Innovation Management Wisdom

Customer Experiences that Matter vs. Those that Don’t

A well designed customer experience makes them want to come back and refer others. But, how do you create an influential customer experience? Well, it starts with understanding how humans experience.

Influential guest experience

Create a guest experience that positively influences guest behavior

You have an experience just about every minute you’re awake. You’re even having an experience wearing the shoes you have on right now. And, like experiences of your shoes, the color of the ceiling and background noises, most of the experiences you have are filtered out.

How you experience is intimately connected with the way your mental machinery perceives, interprets, and evaluates the situations you’re in… and how this process influences what you do.

For years, I’ve been helping clients understand the “mental model of the customer”. This is typically different than the “mental model of the company.” In order to design influential guest experiences, you have to understand the capabilities and limitations of the human mind.

Our Brains Filter Out Most Experiences

Our nervous systems filter out more than 99% of the sensory information we’re exposed to. This allows you to pay attention to a small number of the most important things.

Your mind is continuously and automatically comparing the flood of sensory information to what it predicts it will experience.  If that information roughly matches previous patterns, the information is handled subconsciously. It doesn’t “register” as something you consciously think about.

This subconscious process allows you to act on “auto pilot”. For example, when you walk up to the front door of your house, key in hand, and the lock and door appear to behave as expected. You unlock the door and walk in. You don’t have to consciously “figure it out.”

An Influential Guest Experience Requires Surprises

If, on the other hand, that sensory information isn’t what was expected, it bubbles up to the level of conscious processing. If an element of the current situation catches you by surprise, you turn your attention to it.

But, our conscious processing has limited short term memory.  Generally, we can only consciously think about seven pieces of information.

The most influential customer experiences are designed around: 1) our short-term memory limitations and 2) people’s ability to act while on auto pilot.  Whether you like it or not, customers filter out… or at least deal with subconsciously… virtually all the details of every experience they have. They only pay attention to a small number of things.

The trick is to deliberately design an experience that maps comfortably to customers’ auto pilot for action while creating a small number of positive, meaningful surprises. This is the essence of successfully differentiated, highly influential customer experiences.

These differentiating elements are the small set of things that get the customers’ attention. They are consistent with the brand promise–a promise fulfilled by a meaningful customer experience.

For example, Holiday Valley Ski Resort is consistently rated among the top five resorts in the Eastern U.S.  Holiday Valley draws skiers who drive from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto. What makes Holiday Valley distinctive, beyond its diverse terrain and relentless commitment to snow quality, is the accessibility permeates every aspect of the customer experience.


Holiday Valley


There is ample, high-speed lift capacity. Three updated, full-service base lodges disperse weekend crowds. There are almost never lines for lunch. There are accommodations, restaurants and attractions at the resort and in nearby Ellicottville, a five minute drive from Holiday Valley. Services are distributed in a way that seems to defy congestion. Traffic, even during high season, is always manageable.

Holiday Valley surprises customers with its ease of movement. A surprising level of accessibility is just one dimension by which you can influence customers. There are many other opportunities. Most are not as capital-intensive as building base lodges!

If You Understand How Customers Experience, You’ll Be Better Prepared to Design Experiences that Glue Customers to Your Business

Here are a few examples.

Many “central reservations” websites provide experiences that actually feel de-centralized and fragmented to customers. The only centralizing feature is a long list of outbound links to myriad hotels, motels, B&B’s, etc. Sometimes, lodging alternatives can be sorted by number of beds and price. But, that’s pretty much it.

It’s left to the user to figure out where each accommodation is relative to the resort, what it looks like, bed sizes and configurations, whether there’s public transportation, child care, cooking facilities, restaurants, attractions nearby, a fireplace, a view, how past guests have rated their stays…and the list goes on. (I’ve talked before about new vacation planning sites that are capitalizing on this opportunity. They’re making all of this information searchable in online vacation planning tools.)

Other opportunities to positively surprise customers abound. For example, we’ve worked with a client to extend the vacation experience. The newly designed vacation experience will begin before guests ever arrive at the resort.

Another example: creating new, more meaningful social-bonding opportunities among customers. These bonds help glue guests to providers as well as each other. Vacation clubs are beginning to seize these opportunities.

You can surprise customers when they are researching, planning, booking, paying for, traveling to and traveling from a tourist area. That’s in addition to when they are physically present in your location. We’re working with forward-thinking lodging operators, restaurants, sporting goods providers and retailers to develop and exploit these opportunities. Some of these opportunities involve diverse providers collaborating across the customer experience.

To thrive, every businesses must design influential customer experiences. Influential experiences meet two requirements: First, they conform to customers’ “auto pilot” patterns of behavior so they can simply act. Second, they break from familiar patterns in ways specifically designed to deliver delightful surprises. These are two hallmarks of memorable, influential customer experiences.

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About Jason M. Sherman

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I am Founder and CEO of Whyze Group. Over the last 20 years, I have helped more than three dozen major corporations realize significant increases in shareholder value through new product innovations, marketing and organizational changes made in accord with customers´ values, goals and beliefs.

My perspectives on research, organizational change and innovation have been published by the U. S. Department of Commerce Baldrige National Quality Program, Industry Week, Michigan Quality Council, Marketing News, Retail Banking Digest, Research Business Report, Business to Business Marketing and many online business media.

I received a MBA from Hofstra University and B.S. from the State University of New York, attending both universities on scholarship.


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