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Surprise and Delight or Forget Effortlessly: Which Is The Best Customer Experience?

Mary Drumond
09 Aug, 2018

Customer Experience is everything perceived, felt and remembered by a customer before, during and after their interaction with a company. 

Let that sink in for a second. Before. During. After. 

Now let's break it down.

The 3 Stages of The Experience

  • Before: How customers perceive the brand through content, advertising and customer reviews of products or services; how they feel throughout interaction with the location, the frontline employees, call center or other communication channels until the moment of the purchase decision. 
  • During: How they feel throughout the extent of the lifespan of an experience, a product, or as long as they subscribe to services.  This also includes interaction with the location, the frontline employees, call center or other communication channels.
  • After: How they remember you once the lifespan of the experience, product or service has run its course, or once the customer has churned. 

Truth be told, it's quite easy to deliver a poor experience to your customer. The challenging part is a) designing experiences that cause positive memorability or; b) that consistently deliver a perhaps forgettable experience that is effortless and painless. In other words, with the absence of negative memorability. But which option should we go with? 

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Note: I understand that this topic is a divider of waters and that you may feel inclined to pick a side. Let me assure you right now that there is no correct side; as in life, I have found that the answer lies in balance. 

Should We Stop Trying to Wow Customers?

If you work in or close to Customer Experience you have probably heard "Surprise and Delight" more times than you care to recall, and it seems to be on the rise. But, this now well-known article from HBR in 2010, appropriately named "Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers" proposes exactly the opposite.

It discusses firstly, how delighting your customer does not generate loyalty, and; secondly, what DOES in fact generate loyalty is an effortless experience.

Author Matt Dixon suggests removing obstacles to add ease to the experience. These obstacles should be identified through Voice of Customer surveys with disgruntled or struggling customers and monitored by Customer Effort Score (CES). Decision makers can then come up with solutions to these issues and empower their frontline employees to minimize effort.

By removing effort and creating a seamless, predictable experience, companies should be able to increase customer loyalty and reduce churn. This is because "consumers’ impulse to punish bad service is stronger than their desire to reward delightful service, and research showed that loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be." 

So, does this mean that designing experiences that peak or end positively is useless? How about all the authors, thought-leaders and futurists that have been championing it?

Designing Memorability  

Design thinking has been the direction in which most thought-leaders and influencers have been leaning. This is most probably due to psychology studies pointing to how memory works, and how we can "hack" memory through experience design. I recently addressed this in one of my previous posts entitled "Understanding How The Peak-end Rule Defines Customers’ Experiences".

The overall idea is that the human brain eliminates most memories, retaining only peaks and endings. Therefore, if we are able to stage positive peaks and endings throughout the customer journey, we can design memorability.

Involving designers in customer journey mapping has been an ongoing practice, and in the age of Experience, where every experience for every customer matters (the age of yelp and star ratings!), corporations are looking to design agencies to come up with creative solutions that increase memorability, causing their brand to stand out in commoditized industries.

This is where the idea of surprise and delight started. Think of how surprised you were the first time you walked into a DoubleTree Hotel and were welcomed by a warm cookie, or (back in the the good ol' days) when an Uber driver offered you water or a breath mint for the first time? Those were surprise and delight moments that caused amazing perceptions the first, second, and maybe even third time. But after that, not only did it become an expectation, it became an obligation. And now, if for any reason there's no cookie, what you have is negative memorability. And that's how to walk into a CX trap.

Perfect Is The Enemy Of Good

We have all heard the expression-- "Perfect is the enemy of good". It is nearly impossible to deliver perfect experiences 100% of the time; plus, that sets you up for failure. And if the customer expects perfect, but gets only "good", frustration sets in since the bar was set so high to begin with. 

Good is a lot easier to deliver consistently, and when good is predictable, perfect then becomes "surprise and delight". 

Humans are creatures of habit, and we find comfort in a frictionless routine, and this is where the consistently "OK" experience is extremely lucrative. When purchasing behavior turns into routine behavior, that translates into organic loyalty, which stems from our desire for the comfort of familiarity.

Meet Me In The Middle

However, companies that strive to provide an "OK" experience to perfection as a stand-alone goal might end up hitting a wall of boring.  

For example, to those who like me, are avid Sephora clientele, you know that a Sephora experience is not only consistently frictionless, it also surprises and delights consistently with either a copious amount of samples and goodies snuck into your shopping bag by the cashier, free make-overs, or the fact that loyalty members from ALL tiers get birthday gifts EVERY YEAR. Consistency.   

The secret to the success of your CX program lies precisely in this consistency, so a word to the wise: if you chose to stage memorability, make sure you can follow through with the expectations you have created.  

So, while over-promising, creating unattainable levels of perfection and setting expectations too high are the downfall of many an overachieving company, failing to delight at some moment of the journey takes away the competitive advantage of being memorable that you might have in a commoditized industry.

If no one remembers you exist, you fail to exist. No one is safe from disruption in the Experience Economy. Do both. 

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