Improving Customer Experience

Improving customer experience as an equation

It’s no secret: improving customer experience can lead to increased sales from a more satisfied customer base.

Follow along as we break down the Customer Experience Equation.

customer experience equation

There’s actually another element to the equation, but we will get to that later on.

Let’s use an example we’re all familiar with to walk through the equation.

Say we’re on vacation on a small tropical island and it’s closing in on dinner time. It turns out this tiny oasis only has two restaurants to choose from.

Rather than give you the full rundown of the two establishments, all I show you is what the tablecloth looks like at each restaurant.

Take a moment to think about your choice.

1541493 White linen

You can go for white linen or the red-and-white checkered tablecloth.

Do you already have an idea of how these two restaurants may differ?

They’re just tablecloths, yet they’re already painting a picture in your mind.

The tablecloths are a symbol that are associated to an Expectation.

In terms of your business, you have many touchpoints with your customer.

Your marketing, content like your reading now, customer service, product delivery, the way you answer the phones, and word-of-mouth. All of these touchpoints craft an Expectation.

Each of these establish an Expectation in the mind of your consumer regarding what their experience will be like when doing business with you.

Now, let’s say you’ve decided the white linen restaurant is a better fit for dinner.

There are numerous touchpoints that are further solidifying expectations for you. The valet, the coat check, the friendly hostess, the soft lighting, the martini glasses, the backlit bar top, the golden hand rails that lead to an elevated dining space where you settle in for dinner.

You’re thinking, “This is going to be good.”

The server comes over and asks if you’d like to start with something to drink. You order a nice Cabernet off of the long wine list.

A few minutes later, the server arrives and says, “I’m very sorry but we are all out of our normal stemware.”

He continues, “I assure you this is the exact wine you ordered but we had to serve it in this.”

He places a generous serving of wine in front of you, contained in a red plastic solo cup.

It’s as if the record of your mind just skipped right off the turn-table.


How do you think this wine will taste? Most likely, it will taste awful out of that red solo cup.

In reality they served you a nice wine, but in perceptual reality you feel like you’ve been served bottom-of-the-barrel swine-wine.

Reality doesn’t matter when it comes to your customer’s experience; only their perceived reality factors into their experience.

Now… let’s rate Expectations and Perceived Reality on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best.

At the white linen restaurant, they set a high expectation with all the various touchpoints, and you entered dinner with an Expectation of a 9.

Looking back on the entire experience, everything was great except that wine served in the red cup. You couldn’t get past that and your Perceived Reality score dips to a 6.

Plug it into the equation and you get this:

CX = (PR – E)        or      -3 = (6 – 9)

A negative Customer Experience is created because Expectations were greater than Perceived Reality.

On the flip, when your customer’s Perceived Reality is greater than their Expectation, you’ve created a positive customer experience.

Earlier, I mentioned a hidden element in this equation.

It effects all aspects of the equation.

The image to the right is called “Rubin’s Vase.”

Rubins Vase

It is named after the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin. This is an example of an optical illusion where the interpretation of the image changes depending on your focus.

One moment you see a white vase, the next you see two faces pointed at each other.

Confirmation bias is kind of similar to this. It is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s own preconceptions.

We see this in political matters frequently.

A terrible shooting happens and 11 people are shot. The 11th person shot is the attacker who was put down by an armed civilian hero who ended the melee.

The activists for gun control talk about the 10 victims.

The activists for gun rights talk about the hero who stopped this tragedy from injuring even more people.

Confirmation bias shifts the focus of the individual depending on existing preconceived notions.

Confirmation bias plays into our Customer Experience Equation a great deal.

Let’s say we replay the restaurant scenario and everything goes exactly the same up until the point that the wine is served.

Your Expectations are at a 9… and, so far, your Perceived Reality says this place is a 10 due to all the touchpoints you’ve experienced thus far.

Now, the waiter arrives with your wine on a platter with a black napkin hiding it from view.

Right before he uncovers the wine, he says the following:

“If I may have one moment… On our island we are very blessed. Tourists visit to soak in our beaches and they help our economy tremendously.

Unfortunately our homeless population is still very high and this isn’t something our restaurant takes lightly.

That is why we serve all wine in this red cup, to signify that we donate all profits generated from wine sales towards our local homeless shelter.”

The waiter reveals the cup and says, “By drinking this fine wine out of this red cup, you’re helping to support our homeless population. We sincerely thank you for that.”

He places the wine down and leaves the table.

Now how does this affect your CX score?

Well, it really depends on your values and confirmation bias.

If you have values focused on generosity, you will love what you just witnessed and you will perceive the wine to taste better.

“Wow, it is so awesome that they do that!”

If you have values focused on self-reliance and celebrating personal success, you may not love what you just witnessed.

“Wow, I work hard for my money… why should I have to drink out of a cup to support someone who doesn’t work?”

Neither of these customers would be wrong for their reaction. They’re entitled to their own values and beliefs.

Their values shift their focus and the way they interpret the situation. This directly impacts their perceived reality and, therefore, their overall experience.

You can’t change the values of the customer.

That’s why you need to look at your own values and figure out what truly matters to your brand.

If you can infuse your values into your marketing messages, it will do two things:

  1. It will encourage people with opposing values to not do business with you
  2. It will encourage people with similar values to bond with your brand

Shared values and beliefs are a powerful thing. They can create a powerful bond that will improve the Perceived Reality for the customer and, therefore, improve Customer Experience. Remember:

CX = (PR – E)