• Drew Burdick
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Orchestrating great experiences at all altitudes

An exploration into the four primary altitudes and how leaders miss the mark on customer experience.


Welcome to the 2nd edition of the Building Great Experiences newsletter! Each week I'll be sharing thoughts on the continued evolution of great human-centered experiences, how companies are innovating, ideas to improve the experience for customers and employees, and interviews with other leaders.

The four altitudes of experience

Last week I shared thoughts on what a “great experience” really means and mentioned four altitudes of experience:

  • Product — The lowest altitude. It includes the physical or digital product(s) that a customer or employee can interact with.

  • Service — A service experience that spans multiple touch points and potentially cuts across multiple products.

  • Brand — The cumulative brand experience of all touch points a company has with a customer including products, services, sales, operations, marketing channels, etc. The sum of all the different ways a customer can directly engage with your brand.

  • Ecosystem — The highest altitude. This typically looks like experiences that cut across the products and services of multiple brands.

Orchestrating across altitudes to create greater impact

Often leaders within companies of all sizes only look at one or two altitudes of their customer’s experience. They might be thinking about how to improve the user experience of an app or how to streamline customer service. They might be thinking about how to improve marketing performance across channels. They might be looking at customer feedback or analytics data to understand customer engagement within their ecosystem. More sophisticated companies may even have a Customer Data Platform (CDP) and a dashboard showing a 360° view of their customer.

BUT… many times these leaders are only looking at the altitude that their function, team, or department is accountable for. This myopic and siloed view causes them to miss the bigger picture, and the organization fails to deliver a coherent and impactful experience across all altitudes.

I’ve seen this happen so many times. Leaders will invest a ton of resources at a single altitude that leads to marginal gains and misses the bigger opportunity.

A quick illustration

Let’s pretend there’s a mid-sized company called Acme Corp that sells quality anvils. Acme partners closely with Loony Inc, which sells a variety of hammers that pair nicely with their anvils. Acme has the usual functions/departments:

  • Research & Development (R&D) – Develop cutting edge ideas to improve and expand their anvil product offering.

  • Manufacturing, Logistics, & Supply Chain – Source materials and oversee production to ensure the highest quality anvils are made.

  • Product, Design, & IT – Design, build & improve the online anvil shopping experience.

  • Sales – Sell anvils direct to customers and help select the best anvil to address their needs. Also support partnership with Loony Inc to drive referral business.

  • Customer Service & Operations – Manage customer complaints, returns, and order management

  • Marketing – Develop campaigns to drive brand awareness and engagement.

  • HR – Develop learning programs to enhance employee capabilities.  

Everyday Acme’s employees focus on their area of accountability/responsibility. Some develop new anvil products. Some produce anvils. Some sell anvils. Some work on the website. Some fulfill orders and respond to customer feedback. Some create marketing campaigns. Some provide training to help employees create a great customer experience. BUT… no one is looking at how all of this comes together cohesively across altitudes.

Maybe the teams working on the website and marketing are working together. They might talk to a couple customers and gather some insight that anvils are being used by blacksmiths. They decide to launch a campaign across all ads, social media, and their website that’s targeted to blacksmiths. BUT… they never talk to the folks on the ground selling anvils. If they had they would have learned that there is also a large segment of customers who are buying anvils to help catch roadrunners. Missed opportunity.

They also would have learned that the sales team recently launched a referral program with Loony Inc aimed at blacksmiths that should have been included in their campaign messaging. Missed opportunity.

Maybe HR is working on a training program for customer service that’s focused on order management, and neglects to let employees know of a new anvil product that R&D has been working on which is rolling out in the next 30 days. Missed opportunity.


Leaders need to take the blinders off and be able to move up and down in altitude to ensure that the investments they’re making will drive the greatest value/impact for their customers. They need to understand the upstream and downstream effects of their decisions. They need to ensure the organization is aware of (and is addressing) the bigger, more impactful issues. They need to develop strategies that drive customer acquisition, cultivate engagement/loyalty, and ensure retention/adoption at all altitudes of the experience. They need to understand how easy or hard it is for their customers to move seamlessly between their brand and other partner brands. Regardless of the altitude, customers should understand the value of an organization’s brand, partnerships, products, and services and easily get what they need.

There’s a lot to consider when designing a great customer experience. It takes deeply understanding how customers are engaging at each altitude, developing focused strategies to create coherence and value, having a lot of intentionality, and testing often. In the coming weeks I’ll share some thoughts on how to approach each altitude of experience and elaborate on ways to move the needle at each level.

Top weekly links

Each week I’m going to share a few things I’ve found, been pondering, or using. This week I’ve got a couple interesting tools, a nifty web experience, and a compelling article.

  • Claude 3.5 Sonnet — Anthropic dropped Claude 3.5 Sonnet this week with some great demos. I’ve been experimenting with it and so far, it seems comparable to GPT 4o.

  • Bubble.io — A solid no-code platform. It’ll be interesting to see watch what non-developers make with tools like this in the months ahead.

  • Runway Financial — This is one of the coolest websites I’ve seen recently. Very creative navigation and interaction patterns.

  • “Customer Experience Gets Worse, Again.” — Great read that came out this week from The Wall Street Journal. TL;DR - focusing on efficiency & cutting costs may not be the right approach 😉

  • ChatGPT Cheat Sheet — A simple infographic with some helpful pre-made prompts for GPT.

  • “Have Less to Do” — Great LinkedIn post from Jason Fried (CEO, Basecamp) on how the only way to get more done, is to have less to do.

Real talk, this is the first time I’ve done a newsletter. If you have constructive feedback, I’d love to hear it! If you enjoyed it, feel free to share it with others. Also, if you’d like to meet virtually or grab coffee in Charlotte - feel free to book some time with me. I’d love to chat.

Onward & upward!