If you ask companies whether or not they deliver a great customer experience, 80 percent will answer yes. If you ask customers though, only 8 percent of companies actually deliver.

Customer experience is one of the most significant parts of a successful strategic marketing plan. It drives customer satisfaction, retention, referrals, and, ultimately, revenue. Plus, it can create a competitive advantage against your competition.

Why is there such a disconnect between the companies and customers? In customers’ experiences with a company, they deal with multiple people over an extended period of time. Each one of those interactions may well be successful. The marketing director brought in the lead, the salesperson closed the deal, and the support technician solved the problem. But research shows that a customer’s appraisal of the experience is less dependent on each of these single interactions as it is on the journey from start to finish.

If you’re only looking at individual touchpoints, you’re not going to get an accurate view of the entire picture. But before you zoom out, you need to define what the ideal customer experience looks like. It should account for both the customer experience and the proficiency of your business. It’s a balancing act to be sure, but you shouldn’t prioritize proficiency at the expense of the customer. Exceptional customer experience will pay dividends; cutting costs won’t.

After you’ve defined the ideal customer experience, map it out thoroughly. Detail every step. This will not only help guide your employees, but it’ll expose problematic junctions, like that moment when the customer is transferred to the next level of technical support but has to explain the entire situation again. We’ve all been there and it’s always annoying. More importantly, it detracts from the customer experience.

In mapping out the customer experience, it helps to actually talk with customers. Learn firsthand what your customers expect and work to exceed those expectations. If you can consistently exceed expectations, you’ll have loyal customers who are advocates for your brand, and that’s some of the best marketing you’ll ever get.