The Problem with Delighting Our Customers

July 21, 202014min

When people talk about customer experience objectives, you often hear them expressed in terms of an overarching desire to delight the customer; to provide them with a next-level experience and exceed expectations. This is, of course, a noble aim, but is it sustainable on a day in day out basis, and if it is – will it make a difference?

In a study published in the Harvard Review (which surveyed 75,000 consumers), the results indicated that customer satisfaction had a smaller impact on customer loyalty than the amount of effort a customer had to spend interacting with a brand.

In addition, whilst 89 percent of leaders stated that their main goal was to exceed customer expectations, 84 percent of the customers surveyed said that they did not feel the companies in question had exceeded their expectations. Why then, with 9 out of 10 businesses trying to exceed expectations, were so many customers left feeling disappointed?

Let’s consider a hypothetical case study where a company – in this case an airline – decided it was time to improve their customer experience.

They looked at ways to delight their customers, (because that’s the big goal, right?) and decided that they would upgrade standard class passengers to first-class seating to fill any un-allocated first-class seats. They did so, and ten lucky standard class passengers joined the first-class section, along with ten first-class passengers. They were delighted with the unexpected upgrade and this portion of their experience exceeded their expectations. Spoiler alert: the result wasn’t what the airline hoped to achieve…

Delighting Customers – Problem no.1

On their return flight there were no spare seats so the customers were not upgraded. Having hoped that there might be an upgrade in it for them and finding it not forthcoming, the passengers started the flight feeling slightly disappointed as, unlike previously, they were now aware of what they were missing out on.

The customers sat in their standard class seat which was smaller, less comfortable and had far less legroom, next to “Gary” who fell asleep on their shoulder and snored loudly. They loved their experience on the way out and they will no doubt tell people about it. And yet… they now have a slightly sour taste in their mouth. You see, there is an unwanted side effect to their trip in first class. Their expectations for what great looks like now are higher than they would have been had they not had that first-class experience.

Next to the level of luxury on offer to them, which they got for the bargain price of a standard seat, the relative normality of standard class is less exciting. Dull even. When giving their response on whether the flights exceeded their expectations overall – they will say that they did not.

Delighting Customers – Problem no.2

The second issue with the ‘delightful’ experience the customers were given is that it is not replicable on a wider scale.

Ten out of 250 passengers were upgraded, the other 240 were not. Those not upgraded may have heard about the upgrades and felt a little disappointed. Those who originally paid to go first-class might also begrudge the fact others managed to fly in the same seats for a fraction of the price they themselves paid… you see the picture starting to build. It’s not easy to give every single customer a moment of delight.

Now, that doesn’t mean we stop trying to delight our customers at all. Aiming to be the best part of someone’s day is always a fantastic goal. All it means is that in terms of operational transformation, pinning all your hopes on ‘delighting’ all your customers with grand gestures is setting yourself up to fail.

You need to pair your wish to delight the occasional individual with a more sustainable, longer-lasting ambition that builds delight up over time. Don’t stop trying to delight, just change your definition of what that means.

This is especially critical in today’s climate. The temptation to try and do wonderful, quirky and exciting things to welcome your customers back to you after lockdown is a strong driving force. Just remember, however, that what you implement now sets the tone for the rest of the customer relationship.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of trying to delight at every opportunity, try to wow your customers with the stability and consistency they receive from you. Be a rock – a reliable constant in an otherwise uncertain world. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting (even with the word wow in there…) but consider this example – again from our hypothetical airline.

Take the same passengers and rewind the clock. Don’t upgrade them and you might not get the immediate wow factor, but this scenario instead: they get to their originally booked seat, having been greeted by a friendly and smiling member of cabin crew, who helps them tuck their luggage safely away in the overhead cabins.

They sit through a safety briefing led by an enthusiastic and entertaining member of the crew, who clearly loves their job and enjoys working with people. The captain comes onto the announcement system, wishes everyone a good morning, tells the passengers the weather is looking fantastic at their onward destination (warm but not too hot) and that the flight will be taking off on time – which should enable them to get to the beach by lunch if they so wish. He introduces himself by name, introduces the cabin crew by name and each one waves as their name is called out – friendly and reassuring – smiling in agreement when the captain says that they will be more than happy to help with anything. Just press the overhead button…

No grand gesture, no big ‘wow’ moment.

What this alternative journey does is something far cleverer. It is consistent. It is the same experience for everyone and everything happens as it should. Nothing is difficult to replicate en masse, nothing is out of the control of the crew, you have received what you paid for – what you expected – and it is, above all else, easy. It slowly starts to build confidence in the brand.

Replicate this experience time after time, and you start to get a reputation for excellence (whether you pulled out the delightful moments or not) and your loyal customer base starts to grow. When your customers think of you; they think “Wow”.

Sustainability is key. The simple equation below sums it up:

Making things easy + Inspiring confidence = Increased customer loyalty and revenue growth

So, what does that look like in reality? Here we split things into two. For more on the concept of inspiring confidence, check out our next instalment of Bill and Doug.

Top tips for making things easy

1. Customer Effort Score

What is the Customer Effort Score? It’s a way to measure just how easy or difficult it was for a customer to achieve their goal with you. It can be applied to any area of the experience, from making a purchase or a return, to reaching out to make a complaint or accessing help.

The survey usually asks the customer to rate their interaction with you on a scale from ‘Very Easy’ to ‘Very Difficult’. It’s a well-established metric, some see it as an alternative to the net promoter score, some build it in as part of their wider strategy. However you use it – switching to reviewing the customer effort score is a fantastic way to make sure you are helping your customers get through their experience with you with minimum effort.

2. Help customers in the channel they reach you through

One of the biggest factors in customer interactions where the rating comes back as difficult is having to switch channels to resolve an issue or achieve a goal. If a customer calls to change their address, change it. If a customer emails a complaint, don’t point them towards your complaint form. Be flexible in your approach and respect your customer’s time and choice. If they have called you, it’s how they want to do business with you.

3. Remove barriers

Step into your customer’s shoes and go through their journey. Journey mapping is a great way to highlight any pain points, and you can use a journey map to develop a service blueprint that helps to highlight which backend processes may be causing the customer frustration and making them go through more steps than they should to achieve their goal.

4. Don’t make them explain again!

We’ve all been there, all been passed to another agent or a supervisor. All had to call back to chase for an update to our complaint only to find ourselves explaining again, from the beginning. Don’t do that to your customers. Make sure your staff take thorough notes, and get into the habit of a detailed handover, including the issue, the steps the customer has taken so far, the key milestones and any emotional distress your customer might have felt as a result.

5. Understand how your customers want to use your service

Does your customer want to access your service on their mobile on the bus on the way home? Does your customer want to order your product from bed just before going to sleep? Understand the way your customer uses your website and make sure it’s optimised to provide an easy experience. In addition, think of the little things. If your customer does want to purchase your product late at night from the comfort of their bed, do they want to get up, go downstairs and find their wallet to pay? Or do they want to use PayPal or Apple pay in one click and then close their eyes and go to sleep? I think we all know the answer.

So there you have it – Aim to delight your customers through sustainable, consistently repeatable little touches throughout each and every customer journey, and save the big gestures for special occasions!


Check out previous instalments of Bill and Doug:

Easy as ABC: Employee Recognition and How To Do It Right


Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown is founder and Lead Consultant at Think Wow Limited, a training and consulting service offering Customer Experience strategy with a difference. Rebecca is a judge at the 2020 Complaint Handling Awards.

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