Impact Learning Systems


To Delight or Not to Delight. That is the Question! Peggy Carlaw

I'm sure by now most of you have seen the arti­cle, "Stop Try­ing to Delight Your Cus­tomers" in the July-August issue of the Har­vard Busi­ness Review (pp. 116–122 if you read it the old-fashioned way). In the arti­cle, Dixon, et. al., report on their 3-year sur­vey of more than 75,000 B2C and B2B cus­tomers about their recent ser­vice inter­ac­tions with live agents and self-service con­tact cen­ter applications.

To pro­vide a quick sum­mary of a very thought-provoking arti­cle, their study found lit­tle cor­re­la­tion between the cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion score, which orga­ni­za­tions have tra­di­tion­ally used to mea­sure how good a job they're doing, and cus­tomer loy­alty. They found that exceed­ing cus­tomer expec­ta­tions by offer­ing a refund, a free prod­uct, or a free ser­vice makes cus­tomers only mar­gin­ally more loyal than sim­ply meet­ing their needs. They state, "…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."

I don't know about you, but my expec­ta­tions for ser­vice are pretty min­i­mal these days. If I can have an inter­ac­tion with some­one who can under­stand what my issue is and solve my prob­lem, I'm pretty happy—delighted actu­ally! I don't need a free refund, a free prod­uct, or free shipping.

OK…maybe I do need free ship­ping, par­tic­u­larly if I'm return­ing a pair of too-tight shoes to Zap­pos. Turn now to page 41 in the same issue or read online. The title? "Zappos's CEO on Going to Extremes for Cus­tomers." Wait! Should we go to extremes for cus­tomers? Should we stop try­ing to delight them? Is the Har­vard Busi­ness Review bipo­lar? There's a lot that Tony Hsieh has to say about achiev­ing excep­tional ser­vice that I agree with—like mak­ing cus­tomer ser­vice a pri­or­ity for the whole com­pany, not just a depart­ment, and offer­ing free ship­ping both ways to make trans­ac­tions risk free and easy. That's what I would expect from a com­pany I wanted to do busi­ness with. On the other hand, doing a sur­prise overnight ship­ment for loyal repeat cus­tomers who chose free ground-shipping would not make me a more loyal cus­tomer, nor would find­ing me five local pizza deliv­ery places in Santa Mon­ica as men­tioned was done for a Zap­pos cus­tomer. Nice touch, but those above-and-beyond things will not make me a loyal cus­tomer. The strat­egy does seem to be work­ing for Zap­pos, though, as they've gone from 1.6 mil­lion gross rev­enue in 2000 to over 1 bil­lion in 2010.

Com­ing back to the first arti­cle, the authors found that delight­ing cus­tomers doesn't build loy­alty; reduc­ing their effort—the work they must do to get their prob­lem solved—does. As a result, they devel­oped (and trade­marked) a new met­ric: the Cus­tomer Effort Score™ mea­sured on a scale of 1–5 by ask­ing, "How much effort did you per­son­ally have to put forth to han­dle your request." The idea is that com­pa­nies cre­ate loyal cus­tomers by help­ing them solve their prob­lems quickly and easily.

As some­one who has spent the last 15+ years help­ing busi­nesses improve their cus­tomer ser­vice, I must say that I love the thought behind this newly-coined Cus­tomer Effort Score™. Too many com­pa­nies try to "delight" cus­tomers with­out first tend­ing to the basics. If you really want to delight cus­tomers, you need to start with the basics:

    delight pyramid To Delight or Not to Delight. That is the Question!

  1. First, define what each of your cus­tomer seg­ments expects from you in the way of cus­tomer ser­vice, then mea­sure the gap between your ser­vice offer­ing and their expec­ta­tions. I'll bet that mak­ing it easy for your cus­tomer to do busi­ness with you (mean­ing a low Cus­tomer Effort Score™) is going to be up there at the top of the list.
  2. If your com­pany isn't meet­ing expec­ta­tions, strive to do so. This involves hir­ing the right peo­ple, train­ing them in prod­uct knowl­edge and cus­tomer ser­vice skills, sup­port­ing them with the proper tech­nol­ogy, and mak­ing sure your processes are customer-friendly.
  3. Once you've met your cus­tomers' expec­ta­tions for ser­vice, you can work on exceed­ing them. This is the step where you need to be cog­nizant of any trade­offs between exceed­ing expec­ta­tions and the cost of doing so.
  4. Finally, when you're con­sis­tently exceed­ing expec­ta­tions, then and only then are you in a posi­tion to talk about going to extremes to delight customers.

Free ship­ping and sur­prise overnight deliv­ery would not be work­ing for Zap­pos if they had surly reps on the phones, were often out of stock, or fre­quently shipped the wrong prod­uct. They are able to go to extremes—profitably—because they've engi­neered their whole com­pany around the customer.

Have you defined your cus­tomers' expec­ta­tions from their van­tage point, not yours? If not, start today. Strive to meet those expec­ta­tions, make it easy to busi­ness with you, then you and your cus­tomer can both soar to the extremes of delight.

Peggy Car­law is the founder of Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, a lead­ing train­ing com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions between front-line employ­ees and cus­tomers. Peggy is co-author of sev­eral books pub­lished by McGraw-Hill, includ­ing Man­ag­ing and Moti­vat­ing Con­tact Cen­ter Employ­ees and The Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games.
3 To Delight or Not to Delight. That is the Question!
Peggy Carlaw
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  • Chris­tine Churchill

    Good morn­ing Peggy,

    I was writ­ing in hopes that you would allow me to include your arti­cle in one of our upcom­ing edi­tions of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Excel­lence (our elec­tronic mag­a­zine we send out to our members).

    Please let me know if you allow us to use your arti­cle. Thank you!

    Chris­tine Churchill
    Exec­u­tive Direc­tor
    Cus­tomer Ser­vice Insti­tute of America

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