Map Your Customer’s Journey
Illustration by Olivier Guillard

Experiences matter. Experiences are journeys. Journeys are designed. So say Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of the new book, Woo, Wow and Win: Service Design, Strategy and the Art of Customer Delight (Harper Business). “Service should be designed with as much care as products, but most companies are not designed for service,” they state. “Great service is not just a consequence of good intentions, attentive management and a supportive culture. In fact, cause and effect are reversed: Service needs to be laid into the company’s keel, the way performance is built into a BMW or intuitiveness designed into an iPad.”

Service design and delivery, the authors point out, is a sustainable, repeatable and profitable way to differentiate your company, and find and serve the right customers. I recently had a chance to chat with Stewart and O’Connell about service delivery from the contact center’s standpoint. They shared the following insights that leaders can put into practice in their centers.


The idea that the customer is always right is one of the biggest myths currently guiding many organizations’ service delivery, says O’Connell. “Even with the understanding that customers are looking for action and response from the contact center, leaders should be mindful of whether customers’ requests are reasonable,” she says. “There may be things that you’re not able to help people with and that you cannot provide them.”

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: O’Connell and Stewart have amended the service motto to state: “The customer is always right—provided the customer is right for you.” Decide which customers you want to engage with, and what you’re willing to do for them; as well as which customers are wrong for you and which services you will not offer, O’Connell advises.


The high cost of running a contact center keeps most leaders preoccupied with budgeting and allocating resources. “Many companies are so focused on cost management they miss value creation opportunities,” Stewart says.

He offers L.L. Bean as an example of a company that has successfully aligned its brand personality with the service that it delivers in the contact center. The retailer encourages customers to call if they need to return an item so that they can enjoy the experience of speaking with an agent who embodies the brand image (practical and relatable native New Englander). The live interaction offers agents the opportunity to strengthen the relationship with customers while cross-selling appropriate products, maximizing value.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Make sure that your service policies and processes don’t add to the customer’s frustration and effort. Return policies, for example, often force customers to jump through several hoops to get a return merchandise authorization. Stewart points to a quote from Nordstrom’s Ken Worzel, who says, “If you know you’re going to take the return, make it a delightful experience. If you know how the conversation is going to end, why make the customer sweat if she does not have the receipt? We want a relationship.”


The contact center agent may be the only human touchpoint that the customer will encounter. Therefore, it is critical that agents are trained to identify and understand the emotions that the customer brings to the call, and to handle each interaction with the appropriate level of empathy, says O’Connell. “Companies need to recognize that and allow agents to let their humanity shine through,” she notes.

While scripts serve a purpose in highly regulated industries in which certain disclosures are required, calls that are strictly scripted make agents sound unnatural and robotic. Allowing agents some room to improvise will help them to build rapport with the caller.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Develop guidelines and parameters that allow frontline agents to solve problems on the first call. Let agents know how much discretion they have to waive fees, offer freebies, expedite shipping or offer customized solutions.


“Forget about surprising customers,” say Stewart and O’Connell. “Just delight them.” The problem with creating an experience that goes beyond the expectations that you’ve established as part of your service strategy is that it’s not scalable or repeatable, explains O’Connell.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: The danger in creating a service experience that both surprises and delight customers is that it is likely to unrealistically reset the customer’s expectations. “Surprises have to be built into your operating model, because, otherwise, you can’t do it profitably and repeatedly,” she points out. For example, “smart companies give every frontline employee a certain amount of free passes or ‘gimmes’ to hand out to customers however they see fit.”


In the contact center industry, it has become common practice to recognize customer service heroes—those frontline agents who have gone above and beyond to resolve a customer’s issue.

Yet, as Stewart and O’Connell point out, if your processes are designed correctly in the first place, “your employees should not need to be superheroes, bend the rules or take short cuts to give customers a great experience. … Every heroic effort is an indication of an opportunity to redesign work so that you do not need superpowers to deliver superior service.”

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: When companies have processes in place that are difficult, time-consuming or otherwise frustrating, it’s the customers who are required to put forth a heroic effort. Look for opportunities to eliminate complicated or annoying stages in the customer’s journey, the authors say. They offer this example: In a retail store, waiting in line to pay for merchandise provides no value to customers or the store. Forward-thinking retailers like Apple and Nordstrom Rack provide sales clerks with handheld devices to check customers out on the spot.

Stewart and O’Connell offer an online assessment to help you evaluate how successful your center is in creating a superior customer experience. “The Service Design and Delivery Report Card” allows you to rate 10 experiential and technical elements to assess your company’s current competence and identify areas of improvement. For the best results, have your counterparts in different functions of the organization also complete the Report Card and compare the results. Examine the differences, figure out what and why they exist, and develop improvement plans.

Excerpted from “On the Road to Customer-Centricity.” Download a PDF of the full article.