There is no such thing as just meeting expectations. An interview with Stan Phelps at the Customer 360 Symposium


Share on LinkedIn

Customer 360This interview was originally posted on Ashton Media. It contains a question and answer session where Mark Abay and I speak about customer experience at the Customer 360 Symposium:

The psychology of the customer journey


Stan, in your presentation, you focused on the psychology of the customer journey. Tell us a little bit more about that and tell us about some brands around the world that are doing that well.


I think the first thing that brands need to realise is that customers make judgments about them very quickly, and from the psychology perspective, it comes down to two things, warmth and competence, and how you can demonstrate that really impacts the overall customer experience, so let me give you a couple of examples.

Doubletree Chocolate Chip CookieOne is a hotel chain that started in the States and is starting to grow here in Australia. It’s called DoubleTree Hotels, and the first thing you get when you check into a DoubleTree Hotel is they give you a chocolate chip cookie, but not just an ordinary chocolate chip cookie. It’s warm, it’s large, packed with chocolate chips.

A great way to make that signature first impression and to really demonstrate both warmth and competence.

Another example is Southwest Airlines, a carrier in the US. A few years back, all of the other carriers decided to charge for checked baggage. Southwest looked out and said, “That’s not the way we would treat our customers.” What did they decide to do?

Bags Fly FreeBags fly free.

It saves customers anywhere between 75 and 120 dollars in the US when they fly Southwest. It demonstrates both that warmth and competence and it really gives that little something extra to the customer.

The Purple Goldfish moments


You talk about the Purple Goldfish moments. Are those Purple Goldfish moments? Tell us more about that.


Well, Purple Goldfish is doing that signature little something extra, and a lot of times if you can do at the right way, it’s something that’s unexpected, and what people really need to realise about the customer experience is that the customer doesn’t really remember the entire experience.

They remember moments, and if you can do a couple of signature things to your brain correctly, that really makes an impact, the reason being is that our brain is programmed, the front of our brain, the medulla literally sends out this dopamine that’s literally like post it notes for our memory, and if you do those moments correctly, those are the ones that stick, that people remember and more importantly talk about.

The measurable return on Purple Goldfish moments


Stan, often these moments they will come with a cost attached to them, the cookie or whatever it might be. How can organisations be sure they’re going to get that return from that additional cost?


Right. I have 12 different ways, 12 different types of Purple Goldfish, and six of them are what I call on the value side, so there’s definitely a cost attached to them.

The other six are more on the maintenance side of the equation, so how you handle them from a service perspective and really the cost isn’t that much, but to get to your question, you really have to understand if those little things that you do are going to move the needle.

If you take kind of a lean approach and test these things out, you definitely want to do that to make sure that you know that it’s achieving what you want in terms of the customer experience.

I’ll give you a good example. One of the things I’m a big proponent of is giving that little gift, that little something extra, and there was a study that came out a few years back wherein a fast food or quick serve restaurant decided to try that out and test it, and they gave each person a little gift when they walked in and they greeted them.

gift-and-kind-wordsThey simply said, “Hello,” and they gave them a little something extra and it was either a key chain or it was a little sample of yogurt.

They wanted to know how that impacted, how much they bought. The person that was given both the greeting and the gifting ordered 46% more food than the person that didn’t get it, so in that case giving that little key chain or even that sample of yogurt paid off 10 fold.

You really need to take a testing approach, make sure that you’re fully trotting things out, you’re looking to be able to get that measurable return.

There is no such thing as just meeting customer expectations


Stan, customer experience has become a very important topic for organisations. For organisations that are turning their focus to it or are new to it, what piece of starting advice would you give them?


Well, I would say two things really.

purple goldfishFirst, and this is a mantra I am really a believer in, that there is no such thing as just meeting the expectations of your customers. You either exceed their expectations or you fall short. There is no such thing as just meeting expectations, so you really have to have a mindset of wanting to go above and beyond.

