Customer experience is top of mind for brands today and for good reason: consumer expectations have never been higher.

Not only do consumers demand quality products and services, they expect that the processes by which they acquire them will be high-quality as well.

But there’s a difference between the kind of smooth, satisfying customer experiences customers increasingly expect nothing less than and the kind of amazing experiences that customers will never forget. When it comes to attempting to create the latter, companies can use ACE — access, customization and exclusivity.

Access

Powerful experiences can be created by giving customers access to something that is special. For example, a growing number of retailers give certain customers early access to sales and limited edition items. Nike’s NikePlus program gives members the opportunity to purchase products that are not available to non-members. Members of Adidas’ Creators Club are given the ability to purchase certain products before non-members. And members of Nordstrom’s Nordy Club can gain access to member-only workshops and “First to Shop” rights for select brands.

More often than not, access-based experiences are made available to select customers only and it’s important for brands to be thoughtful in how they target their customers. Access gates based on loyalty scheme membership and status are very common, as Nike, Adidas and Nordstrom demonstrate, but companies can also target customers by geography, behavioral and/or demographic factors, customer lifetime value (CLV) and contests.

Access to products and real-world experiences that are in limited supply and/or unavailable to the general public have great potential to wow customers, for obvious reasons. But when using access to create memorable customer experiences, it’s important for brands to execute well because access related hiccups also have the potential to cause a lot more customer agitation.

Upscale retailer Nordstom, for instance, faced backlash over problems associated with an early access scheme for its most recent Anniversary Sale, highlighting the fact that when customers believe they’re receiving something special but can’t take advantage, the negative emotions created can be far more intense.

Customization

Allowing customers to create something customized is a great way to make them feel special. When services are customized, the customer receives a unique experience that no other customer will have. When products are customized, the customer is left with a physical memory.

Entire companies have been built around customization. Take Build-a-Bear Workshop. As the American retailer’s name alludes to, it offers an experience through which customers can build their own teddy bears and stuffed animals. At each Build-a-Bear Workshop store or popup, a Bear Builder employee walks customers through a seven-step customization process, which includes selecting the teddy bear or stuffed animal, dressing it, and accessorizing it. At the end, the customer leaves the store with a new friend all their own and a birth certificate for their friend.

While what results from customization is obviously very important, Build-a-Bear Workshop’s process is a reminder that brands should think about the entire customization lifecycle. For physical products, for instance, the quality of the process by which the customer selects customizations is just as important part of the experience as the product that results from it.

Exclusivity

Inviting customers to a “party” that others aren’t invited to can be the foundation of especially memorable experiences, especially in today’s social media obsessed world where demonstrating the ability to get invited to such parties means a lot to many individuals.

A good example of the use of exclusivity can be seen with American Express. The financial service giant’s Global Dining Collection service is available only to holders of its Platinum and Centurion cards and gives them special access to reservations at top restaurants around the world, as well as access to special dining events and experiences such as kitchen tours.

Amex’s Global Dining Collection is also a good example of how exclusivity and access are often a match made in customer experience heaven. By giving a limited number of select customers access to something special, it can significantly boost the perceived value of the experience in customers’ eyes, and help boost customer retention and loyalty at the same time.