To delight a customer is to surprise her by exceeding her expectations. This surprise creates a positive emotional reaction leading to word-of-mouth. It’s the unpaid form of promotion in which delighted customers tell other people how much they like a brand or a product. The form of promotion adored by marketers. In a world of informed customers, 92% of customers consider word-of-mouth as the most reliable source of information. Only, from a customer’s perspective, word-of-mouth stands for the voiced opinions of other customers, be they good or bad. Customer Delight has three objectives. The first is to make customers loyal, the second is to have more profitable customers, and the third is to invoke word-of-mouth. Customer Delight can be created by the product itself and by interaction at the frontline. In my opinion, the interaction is a crucial and inseparable part of the product. I consider a product as the result of a making process and therefore do not distinguish between a ‘tangible product’ and an ‘intangible service’. In marketing courses we’re traditionally taught that a product has 3 levels. I’m convinced there are 4 levels, as the graph below illustrates.
Figure 1: The 4 Levels of a Product
The interaction component of the product is the greatest source of opportunities and threats. During contacts with touchpoints in a company, the relationship between the customer and the brand gets partially build and reinforced, or flat-out destroyed. However, a narrow focus on maximizing customer delight at the touchpoints can create a distorted picture, suggesting that customers are happier than they actually are. The entire experience along the customer journey needs to be skillfully managed. Interaction at the frontline is every brand’s Achilles’ heel. Don’t depend on staff to trigger word-of-mouth by delivering exceptional customer experience. Customers know service comes from an individual. There’s no guarantee that the friend you refer to a company will receive the same exceptional service you experienced. Physical, nonverbal statements are the most dependable in triggering word-of-mouth.
The primary goal of delighting customers to make them loyal suggests there’s a difference between a satisfied and a delighted customer, and that the former is not by default loyal. In fact, in a May 2015 article on Cloudcherry’s website, Prem K Viswanath states that “Customer Satisfaction is an idea of the past that finds its place in textbooks as a thing of the past. Customer Delight leads to increased lifetime value, loyalty and customer evangelization.” Many share this belief, but is this really true?
Already in 2010, this belief was challenged in the Harvard Business Review article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” The article sheds light on a study by the Customer Contact Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board, of more than 75,000 B2C and B2B customers in various industries worldwide.
In the introduction, the authors ask two simple questions: How often does someone promote a company specifically because of its exceptional service? How often do people abandon companies because of terrible service? The research revealed that people’s readiness to punish bad service outweighs the desire to reward delightful service. In fact, 25% of customers are likely to say something positive about their customer experience whereas 65% are likely to speak negatively. The reality is that for humans, bad is stronger than good. Bad experiences and bad stereotypes form quicker and are more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Bad information is processed more thoroughly than good information.
As far as customer loyalty is concerned, the prime goal of Customer Delight, the CEB study shows that loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic promises than on how amazing and wonderful the customer experience may be. The CEB research produced two critical findings:
Assuming that the more satisfied customers are, the more loyal they will be, is a false assumption. In the CEB study, 20% of the “satisfied” customers said they intended to leave the company in question and 28% of the “dissatisfied” customers intended to stay. Something other than satisfaction must drive loyalty.
Again, the interaction component is the Achilles’ heel: customers are four times more likely to leave a [service] interaction disloyal than loyal. In my view, every interaction between a customer and a brand represents a service. Service failures not only drive existing customers away; they also repel prospective ones. According to a study commissioned by Zendesk in 2013, a stunning 95% of respondents stated that they share a bad experience with others. 45% shared that bad story with more than 5 others. It’s no secret that customer increasingly share stories about their experiences online. Also according to Zendesk, 87% of respondents share positive experiences with others, and 33% of them share these positive stories with more than 5 others. Still, bad is stronger than good. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs revealed that for every customer who bothers to complain, nearly 26 other remain silent. Silent with the company that is. These silent customers leave the company without warning.
If Customer Delight does not build loyalty, then what does?
It’s hard to put a figure on how much a loyal customer is worth. But, it is generally accepted that it costs 5 to 7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. Loyal customers buy more, pay more, promote more. So building a base of loyal customers makes sense. However, research shows that loyalty is in decline. Connected, informed customers are considering more brands and switch suppliers more frequently than ever before.
More sales, more revenue, more referrals, etc. express a company’s view, not a customer’s. There is a disconnect between customers and marketers. A Kitewheel report revealed that “nearly three-quarters of consumers (73 percent) believe that loyalty programs should be a way for brands to show consumers how loyal they are to them as a customer; but two-thirds (66 percent) of marketers still see it the other way around.”
Today’s customers expect loyalty to go both ways, as it should. Why not, as Mark Bonchek suggests in his HBR article “Why Customer Gratitude Trumps Loyalty”, reward shoppers who don’t spend a lot but are active on social media as brand advocates? Reciprocity is the key ingredient in loyalty, and both reciprocity and loyalty require a relationship.
But do customers want to have a relationship with a brand?As it turns out, the vast majority doesn’t. Typically, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues. In a study involving more than 7,000 consumers in the USA, the UK, and Australia, only 23% of customers said they have a relationship with a brand. 77% don’t.
Yet, of those customers who said they had a strong brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the main reason. A mere 13% said regular interactions with the brand was a reason for having a relationship. This seems to concur with the fact that exceeding customer expectations during interactions only marginally contributes to more loyalty.
Loyalty is about emotion and repeat business is the resulting behavior. The emotional response that is most likely to drive loyalty is gratitude, as Mark Bonchek writes. The Cambridge Dictionary defines gratitude as: “a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you.” Gratitude is reciprocal, it involves emotion and behavior.
Delighting customers by exceeding their expectations, or giving gifts and doing nice things for customers work in the short term. Yet, it conditions customers and they can easily be wowed by another brand with nicer gifts. What does lead to sustained gratitude is a shared purpose with your customers, and to help them share that purpose with others. In fact, co-creation with your customers is the strongest loyalty driver. Combine that with frictionless, effort-poor resolution of customer problems and loyalty is reinforced.
 "Global Consumers' Trust in 'Earned' Advertising Grows in Importance". Nielsen. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
 Interaction at the frontline: every interaction with a customer
 “The Truth About Customer Experience”. Alex Rawson, Ewan Duncan, and Conor Jones. HBR Sep, 2013.
 “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”. Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman. HBR Jul-Aug, 2010.
 CEB is now Gartner.
 “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”. Roy F. Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer, Kathleen D. Vos. Review of General Psychology 2001. Vol. 5. No. 4. 323-370
 “Why Customer Gratitude Trumps Loyalty”. Mark Bonchek. HBR Oct, 2015.
 “The State of the Customer Journey Report 2014”. Kitewheel. https://kitewheel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Journey-Final.pdf