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Guest Post: Keep Trying to Delight Your Customers

Heart of the Customer Guest Heart of the Customer Guest 06/12/2014

Today we have a special treat, with a guest post by Bob Thompson, author of the new book Hooked on Customers.


If you go to a bank to use the ATM and it doesn’t work, you’ll be unhappy and more likely to switch banks if it keeps occurring. Is it worth trying to delight customer when they just want to withdraw cash and be on their way? Probably not. ATMs are viewed as a basic need, with little opportunity to delight, only to disappoint if they don’t work.

In the 2010 Harvard Business Review article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” authors from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) argue that consumers are more inclined to punish bad service than to reward delightful service. Therefore, companies should focus on delivering the basics, which is more likely to drive loyalty.

The title of the article is provocative and the authors make a number of great points. But if you take their advice literally, you’ll lose a great opportunity to create genuine customer loyalty.

Breaking it Down

Let’s start with what the CEB study got right. If your customers are calling to get a problem solved, satisfying that request quickly and easily is very important. If you don’t, customers will be dissatisfied, and that leads to defection and negative word of mouth.

But the authors take that point and extrapolate too far, implying that customer service transactions are the only opportunity to create true loyalty, and that placating customers after a failure is the same as creating delight.

Zappos, for example, has demonstrated that with the right people, customer service calls can still be a loyalty-building experience. Their strategy for delight is based on how agents interact with customers on a call, not just giving refunds or other accommodations for making mistakes – the strategy of service leaders in the CEB study. In short, placating customers after a service failure is not delightful.

Let’s remember that service interactions with the contact center are just one part of the total customer experience. Other experiences (e.g., in marketing, selling, and purchasing) also matter, and are opportunities for delight. DoubleTree which gives away sixty thousand chocolate chip cookies every day, an unexpected treat upon check-in. The same cookie, given by a service rep after a mistake, would not have the same impact. Context is important!

If you really understand what the CEB study found, the headline should read as “Stop Placating Your Customers, Get It Right the First Time.” Bill Price, author of The Best Service Is No Service, pioneered a rigorous approach at to finding and fixing the reasons that customers needed service. While made accommodations for customers when it failed to meet expectations, it was (and still is) obsessed with figuring out how to stop making the same mistakes.

My take is that companies need to work on two fronts continuously:

  • Systematically root out the causes of customer pain. This will reduce dissatisfaction and defection, a worthwhile goal in most any business.
  • Figure out how to truly delight customers on things that matter. At least, if you aspire to be a company that leads your industry.

Delight is in fact a critical strategy to differentiate and build real customer loyalty. Just be sure to invest in areas where it will pay off. In the meantime, stop making mistakes that annoy your customers!

About Bob 

Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

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