What Do Customers Really Want from Their Service Experiences?

What Do Customers Really Want from Their Service Experiences?

To improve the service experience your company delivers to customers, it’s important to first define what success looks like.  You must answer the question “what do our customers really want from their service experiences?”

While every business and industry is different, there are some basic things customers want from their service experiences.  The Tempkin Group has a useful model which measures customer experiences along three dimensions:

  • Success: To what extent was the customer able to accomplish what he or she wanted to do?
  • Effort: How much effort was needed on the part of the customer?
  • Emotion: How did the customer feel about the experience?

When you deliver successfully on all three of these dimensions the result is a positively memorable experience, which the customer will likely want to share with others.  A good example of this type of customer experience grand slam is an experience I had with Enterprise Rent-A-Car when traveling with my wife to Miami.

  • Success: Our flight arrived later than scheduled and we missed our scheduled pick-up time, but the car was still there waiting for us.
  • Effort: The young man who greeted us took great pains to explain the main controls of the car (how many times have you rented a car and could not easily determine how to open the gas tank?).
  • Emotion: When we arrived to pick up the car the Enterprise representative took the time to first introduce himself to me and my wife, a courtesy that is often overlooked. And when we returned the car, we pointed out to a different representative some minor damage that we thought we may have done to the hood.  He took the time to review pictures of the car and noted that the damage was there when we picked up the car, but it was not clearly noted.  There was no extra charge, as it wasn’t our fault. His actions exceeded our expectations – he went out of his way to make sure we were fairly treated.  In return, we became loyal customers.

Positive customer experiences like the example above are powerful in their own right, but we have found that they are most powerful when delivered consistently over time.

Customers Want Consistency!

Think about it, the world we live in is an uncertain place.  Will all the equipment work for the big presentation for the board?  If I take my car in for repairs will it be done correctly, on time, and at the amount promised?  Will I get home in time to see my son or daughter’s performance?

It is an uncertain world and those companies that reduce uncertainty by being consistent are, and will be, the winners now and in the future!  Let me illustrate this with a personal story.  I travel a good deal in my work.  Travel by plane is not the positively memorable experience that it was in the past.  There is little I can do to improve that aspect of travel.  But there are some things I can control like the hotel I stay in and the car I rent.  As a general rule, I stay at a Hilton hotel (any of their brands but usually Hampton Inns or Hilton Garden Inn).  I also usually rent from Enterprise.  You may have had different experiences but I have two specific examples in mind that illustrate the importance of consistency.

My wife and I were staying in New York City at a Hilton Garden Inn.  I noticed that even in New York, we were treated much the same way as we would have been treated at most any other Hilton Garden Inn at other places in the US.  The staff was friendly and accommodating in a manner that seemed genuine.  The room, though small (remember, this is New York) was clean and orderly and everything was in good working order.  The food served was quite good.  When we returned to the hotel each evening from the hurly-burley of New York, it was like returning to a quiet and peaceful retreat.

These are only two examples.  I tend to have positively memorable, worry-free experiences whenever I deal with these two companies.  This illustrates one of the things customers want in service—consistency.  First, removing uncertainty makes it easier to make a choice.  If I arrive late at night I want to not have to worry about my rental car not being there or the hotel room not ready or not clean and quiet.  Applying this to the markets in which we work, if a customer purchases construction equipment, a power generator, a lift truck or machining equipment they want to know that there is someone they can count on to repair it in a timely and accurate fashion.  Keeping the investment running is key to achieving the financial returns from the original investment.

Our own research supports the importance of consistent service.  We use the Net Promoter Score (NPS)[i] as one of the key measures of the service experience.  For those note familiar with NPS, it is question that asks the customer about their willingness to refer on a 1 to 10 scale.  A customer giving a 9 or 10 on this question is a Promoter; a respondent giving a 7 or 8 is a Passive; and one giving a 6 or less is a Detractor.  NPS is determined by subtracting the % of Passive customers from the % of Promoter customers.

We began looking at the responses of an individual customer to this question from one interview to the next (we typically interview a customer twice yearly).  What we found is that those customers with a higher NPS also had a higher percentage of customers remaining promoters from one survey to the next.  The top performing client retained 87% of their customers as Promoters from one survey to the next versus an average for all clients of 75%.  Part of this is explained by math: In order to get a higher NPS score you simply must have a higher percentage of Promoter customers.  Consider the underlying reasons for the higher scores; customers were receiving the kind of service they expected.  It was service they could count on.

Great Experiences Matter Because….

There are a number of reasons I could give but I will focus on one; Customers want to share their experiences, good and bad, with others.  How else do you explain the growth of apps like Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon and Yelp.  I often use it when traveling to guide me toward, or keep me away, from restaurants.

There is evidence for this in a research study that American Express does annually.  Respondents were asked how often they told someone of a good experience.  As you can see, over 90% of respondents sometimes or all the time told of a positive experience.


A similar percentage of respondents would talk about a negative experience.  What is interesting is that I would expect consumers to talk to others about a negative experience.  I would not expect people to talk so much about a positive experience.

I argue that customers want to share their experiences, good and bad, but especially the good ones because they are reflecting that primal motive of cooperation.  If there was no such fundamental motive, some of the social media apps that I mentioned earlier would not be nearly as popular.  Moreover, people would not tell others about their good or bad experiences.  They would let others learn for themselves.

If people are more a cooperative species than a competitive one, this has significant implications for service providers.  For example:

  • They will talk about their service experiences, good and bad (a fact highlighted earlier from our own research and the American Express research).
  • Approaching customers with the notion of creating a two-way partnership in which both sides benefit is a sound strategy. There are some for which this approach does not work but they are in the minority, in my view.
  • No matter the service you are delivering, customers are building communities of followers are the time. Social media tools and the internet are great facilitators.  If you do not believe go listen again to the YouTube story about the broken guitar.

What Do Customers Want from Their Service Experience?

Easy and effortless experiences provided by emotionally engaged employees are what customers want.  They also want to know that they are highly likely to receive a consistent service experience each time they come in contact with a service provider.  Customers want to talk about service good and bad.  New technologies makes the bullhorn for talking about service experiences even more powerful.

[i] Net Promoter, NPS, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered service marks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld




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