Article | 6 min read

Unexpected and exceptional customer experiences, moment by moment

By Heather Hudson

Last updated June 11, 2018

Back in 2007, FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment wrote a post on his company’s blog musing about his lifelong devotion to Triscuits crackers. His mind had been recently blown by the addition of two new varieties and he was disappointed in the company’s marketing of them.

A FreshBooks customer at Oceanic, which is based in Fiji, jokingly commented on the post:

I’d like to request removal from all future posting which reference food items I’m unable to purchase in this country. I am right now dying to try cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuits. I am seriously considering canceling my FreshBooks account because of this irresponsible posting. Have a heart. Jonathan

In response, McDerment and his team quickly assembled a Triscuits care package and airmailed it to the Oceanic office. This unexpected act inspired a heartfelt blog post from the recipient who gushed, “FreshBooks, you’ve got a customer for life and yet one more person to sing your praises to the masses.”

The story became legend—on the Internet and in the FreshBooks offices. Today, “put a cherry on top” is one of the company’s eight customer support values. Senior Director of Support Steve Bujouves says his team is always looking for personalized ways to create a special experience for a customer. “We rely on personal conversations we have with our customers to decide if there’s something we can do to excite them in an unexpected way,” he said.

Today, “put a cherry on top” is one of the company’s eight customer support values.

Creating this kind of unique, memorable “moment” for a customer, during which they feel heard, valued, and delighted, can create instant loyalty and differentiate a company in a world of limitless competition.

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath write about this in their book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. They outline four elements that are crucial to creating meaningful and memorable moments: elevation, pride, insight, and connection. The FreshBooks Triscuits story is a classic example of elevation. “Moments of elevation are experiences that rise above the routine. They make us feel engaged, joyful, surprised, motivated,” they write.

Moments of elevation are experiences that rise above the routine. They make us feel engaged, joyful, surprised, motivated. – Chip and Dan Heath

Let’s look at the other three elements to learn how to create memorable customer experiences.

Moments of pride

People love to be recognized for their hard work and great ideas. Is there a way to recognize your customers in a way that triggers that sense of internal pride?

“Regardless of how skilled we are, it’s usually having our skill noticed by others that spark a moment of pride. If you think about your own moments of pride in your career, our bet is that many of them were examples of recognition,” write the Heath brothers.

One of the most dramatic happened in 2017 when Lay’s potato chips offered a $1 million prize in their “Do Us a Flavor” contest which asked customers to pitch new flavors. A San Antonio, Texas woman claimed fame, fortune—and a sense of pride—for her award-winning “Crispy Taco” idea.

Moments of insight

One of the most powerful stories in The Power of Moments centers on, ahem, poop. Unbelievably, there are still millions of people in the developing world who don’t have access to toilets. Recognizing that open defecation, often in public areas, contributes to the mass spread of diseases, Dr. Kamal Kar developed a methodology called Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which has been used in more than 60 countries around the world.

Here’s how it works: A facilitator visits a village where open defecation is a problem. He asks locals to show them around, posing pointed questions about the piles of feces they happen upon, noting the hordes of flies buzzing around. He then asks them to draw a rough map of the village in the mud—and offers them yellow chalk to mark open defecation areas, including spots where people go when they can’t make it to the designated area. The map is soon covered in yellow chalk.

The facilitator then asks for a glass of water, plucks a hair from his head, dips it in the yellow chalk and then swirls it around in the glass of water. He passes the water around but everyone refuses to drink it. He asks them why—and they tell him, “Because there’s s**t in it!” Finally, the facilitator asks how many legs a fly has and whether they ever see flies on their food. An aha moment descends on the crowd.

This story illustrates that we don’t have to hit people over the head with obvious truths. Sometimes it’s more effective to let them come to it on their own, simply by demonstrating the truth. Social media apps like SnapChat and YouTube, and brands like GoPro, do this well. For that matter, when is the last time you saw an ad for Instagram? When a product or brand is ubiquitous, consumers uncover their own insights about why it got that way and are more motivated to use than if they had been “told” to by ad campaigns.

Moments of connection

When Sonia Rhodes’ father fell ill, she was unsettled by his hospital experience. Patient caregivers were cold and uncommunicative. “They treated my dad like he was this old feeble person,” she told the Heath brothers.

This was especially unsettling because the hospital was managed by her employer, Sharp HealthCare. Determined to improve the patient experience in all their hospitals across the country, she and Sharp’s CEO consulted experts and studied companies that excel at customer service, including Disney, General Electric, and Southwest Airlines. They resolved to make Sharp the best place for employees and physicians to work, patients to receive care, and to become “ultimately the best health care system in the universe.”

Their first step was hosting an All-Staff Assembly of all 12,000 employees. The CEO shared the refreshed vision, urging his huge team to recommit to the passion and purpose that led them to work in healthcare and asking them to take ownership of the mission.

The CEO shared the refreshed vision, urging his huge team to recommit to the passion and purpose that led them to work in healthcare and asking them to take ownership of the mission.

“That meeting started something big at Sharp… Measurement systems changed, policies changed, habits changed. And as a result, the patient experience began to change. Sharp staffers found ways to deliver extraordinary service,” write the Heath Brothers.

When a workplace is one in which they feel inspired, empowered, and passionate, they’re moved to accomplish extraordinary things for their customers. At Sharp, those moments of connection began at the top, establishing a new cultural norm.

One last cherry on top

No matter which element you use to create a memorable moment for your customers, it’s important to remember that small, personalized gestures almost always trump extravagant but empty actions. And a nod to a previous encounter is always a winning move.

Recently, the customer support team at FreshBooks noticed that Oceanic, the Fiji company where they sent the shipment of Triscuits all those years ago, was coming up on its 10th anniversary with FreshBooks. They decided to commemorate the milestone by—you guessed it—sending a lot of Triscuits.