The financial crisis has been with us since 2008, followed by a tepid recovery. You would expect businesses to focus on delivering excellent customer service experiences and overdeliver on every level.

Surprisingly, even though customers value excellence, and even though companies are committed to delivering it, we’re still subjecting each other to excruciating mediocrity.

Why is that?

Great service is not delivered on pure attitude or willingness to please. Great service is part of the business design. Businesses make strategic tradeoffs to deliver a reliable, superior experience:

JetBlue: Low prices, no transfer to other airlines, no business class, no lounges, no special service. In exchange, customers get low prices, one bag for free and convenient locations out of the mega-airports.

iPad: The iPad has no USB, it’s hard to create any content on it, multi-tasking is almost impossible but it’s a great device to consume media, get sucked into the app world or use it as a presentation tool.

My favorite coffeeshop: The coffee is mediocre, the seating is limited and uncomfortable, the Wifi spotty. Still, their kid’s area is superb, a lot of other parents show up on the weekend, they remember my order and have it ready within a minute and everybody is very friendly.

Successful businesses make these choices by design. They know they can’t be good at everything but need to be superb at something, while, at the same time, be bad at other things. For that to work, companies need to deeply understand their customers and design a business that delivers on the most important values of their customers.

I can live with mediocre coffee as long as my kid plays happily for an hour and I can catch up on my Instapaper during that time.

I can live without special service offerings from JetBlue as long as they get me to m destination without any frills and paying for the first bag.

We don’t want to buy from brands that can do everything fairly well. We want to buy from companies that do something exceptionally well and other things exceptionally bad.