What does it mean to delight customers? It means not just meeting customer expectations, but exceeding them. It means creating surprise and a positive emotional reaction that drives favorable word of mouth, especially in social media. That’s hard work and sets a pretty high bar!

In fact, some researchers argue that the bar of customer delight is too high. In “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” in the Harvard Business Review, the authors argue that most companies get a bigger bang out of focusing on meeting expectations, while companies that focus on delighting customers often spend resources and effort without commensurate increases in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

On the other hand, and more intuitively, many companies would take umbrage with that finding as their business models themselves create delighted customers leading to great business success:

  • Starbucks has raving fans: the average customer visits 18 times a month, and 10% visit twice a day.
  • Wegman’s grocery stores as a shopping and eating destination are so popular that other cities are clamoring to have them enter their markets – partly in response to consumer petitions.
  • Companies such as Warby Parker and Zappos have made their easy return policies an important point of differentiation that supports their online business models.
  • For every sale, Tom’s Shoes and Bombas donate one pair of shoes or socks to people in need.

Don’t just meet expectations – exceed them.

While these are great examples and great companies, most companies do not have the good fortune of having a business model that in and of itself delights its customers. Therefore, most companies must work tirelessly to find innovations that will exceed their customers’ expectations – truly executing on customer delight.

This is difficult work.

But … your marketing research and insights team can and should help!

RTi often recommends a research technique called Benefit Hierarchy – a distinctive method specifically designed to separate out features or benefits that could become delighters. The magic is the method’s unique scaling which feeds into an analytic algorithm built solely to illuminate the difference between the expected and the delighter.

Benefit Hierarchy was developed as a remedy to overly simplistic rating or ranking methods that are regularly applied to solve for these hidden delighters. Those traditional methods, often based on attribute importance or appeal, rarely provide the discriminating power needed to identify the true difference makers.

We also urge our clients that as part of their innovation work, they institute a program that continuously studies the market as well as their customers’ expectations to help stay ahead of the curve and find new ways to provide delight. Today’s “delighter” will be tomorrow’s “cost of entry”. Without a systematic and ongoing approach, companies risk being surprised when that inevitable change takes place, and worse, unprepared to introduce the next customer-delight innovation. For example…

  • Think about intermittent windshield wipers. When Ford introduced them in the 1950’s, they were true customer delighters – perhaps even an extra reason to consider buying the car. Over the subsequent 30-40 years, intermittent wipers became a feature that consumers sought, but many would still consider purchasing a car without them. Can you imagine purchasing a car now without intermittent wipers?
  • A more recent and much faster moving example is the iPhone (and the broader smartphone market). Consider the many innovative features and benefits that customers clamored for when the iPhone was launched. Those delighters helped the iPhone completely blow away its competition at the time. But just 10 years later, virtually every one of those features and benefits has become “cost of entry” for any smartphone.

Markets change. Customers change. Smart marketers and their companies must have plans and programs in place to ensure they see those changes coming far enough in advance to make them opportunities, not roadblocks to capture customer delight.