The Theory and Practice of Customer Delight in a Nutshell

Imagine that you are a partner in a professional services firm in an industry that had been completely decimated over the past few years – say, technology consulting. There’s overcapacity across the board, offshore firms are driving a pricing doom loop, and customers are increasingly choosing to do more themselves (because they have to Do More With Less – see previous post). You’ve hung on by your fingernails for 3 years, but it’s beginning to dawn on you that things will never be the same again. How will you survive? You’ve always traded on having great ability to execute, but that’s not going to be enough – at least not enough to support your current lifestyle. You need to be able to make the experience of working with your firm more valuable than working with other firms. You need to not only satisfy your clients, you need to delight them.

Is there a way to systematically build delight into everything you do for your clients? The answer, of course, is yes.

The key to successfully implementing this kind of program is to first understand the theory of customer delight. There are many great sources of information on the subject, but perhaps the most insightful one on the theory of customer delight is a book entitled The Customer Delight Principle, written by Tim Keiningham and Terry Vavra. One of their key insights is that a customer experience consists of a number of factors, which fall into two categories:
 Satisfaction-Maintaining
 Delight-Creating

Satisfaction-Maintaining characteristics are the ones for which there is an accepted standard of performance. A good example is order correctness at a fast food restaurant. The restaurateur can only get your order 100% correct, which – for most fast food chains – is the excepted norm. You cannot create customer delight by giving them what they asked for. BUT, if you give them something different than what they asked for, they will be less than satisfied. There is no limit to how bad the experience can be, but there is an upper limit. There is no additional economic return in improving performance of satisfaction maintaining characteristics once the expected norm (rest practices?) standards have been met.

Delight-Creating characteristics are exactly the opposite. They have absolutely no downside, and unlimited upside. How can that be?

Surprise! The answer is not in this sentence, but in the previous one.

Delight can only occur in the absence of expectation, or in bridging the gap between expectation and aspiration. In the latter case, expectation has been set by vendors, but doesn’t reflect the desires of customers. Think “Department of Motor Vehicles”, “IRS Audit”, or “Prostate Exam”. All could create the impression of delight by the mere absence of frustration or humiliation. For most businesses it’s not that easy. Your customers need more than “Hey, that wasn’t a complete nightmare!”

Another key finding is the relationship between the two types of experience factors. Delight-creating factors are useless unless 100% of the satisfaction-maintaining ones are up to par. Predictable delivery of satisfaction is a prerequisite to the possibility of delight.

The final key piece of delight theory is that delight-creating factors inevitably decay into satisfaction-maintaining factors, because the surprise element becomes a new expectation. This means that customer-value-delivering processes must constantly be improved to add new delight-creating elements.

Okay, you say. The theory is nice, but how exactly do I go about designing and maintaining delight-creating processes? One good methodology for analyzing processes and brainstorming delight-creating factors is the Customer Focus Process outlined in the book The Wow Factory. The author, Paul Levesque, lays out a complete program for running focused brainstorming sessions to build delight into any customer facing process. Taking incredible license to abbreviate, here is the gist of the process:

1. Define Customer Categories
- What different categories of customers do we do business with?
- What kind of unique expectations do [customers of a particular category]
have when they do business with us?
2. Map the Current Customer Experience
- What are the various steps our customers typically go through as part of
[this particular type of transaction]?
3. Now Design In Delight, using the following Customer Focus Principles:
- CFP1: Exceed customer expectations every step of the way
- What can be done in each step of the process to
exceed our customers’ expectations?
- CFP2: Make the customer feel important
- What can be done in each step of the process to make the customer feel important?
- CFP3: Tailor the experience for this customer
- For each unique customer expectation identified in part 1: what could be done to address this particular expectation for this particular category of customer, AND
- What could be done to insure [this particular category of customer] recognizes we’ve [addressed this particular expectation] with them in mind?

Do es this process sound vaguely familiar? Have you read!Tom!Peters! !WOW! Project 50?! (Gotta have the appropriate number of exclamation points!!!) If you follow the process described above when starting a new project, you will design !WOW! into your project.

Don’t trust your team to be able to design in !WOW! by themselves? Want to have your customers do the !WOW! design work for you? Then pick up a copy of Creating Customer Evangelists.

The principles espoused by each book align as if they were iron bars hit with a hammer while pointing North. Creating customer delight is science, not magic.

posted by Mike at 4:13 PM 5 comments