Customer “Breakpoint” or Ultimate Customer Experience? - Scott McKain

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article with shocking implications: a few companies are using AI and other advanced technologies for a somewhat diabolical purpose.


Rather than leveraging these tools to enhance the customer experience, according to the August 3, 2019 story by Sharon Turlip, some organizations apply high-tech to enable teams to ascertain how long they can string a customer along without either losing their business or capitulating to their demands.


“‘Breakpoint’ is an informal term used by some companies and consultants to describe the point at which consumers quit, whether it’s canceling a subscription service, no longer buying a product or switching to a rival company,” the article states. It appears the goal of some companies is to delay and deny assistance to customers until their “breakpoint” to minimize organizational expenses.


While the story only alludes to it, this revelation highlights one of the most significant leadership challenges in many organizations: the conflict between short-term profitability and long-term success.


As I’m writing this post, I am at Disneyland in California joining the Disney Institute on a project for the world’s leading automotive company. As I strolled around the park, I saw an enormous number of inefficiencies.


  • They really didn’t need to have a “cast member” (as their employees are called) standing in front of the confectionary shop inviting people in and handing out free taffy.
  • At their daily parade, would we have really noticed if there were two fewer dancers? Probably not.
  • At every stop, they had well-trained team members who had obviously been invested in by the company to deliver exceptional service. They could have — like other organizations — cut back on the training program, saved money, and accepted inferior performance.
    • However, if they did those things to improve their short-term profit, would they still be Disney?


As I’ve spent the last several years researching what enables organizations and professionals to create distinction in their respective marketplaces, I have found that it’s impossible to stand out from your competition by relying on short-term thinking.


Distinctive organizations and professionals understand that creating and delivering the “Ultimate Customer Experience®” ensures higher lifetime client value, expanded retention, and enhanced referrals from those who do business with them.


And, as we’re moving from an economy based on transactions to one based on ongoing subscriptions, the importance of this effort becomes even more critical.


About twenty years ago, I wrote a book titled, ALL Business is Show Business. I suggested that the purpose of any — and every — business is to profitably create experiences so compelling to customers that their loyalty becomes assured.  Two decades ago, readers scoffed at the importance of customer engagement. I’d suggest that while the tools have changed — such as the aforementioned AI, for example — there’s really nothing different in terms of what creates organizational success and what customers really want.


In my latest work, ICONIC: How Organizations and Leaders Attain, Sustain, and Regain the Highest Level of Distinction, case studies display how everything from a large resort hotel to a small craft brewery, from a global mega-company to a multi-millionaire chimney sweep have leveraged this philosophy to create record profits and leading levels of retention of both customers and employees.


How do you attain the ultimate level of distinction as a professional or organization? Here are the Five Factors of ICONIC Performance:


  1. PLAY OFFENSE: Iconic organizations know their competition, but they don’t focus on them. They create a unique game plan that plays to their strengths. No customer or employee is loyal to a generic. The execution of your game plan sets you apart in a hyper-competitive marketplace.
  2. STOP SELLING: While we must close transactions to survive and thrive, iconic organizations build relationships. They never use pressure tactics or big discounts — instead, they engage to build loyal subscribers, especially in markets that have not traditionally thought in this manner.
  3. PROMISE/PERFORMANCE: Customers judge you based on only two aspects: What is the PROMISE that they perceive your organization has made to them; and, how did you PERFORM based on that promise? Iconic professionals and organizations accelerate the promise while simultaneously advancing their performance.
  4. GO NEGATIVE: Too often, we seek to placate dissatisfied customers and “make it right” — but, just as often, we don’t drill deeply enough on the problems with our processes that permitted the problem to be created in the first place. We must be confident enough to believe in “positive negativity.”
  5. RECIPROCAL RESPECT: If we want to create engaged customers, we must first display abundant respect for the diversity of today’s marketplace. Leaders must display the same level of respect for their team that they expect from them. Iconic organizations are models of reciprocal respect.


Notice something about these factors? None of them would consider “customer breakpoint” as a smart or ethical approach to business. All of them would view aspects such as customer loyalty and employee engagement as vital to their organizational culture.


Every time I’ve worked with Disney, they’ve made a point of being upfront about the fact they don’t always get it right. (None of us do — we’re all human.) However, because they sweat the details to deliver an experience that ensures customer retention and referrals, their long-term success has been extraordinary.


Disney says the gradual overall decline in customer service creates a significant opportunity for experience-based differentiation. While the tools have advanced, nothing has really changed. Customers — and employees — want to repeat the ultimate experiences. Are you delivering that to YOUR customers? Or, are you focused on taking them to their breakpoint?


When you execute on these Five Factors of Iconic Performance, you move from being perceived as similar to your competition to becoming so distinctive that you are viewed as an ICONIC professional or organization.


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McKain is the author of 7 Tenets of Taxi TeriIconic, and Create Distinction. To order copies in bulk for your event, please visit


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