyday magic

After my stay at the hotel, I encountered two more experiences that were just as impactful: one at a local retailer and the other at a petrol station. These interactions highlighted how everyday moments can be transformed into extraordinary experiences through empathy and pride.

At the retailer, I was at the checkout counter when the cashier asked for my loyalty card. I had forgotten it at home, but without hesitation, she swiped a spare card, ensuring I still received my discount. Her smile and willingness to help without being asked or expecting anything in return made me feel valued and appreciated. This small act of kindness, born from a desire to make a difference, turned an ordinary shopping trip into a memorable experience.

Similarly, at the petrol station, the attendant informed me of a drop in petrol prices in the coming week. Instead of filling my tank as I initially requested, I opted for a smaller amount to save money. This attendant had no personal gain from this act; in fact, the station missed out on a higher sale. But in doing so, he gained my loyalty. His genuine care and consideration for me as a customer, made me feel respected and valued, and I left with a story I would share countless times.

The heart of customer experience

These feel-good stories underscore a crucial truth: people create experiences (both good and bad), often without realising their potential impact. As customer experience professionals, we spend hours teaching design thinking, empathy, customer experience mapping, and the difference between process and journey mapping.

However, at the core, it boils down to this: Do we make our employees feel valued? Do they understand the brand promise and their role in it? Are they proud to deliver on that promise? Are our work environments creating wounded victims, hostile villains or hidden heroes? Do we catch our employees doing good or bad? And most importantly, as leaders, do we take care of those in our care?

No matter how detailed or visionary your customer journey map is the experience can falter at the first point of contact. If I walk into a building and my initial interaction is with a wounded victim or hostile villain, the entire journey might break. If I call for support and encounter someone more concerned with handling times rather than resolving my issue, the experience is compromised. Customer expectations are surprisingly modest; they don’t seek grand gestures, just genuine care and respect.

Empowering employees to create shareable moments

To retain customers, you must first look after your employees. When employees are treated with respect and care, they naturally extend the same to customers. This creates a ripple effect, turning moments of potential misery into moments of magic.

Reflect on the petrol attendant or the cashier – their actions came from a place of pride and a desire to make a difference. These moments weren’t scripted; they were spontaneous acts of kindness that left a lasting impression. And it cost the brand nothing.

How much time, effort and money do we spend instilling this pride and skill in those who create these magical moments for our customers? Not in the tools they use or the systems they need – although also important. How much do we invest in our memory makers – our employees?

The takeaway is simple: People shape experiences. By fostering an environment where employees feel valued and empowered we can ensure that every customer interaction is a moment that matter.

Mareli Smit
Hi, I'm Mareli Smit! I’m the Program Director for the Brand Warrior initiative at Brandlove, where we create transformative experiences for employees and customers. I also run our Customer Experience Mastery program, giving CX leaders the tools for success. I’m also the author of "It's About Time" a guide to designing your life. Outside work, I enjoy cooking, mountain trails, and relaxing by the beach. I'm passionate about guiding individuals and teams to success. Let's connect and start a conversation!


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