Small details that make big differences: A radical approach to consumption experience as a firm's differentiating strategy

Ruth Bolton, Anders Gustafsson, Janet McColl-Kennedy, Nancy J. Sirianni, David K. Tse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


Purpose: Service organizations and marketers have focussed too much of their energy on their core service's performance and too little emphasis on designing a customer journey that enhances the entire customer experience. There is nothing wrong with firms seeking continuous improvement in service quality and customer satisfaction. These efforts are needed for firms to be competitive in the marketplace. The problem occurs when performance levels and service offerings become too similar within an industry, so that price is the only competitive weapon that remains. The purpose of this paper is to argue that in order to break this deadlock, companies need to focus on the small details that make big differences to customers. Design/methodology/approach: The paper builds on interviews with executives in successful service organizations. It provides an analysis of differentiation strategies in diverse service organizations across consumption contexts, nations and cultures around the world. Findings: The paper develops three research propositions and argues for radical approaches to help service organizations truly understand customers and provide service experiences that engage and delight them. The paper argues that the new challenge for marketing is to help companies find and implement these small details to make a large impact on the overall customer experience. Originality/value: In order to truly understand the customer experience, the paper need a holistic view of all interactions customers have with a company. The paper need to understand the customer-firm interactions at all touch points, that is, during search, purchase, consumption and post-consumption. Customer experience involves the customers' cognitive, affective, emotional, social and sensory responses to the firm. The originality of this research lies in the focus on the small details that make a difference to customers during the service process rather than in the final outcome of the service performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-274
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Customer behavior
  • Customer requirements
  • Experience
  • Service delivery system
  • Service encounter
  • Service innovation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management


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