Redefining Customer Delight

The concept of delighting customers has many advocates among marketing experts. Going above and beyond what customers expect is viewed as a way to make customers happy and build loyalty. After all, who would not occasionally want a free product upgrade? Free shipping? A refund when a unsatisfactory experience is delivered? Delighting customers seems like a breath of fresh air and a basis for differentiating a brand.

Customer delight comes at a cost to the firm (see free product upgrades, free shipping, and refunds). The question that must be asked rather than assuming an answer is do efforts to delight customers lead to greater brand loyalty? The answer is “maybe,” but there may be an easier, more cost effective way to develop loyalty. According to findings from research by the Executive Board, the emphasis on delivering a “wow” customer service experience may miss the mark in building long-term relationships.

An immediate reaction to this assertion is “how can this be?” We have been led to believe that giving customers the unexpected is good; our challenge is to figure out how to move customers from satisfaction to delight. The shift called for in the Executive Board report is that the focus of customer service should be how to reduce the effort required by customers to solve the problem they have. If you desired to quench thirst with a glass of water and were given a gallon of water instead, you would no longer be thirsty but you received something that will not deliver utility.

The Executive Board has developed the Customer Effort Score (CES) to measure customer service performance. It consists of a single question; “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” It is scored on a five-point scale with anchors of “very low effort” and “very high effort.” The CES was a better predictor of customer satisfaction and even the highly touted Net Promoter Score. In short, it appears that the easier marketers make it for customers to do business with them, the more loyalty customers will show.

This research was conducted in the context of call centers and self-service contact channels on websites. Does delight via reducing effort apply in all situations? Or, is there still room for creating customer delight by going the extra mile? According to the Executive Board’s research, going the extra mile will only make you tired! The thought of simplifying interactions with companies with which we do business does conjure images of delight.

Harvard Business Review - "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers"

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