Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog. Check out my latest post on the Salesforce blog, "5 Signs Your Customer Service Survey is Missing the Point."
In the world of customer service, a lot of attention is given to the concept of customer delight. There are books written about it and training classes offered on how to do it. Influential customer service experts tell us we’ve failed if we don’t delight every customer every time.
Legendary tales are breathlessly retold around the customer service campfire. Did you hear this one? A store once gave a customer a refund on a set of tires despite the fact that the store didn’t even SELL tires.
There are also valid arguments against trying to delight everyone. Giving one customer a refund on set of tires you don’t sell is the stuff of legend, but you’ll go bankrupt if you do it for everyone. Something that delights one customer may annoy another. What delights a customer today may simply satisfy that same customer tomorrow as they become accustomed to a new level of service.
So, is customer delight truly a business imperative? Or, is focusing on customer satisfaction enough?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. Delight and satisfaction actually co-exist quite nicely. In fact, they need each other.
Satisfaction and delight defined
Customers’ perceptions of service are based on how the experience matches their expectations:
- Satisfactory service occurs when expectations are met
- Delight occurs when service exceeds expectations
- A service failure occurs when service falls short of expectations
The rub is that we only really notice experiences that are different than what we expected.
Imagine you walk into a room and flip the light switch. You expect the lights to turn on. That’s exactly what happens 99% of the time, so you hardly pay any notice when they do. Satisfactory service is a lot like that.
What if something different happens?
You’d be sure to notice if the lights came on to reveal a room full of people shouting, “Surprise!” A surprise party would be an unexpected delight.
Delight is great, failure is bad, but most of the time the lights just come on as expected and you go about your business.
Customer service is the same way. We get satisfactory service most of the time but we don’t really notice it because that’s what we expected. The delight and failure outliers are what we notice and remember.
Why we need satisfaction AND delight
Our tendency to only notice the unusual plays an important role in customers’ perceptions of service. If a customer has four satisfactory service experiences with your company and one delightful one, their overall perception will be heavily influenced by the delightful encounter.
Imagine a frequent flyer who settles into a comfortable routine with her preferred airline. The flights are generally on time, the flight attendants are friendly, and her elite status provides a few extra perks that make travel easier. One day, a severe storm cancels all departing flights and the traveler must wait until the next day to fly home. While other passengers scramble for accommodations, an airline employee seizes the opportunity to be a hero and books the frequent traveler in a nice hotel room at no charge.
These hero moments don’t happen every day, but they’re the experiences that are remembered.
It’s impractical to create hero moments like this all the time. It’s also not necessary. Providing satisfactory service most of the time and delightful service in the right moment is often enough to make your service stand out.
Companies that seize these hero moments benefit from another quirk of human perception called "confirmation bias." When people have a strongly held belief, they’ll selectively filter information based on whether or not it supports that belief.
If the frequent traveler pledges her unwavering allegiance to her favorite airline after they put her up in a hotel, she’ll unconsciously find herself biased by this experience. Good travel experiences become further proof in her mind that the airline is great. An occasional poor experience is dismissed as an anomaly and quickly forgiven.
The opportunity and danger of service failures
Strangely, service failures also represent an opportunity to delight customers. Service failures can and will happen in every company, but what happens next separates the great organizations from the rest.
By definition, a service failure is an experience that falls short of a customer’s expectations. This puts the customer at a crossroads. The service failure is amplified if the company fails to fix the problem. It might even negate the impact of previous satisfactory experiences and cause the customer to dwell on the one service failure. The customer can develop confirmation bias where they expect the company to provide poor service and selectively filter information based on whether it supports their opinion.
But, what happens if someone seizes the hero moment and quickly fixes the problem with style and grace? Now, the feeling of delight is amplified because the customer started out feeling so poorly.
Note: This wasn't mentioned in my original post, but it's worth mentioning that Jenny Dempsey provided an outstanding example of the impact a negative experience can have in a recent post she wrote for the Communicate Better Blog. Up until a recent service failure, her opinion of a certain airline was very positive. Now, she's a bit concerned about future experiences.
Start with consistency
If you want to delight your customers, start by being consistently good. Fix chronic problems. Get the basics right every time.
Do this well and your hero moments will stand out and delight your customers.