10 Inspirational Customer Experience Examples
Illustration by Sonny Ross

We've all read those great customer experience stories that make us feel awed and admiring, but some of those stand-out examples can be misleading.

While they certainly jerk at the emotions and evoke a sense of wonder for the brand, they usually end up drawing attention because they are so far outside of the norm. They aren't the typical conditions under which the company does business.

To wow your customers and drive loyalty, you need to represent both stability and those moments of amazement. A scalable customer experience is one that you can promise to your customers every day — not the occasional wow moments that your employees pull out on a whim.

Because of that, we've created a list of customer experience examples that represent both the one-off wow moments where a business provided a surprising and delightful experience and the brand strategies behind a great (and scalable) customer experience.

While those individual stories might not be scalable or reproducible every day, creating a system that makes an environment for them to happen is one of the best ways to try to bake them in.

10 inspirational customer experience examples

Excellent customer experience examples aren't all just flashy one-off stories. While there may not seem to be anything exciting about a regular, steady customer strategy, it goes a long way when creating a memorable experience.

The following ten examples run the gamut from highly individual to overall philosophies that inform notable companies’ strategies. Not all of them will fit with how your company does business, but you can still learn from these individual customer experience examples and align them with your customer practices.

1. Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz is the crème de la crème when it comes to customer experience. The hospitality brand is renowned worldwide because it empowers its employees to provide an excellent experience for each and every customer. One of the most notable policies the brand has put in place is its customer experience stipend.

The Ritz grants its employees the ability to spend up to $2,000 per incident to resolve customer problems. Employees don't need to ask for manager approval in order to make the customer's experience better.

While it might not be in your budget to offer $2,000 per issue, you can still empower your employees to do what is needed at the moment. Give them the power to provide refunds, discounts, or bend the rules if they deem that it will be best for the customer.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks has long strived to be the "third place," or the place after home and work where people feel most comfortable gathering. This individual story from a Starbucks location in Leesburg, Virginia is an excellent example of why they are a third place for so many people.

A barista noticed that one of their regulars, who is deaf, was having trouble ordering and navigating the customer journey at Starbucks. In her spare time, the team member learned American Sign Language to make the customer's experience a little bit easier.

She notified the man by writing him a note when he came in to pick up his regular order, and it moved him so much he had it framed.

While your team certainly can't go above and beyond like this for every customer, knowing that they have it in them to do is valuable. Customer experience examples like this encourage us to remember that humans are on the other side of our strategies and to do what is in our power to help them get the most from our product or service.

3. JetBlue

When it comes to airline customer experiences, customers are more likely blasting brands for misbehaving than praising them for excellence. JetBlue is one of the few brands that consistently gets rave reviews from their customers — and it's likely because their team often goes above and beyond to put customers first.

This is evidenced by their Chief People Officer going out and doing random acts of kindness for customers and employees alike. He hands out water and donuts to folks waiting in line, gives away free tickets, and even supports crew members working behind the desks at busy hubs.

When everyone, even the person at the top, has the customers’ needs and delights in mind, it makes for a great customer experience.

4. Netflix

Netflix understands their customers' desires and needs to a T. They've done a ton of analysis on viewer behavior and customer satisfaction to understand what drives their customers' behaviors and happiness.

Because of that, it should come as no surprise that they have some pretty delightful customer experience strategies. One of the tremendous one-off experiences that they've provided involves a very boisterous customer service rep and a willing customer keen to play along:

A Netflix customer service rep start off the conversation with: This is Captain Mike of the good ship Netflix, which member of the crew am I speaking with today?

You can read the whole conversation here. You'll note that it ends with the customer saying that he wished he had more issues so that he could keep the conversation going.

Netflix teaches us that allowing our customer experience team members to bring themselves and their personalities to their work can be a great way to create excellent customer experience examples.

5. Morton's Steakhouse

While this example isn’t a scalable or even typically attainable level of customer service, this story from Morton's Steakhouse has become so well known that it feels like a travesty not to include it.

Peter Shankman tweeted to his favorite steakhouse that he would be arriving in town and asked them to meet him at the airport with a steak.

A Mortons customer tweets: Hey Mortons - can you meet me at Newark airport with a proterhouse when I land in two hours? K thanks.

Tons of people have tweeted things like this in jest, never expecting a response. Imagine Peter's surprise when he landed at the airport and found a server holding a bag containing a full meal, free of charge.

The nearest Morton's was 23.5 miles away, which is quite a feat in itself, but beyond that, someone had to find his flight information and track it to ensure the food arrived at precisely the right time and place.

While you probably won't be delivering steaks to all of your customers, this customer experience example shows that sometimes going above and beyond to find ways to delight them can have a considerable payout when it comes to loyalty.

