The 11-Star Customer Experience: Beyond Expectations

How to Plan the Best Possible Customer-centric User Experience

How to Plan a Customer-centric User Experience that goes beyond the 7-stars

Oct 2023


In the realm of customer experience, the term "7-Star" has emerged as a beacon of unrivaled quality and innovation. To position your company for exponential growth, you must venture beyond the traditional boundaries and craft experiences that not only meet but dramatically exceed customer expectations. This requires diving into the realm of “Dream Customer Profiles” and embracing strategies that don't always scale linearly, but are focused on delivering unmatched value.

The Genesis of Growth: Your Dream Customer Profile

Every enterprise dreams of sustainable growth. But how do we achieve it? The answer lies in understanding the customer journey. Not just any journey, but the journey of your dream customer - a profile that transcends current market realities and ventures into the realm of what could be. The dream customer profile isn't just about demographics, but about aspirations, desires, and unspoken needs.

The process begins with understanding your current best customers: Why did they choose your product? Why do they return? This knowledge shapes your communication, product strategy, and value proposition, aligning them with customer success markers.

However, for true innovation, companies must leap further, creating dream customer profiles that challenge existing business models and market assumptions. These profiles don't just cater to existing needs but anticipate future desires, often before customers themselves realize them.

The 7-star “Out of This World Hotel” That Never Existed

In 1999 we all laughed when the Burj Al Arab opened as “the world's only 'seven-star' hotel", being furnished with 2 more stars than there are available for any hotel on the standardized 5-star rating scale.

How could a hotel be given a sixth and seventh star when the highest that you could achieve was it 5 stars? Was it pure audacity just as the project itself that was built on an artificial island just of the beach, because the skyscraper would cast too big a shadow on the beach?

It in fact, is the outlandish experience described by a British journalist as “above and beyond anything she had ever seen and called it a seven-star hotel.”

Although the hotels classification group never gave an officially the 7-star rating, nor the operating Jumeirah Group ever calls their hotel a 7-starclassified hotel, it is that just in being far more generous than it would ever require for getting the highest rating on a standardized five stars scale that makes you being measured outside the standards.

Where you define the user experience of your customers through architecture, infrastructure, service, and storytelling.

Airbnb took that notion of creating Seven-Star customer experiences all the way up to 10-Star customer experiences. A thought experiment, that helps them to think about how they could design a product that exceeds all your expectations.

The Power of Unconventional Thinking

The 7-star experience concept, though now widely recognized, started as a bold, unorthodox vision. When the Burj Al Arab was described as a "seven-star" hotel, it wasn't about the amenities or services per se. It was about crafting an experience so unique that it defied conventional rating systems.

Similarly, Airbnb's exploration of the 10-Star customer experience wasn't about literal execution but about stretching the boundaries of imagination. It's about asking: "What if?" This mindset fosters innovation and encourages businesses to transcend the ordinary.

Operationalizing Dreams

While dreaming big is essential, translating these dreams into actionable strategies is equally crucial. This requires a blend of creativity, empirical data, and rigorous testing. For Airbnb, the secret sauce was its reputation system, which served as both a quality control mechanism and a trust-building tool.

This is the description on the actual application that Airbnb put to YC: “Airbnb is the first online marketplace that lets travelers book rooms with locals, instead of hotels.” It's concise, it's descriptive. I understand what they're building… have a sense for what they're making.

Have you come up with a similar description to a 10 star experience?

But the larger lesson here is that companies must be willing to handcraft experiences, to personalize, to go beyond algorithms and A/B tests. It's about designing with empathy, ensuring every customer feels seen, heard, and valued.

“What does it mean to truly deliver a transformative experience?”
Brian Chesky

AiBnB’s Quest for the Perfect Experience: Designing Beyond Five Stars

AiBnB’s Brian Chesky the goal is not about achieving a five-star review on their platform. Instead, he challenges the status quo by asking, “What does it mean to truly deliver a transformative experience?”

The Five-Star Paradox

Most platforms celebrate a five-star review as the pinnacle of success. But for Chesky, five stars simply means the product was “nice enough for others to book.” His vision is for customers to be so enamored with AiBnB that they ask, “Where can I give a sixth star?” This sentiment, according to Chesky, requires offering an experience that goes above and beyond, making a meaningful impact on a person's life.

Imagining the Improbable: The 11 Star Experience

Rather than resting on their laurels, AiBnB’s team consistently challenges their own thinking. They consider both the macro and the micro aspects of a trip, prompting questions like: “What constitutes a five-star check-in? What would make it six stars? Or even ten?”

Chesky's illustrative breakdown of the airport pick-up experience is particularly noteworthy:

  • Five Stars: The host provides the address, you arrive, they open the door, and you're welcomed in.
  • Six Stars: The host picks you up from the airport.
  • Seven Stars: A limousine picks you up, complete with a surfing magazine, acknowledging your interest.
  • Eight Stars: A celebratory parade awaits you at the airport, with you on an elephant!
  • Nine Stars: A euphoric crowd, reminiscent of The Beatles’ 1964 US arrival, greets you. Your AiBnB home even hosts a press conference in your honor.
  • Ten Stars: Elon Musk himself, dressed as a chauffeur, not only picks you up but takes you on a trip to space.

While Chesky admits these scenarios are exaggerated, the point is to push boundaries. This creative exercise ensures AiBnB doesn’t just meet expectations, but vastly exceeds them.

The Essence of Product Design

A common misconception is that a product solely refers to a company's website or app. But Chesky’s perspective diverges. He recalls an interaction with a Disney executive who thought AiBnB’s product was the house itself. Chesky highlights that customers aren't purchasing the website or app; they're investing in an experience, a sense of belonging. This recognition led AiBnB to focus not just on the online aspects of their service but also the offline, tangible elements.

Crafting Unique Experiences on Scale

Chesky and Reid Hoffman delve into the notion of scalability of experiences. The consensus? To truly scale, one must first focus on things that don't scale. It's about understanding customers, serving them individually, and ensuring they adore your product.

Chesky's words resonate: “It's really hard to get even 10 people to love anything. But it's not hard if you spend a ton of time with them."

Hoffman echoes this sentiment: “If you're not getting passionate, detailed feedback from some of your users, you're off track."

The Big Takeaway

Companies must hand-serve their customers, winning them over one by one. While global ambitions often lead entrepreneurs to prioritize scale, genuine success lies in designing with empathy, understanding customers deeply, and continuously reimagining experiences. As Chesky suggests, it's about finding that sweet spot between ordinary and extraordinary, crafting an experience that feels like magic yet remains attainable.

Final Thoughts

The 7-Star Customer Experience is not just a standard; it's a mindset. It challenges businesses to look beyond the obvious, to dream bigger, and to relentlessly pursue excellence. As we move into an era where customer experience is the ultimate differentiator, businesses must rise to the challenge, crafting experiences that are not just memorable but truly transformative.

For those eager to delve deeper into this philosophy, resources like Brian Chesky's Stanford lecture and insights from Masters of Scale offer invaluable perspectives.

What is a Dream Customer Profile?

It's a hypothetical profile of an ideal customer, not based solely on current market realities but on potential future scenarios, desires, and needs.

How do I start crafting a 7-Star experience?

Begin by understanding your current best customers deeply. Then, challenge every norm, assumption, and constraint in your industry. Dream big, test rigorously, and always prioritize the customer's perspective.

Is this approach only for startups or new industries?

No. While startups might find it easier to adopt unconventional approaches, established businesses can and should challenge the status quo to stay relevant and innovative.

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