I read somewhere that handshakes were originally invented as a way for two people to approach each other and show that neither was holding a weapon. In only a few months, confronted by the realities of a virus, that age-old ritual has come to an end. It is now replaced by the rather odd elbow bump, foot shake or the contact free head nod.
The point is that humans are designed to consistently evolve. When confronted with sufficient evidence, we know to leave certain practices and norms behind. So why does surprising and delighting customers remain so popular?
The idea that companies must delight their customers has become so mainstream that many managers and small business owners will be quick to tell you that delighting customers is at the cornerstone of their business and will have walls full of customer reviews and feedback to back this up. This is hardly surprising. Conventional wisdom dictates that consumers are more loyal to the businesses that go above and beyond to exceed customer expectations. As a result of this, brands bending over backwards to offer refunds, extras and freebies is so embedded in the marketing world that brand custodians hardly second-guess it.
However, research done by Harvard Business Review found that despite the Herculean and costly efforts firms say they invest in delighting consumers, ‘delighted’ consumers are not more loyal than simply ‘satisfied’ customers.
One largely ignored reason for this is that consumers are much simpler than we often assume. The average consumer will buy from a company because they’re functional. Meaning that said company delivers quality products or services, at great value. Similarly, they will leave another because it fails to deliver on those services that they consider essential.
Simply put, consumers are more likely to punish bad service than they are to reward delightful service. Need proof? First, think about how many times people (even the most influential people) have called for the boycott of certain services– Netflix, H&M, certain FMCG brands, etc. Yet these companies continue to grow because they deliver on their fundamental use case. Next, think about how often you patronise a company solely on the basis of its over-the-top services? Sure, you can think of a few examples but you probably cannot come up with many.
Now think of how likely you are to cut off a company that offers you terrible service. The list is likely to be long. Whether it’s the airline that loses your luggage, your internet service provider that is consistently providing epileptic data, the vendor who doesn’t understand what “same day delivery” means or even your local dry cleaner that heard ‘ruin’ when you said ‘clean.’
What’s worse is that the thing that is ‘surprising and delighting’ today, quickly becomes mundane and expected tomorrow such that the surprise and delight approach often results in entitled customers filled with unrealistic expectations. Take the giveaway culture on social media as an example, there was a time, not so long ago where the words “I’m doing a giveaway” worked my magic– riling engagement up, attracting myriads of followers. Now it’s taken for granted and no longer serves as a differentiator.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that delighting customers is not the loyalty building block we think it is. Doing what you say you will do and reducing the amount of work they need to do to have their problems solved does. Consumer loyalty has much more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even vanilla-plain promises (helping consumers do what they want to do as quickly and easily as possible, making it simple and convenient and offering the best overall value for money) rather than on how dazzling the service experience might be.
Acting on this insight can help firms to improve customer service and lifetime value, while simultaneously reducing service costs and churn.
Translating this insight into service designs that seek to create the most convenient experience for the consumer can be liberating, not only for top line executives and business owners, but also for frontline employees. Telling employees to ‘exceed customer expectations’ is a gateway for confusion, time wastage and expensive offerings. On the other hand, providing structure and process that allows them meet your consumers fundamental expectations gives them a solid foundation for action.
N.B: In the spirit of making things quick, easy and valuable, I’m recommending that in the wake of the demise of the handshake, we collectively adopt a Covid-19 compliant form of greeting where we share a welcoming squirt of hand sanitiser.
Upvote my idea with a comment. There will be no giveaways as a reward.