The second thing is that most companies are going to rush and start to do things for the customer, and from my research, the companies that really get this are the ones that actually start with the employees first because you can’t have happy customers if you don’t have happy engaged employees.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) -This slideshare contains the Purple Goldfish Hall of Fame. Companies that embrace the concept of signature added value.

The following brands have earned entrance into the Hall: 

Class of 2013 
1. Chick-fil-A – Mints, wipes and free refills 
2. Wells Fargo – Focus on current customers from growth 
3. Safelite – Clean and vacuum in addition to crack repair 
4. Panera – Clam chowder and cookies for a special need 
5. Apple – One to one training, engraving and stickers 
6. Plaza Cleaners – Free dry cleaning for unemployed 
7. Liberty Tax – Tasty snacks and kids waiting area 
8. Enterprise – They’ll pick you up 
9. Nurse Next Door – Handling mistakes via humble pie 

Class of 2012 
1. Mitchells – Handwritten notes 
2. Pizza Shuttle – Photobooth, gutbuster pie and custard 
3. Besito – Churros and worry dolls 
4. IKEA – Smaland and meatballs 
5. Kiehl’s – Free samples 
6. Michael Lynne’s – Coffee, 24 hour demos and can of balls 
7. Taranta – QR codes to track freshness of fish 
8. L.L. Bean – Guaranteed for life 
9. Peter Millar – Mints and packing detail 

Class of 2011 
1. Trader Joe’s – kids carts, sampling and the whale 
2. Nordstrom – Splitting pairs of shoes 
3. Starbucks – Bathrooms, downloads, wifi and samples 
4. Disney – Alway exceeding expectations with the parade 
5. Four Seasons – Walk around the desk to give your key 
6. JetBlue – Leather seats, great snacks, DIRECTV 
7. Izzy’s – Free mini-scoop with each scoop purchased 
8. Amazon – Free 2 day shipping, books and videos 
9. Whole Foods – Ice with meat or seafood 
10. Zane’s Cycles – Lifetime service 

Inaugural HOF Class of 2010: 
1. Doubletree Hotels – Warm chocolate chip cookie 
2. Stew Leonard’s – Free ice cream with $100+ purchase 
3. TD Bank – Open 7 days and longer hours 
4. Southwest Airlines – ‘Bags Fly Free’ 
5. Five Guys Burgers and Fries – Bonus fries and peanuts 
6. Zappos – Surprise complimentary upgrade of shipping. 
7. Lexus – Car wash and vacuum 
8. Kimpton Hotels – Lonely travelers get some ‘Guppy Love’ 
9. AJ Bombers – Free peanuts delivered by P-nut bomber

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


  1. As much as I enjoyed your blog and video interview (and agree with Purple Goldfish approaches that go beyond one-dimensional expectations, when they are identified as impacting downstream customer behavior), I’d suggest, respectfully, that the concept of warmth and competence is neither particularly new nor especially innovative:

    Many companies have learned how to successfully apply conscious capitalism and build stakeholder trust: and and

  2. Thanks Michael for your comment. I respectfully disagree about the importance of warmth and competence. Over 80% of our judgements about people and brands come down to these two characteristics. I believe it has tremendous implications to the field of customer experience.
    I’d highly recommend that you pick up “The Human Brand” by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. Released in October, 2013 the book is a must read for business leaders. Here’s my review:
    Warmest regards,

  3. I know the book (I have a copy), and I know Chris (we worked together, and he sent me my copy before was published). Nothing against the conceptual basis of warmth and competence in customer value provision; but, again, this is not new. The basis for these dimensions goes back at least 1.5 decades. Suggest, for example, you read “Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds With Your Customer”.by Janelle Barlow and Dianna Maul. The book, published in 2000, addresses key elements of the customer experience, principally emotional connections, empathy, and competence. Sheth, Sisodia, and Wolfe built this out even further in 2007 with their work on “Firms of Endearment.”


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here