6. Disney

Disney is world-renowned for providing excellent and delightful customer experiences. One way they do this is through their Compass Model, which considers four different aspects of the customer experience. It urges companies to assess the following for their customers:

  • Needs: the basics of what a customer is trying to accomplish.

  • Wants: features that would make a significant difference and go above and beyond needs.

  • Stereotypes: understanding customer assumptions so that you can work against them.

  • Emotions: how to help your customers feel good about buying from you.

The Compass Model isn't just for Disney, either. Companies like airlines and other hospitality brands have implemented it to rave success. When you build your product and customer experience strategy around these four compass points, you create a more delightful experience for your customers.

7. The Opryland Hotel

While the Opryland Hotel is by no means a household name, their customer experience example is one of the best in the business.

When a writer was in Nashville for a conference, she decided that the clock radio in the Opryland hotel bedroom was one of the best, most relaxing devices that she'd ever experienced.

The writer liked it so much that she reached out to get more information about the make and model of the radio at the end of her stay so that she could get one at home.

Unfortunately, the device was custom-made for the hotel. It wasn't available for sale anywhere — and the Opryland representative who the author spoke to let her know as much. They did point her in the direction of a similar one that Sharper Image sold, though without the spa sounds.

Later, when she went to pack up, the writer found a radio waiting for her, along with a note that let her know it was hers to keep.

This customer experience example shows that while something may be small to your company (like a clock radio or a gift card), it could be hugely impactful and meaningful for your customers.

8. Southwest

Southwest is another airline that almost always puts customer experience front and center. They encourage their employees to build relationships and create meaningful connections with customers, even on the shortest flights.

Because of that, customers flood Twitter with stories of great flight attendants, bag checkers, and gate managers providing excellent customer experience examples for other companies to learn from. There's even a dedicated hashtag: #175Stories.

It helps that Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest, stated that the company is in the business of customer service, and it's just incidental that they fly planes. He recognized that Southwest's unique take on customer experience is what differentiates them:

"We're focused on telling customer-centric stories. In addition to talking about our unique differentiators, we want to show customers why we do business the way we do."

Southwest is an excellent example of why it's essential to walk the walk and talk the talk. If you are going to say that something is vital to your business, your customers will know instantly if that's the truth. Lead with honesty, and you may have as many loyal, excited customers as Southwest someday.

9. TD Bank

TD Bank is delightful in the way it treats its customers as humans. It was one of the first bank branches to start offering coffee and treats to customers in line and has always been notoriously customer-first with its policies around fees and overdrafts.

It outdid itself, though, when it replaced some of its Automated Teller Machines with Automated Thanking Machines. Rather than balance checks or cash, they spat out gifts.

a picture of TD Bank's automated thanking machines

Some of the gifts were large: a trip to Disneyland or the ability to throw the first pitch at a beloved baseball game, but the recognition doesn't need to be large to make an impact. Over 30,000 TD Bank customers received recognition on #TDThanksYou day.

Every customer in a branch at 2 p.m. received a $20 bill. The system informed customers logging in through their online banking or phone that they would receive a direct deposit of $20.

While this seems like a huge push, we should note that machines did all of the heavy lifting. While we often talk about delight in the humanness of customer experience examples, this is one story that the company couldn't have accomplished without automation.

Remember that as you start to determine shifts to make in your strategy, automation can help make some of these delightful moments a bit more scalable.

10. McDonald's

McDonald's isn't necessarily world-renowned for catering to its customers’ needs, but this customer experience example suggests that it's more than company policies that make these changes.

A customer at a McDonald's in Chicago watched an older man in a wheelchair attempt to ask the cashier for assistance. After several moments of struggle and a bit of frustration, the cashier realized the man needed help cutting his food.

Even though it may have been easier to turn the man away, mainly because it was rush hour and there were many other customers to help, the cashier shut down his register. He went and washed his hands, put on gloves, and walked around to the front of the restaurant to help the man cut his food and eat.

While it certainly took more time for the other customers to be helped, the value that it had for the man receiving the attention had to have been immense.

It doesn't always have to take a lot of time, money, or effort to create a customer experience that is meaningful and has lasting impact.

Hire caring people and empower them

Some of these customer experience examples require structure for implementation, like those at Ritz-Carlton, but others come from the goodness of the representative's heart.

While creating strategies that support and encourage acts like these are essential for them to be scalable, it is frequently just as important to hire people who care about creating an excellent environment for customers.

Hire employees who are kind and caring, and you'll find that your customers reap the benefits. Bolster those kind intentions with policies and strategies that make them easy to enact, and your customer-facing team will create beautiful examples of customer experiences like these in no time.

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