Don’t try to delight customers


Last week I drank coffee. Copious amounts of the stuff whilst I had a series of business meetings with prospects and clients. As part of this drinks marathon, I frequented numerous coffee establishments throughout London, some well-known, some less so. One visit however stands out from the rest …

I walked into this particular coffee house and was pleased to observe that there were plenty of comfy sofas available. In hindsight, that should have been an indicator of what was to come. I ordered my usual Grande Latte, paid for this and then proceeded to wait for the drink to emerge from the steam engulfed counter. I was surprised to be passed my drink with a small plate of biscuits. I hadn’t asked for this and questioned if I had been given someone else’s order. No, this was my order and I was told that they wanted to “delight their customers” and so were giving way complimentary biscuits.  I was also given a voucher that entitled me to a further free drink tomorrow! I admit, as I slumped into a large vacant sofa, I WAS rather delighted with my additional freebies …. for at least 10 seconds!

As I took my first sip of coffee it became apparent that the drink was cold. A further sip confirmed this. I duly returned my drink to the counter and requested a replacement. Two minutes later a new fresh latte sat in front of me. Learning my lesson from the last time, I tested the drink whilst I stood there. To my astonishment, it was again tepid at best. By now, I was growing a little frustrated however, my frustration increased considerably at the next remark. The individual behind the counter said that they knew they had problems with the drinks machine but “at least I had a few free biscuits and the voucher”. The implication being that I should accept the undrinkable coffee.  I pointed out that the reason I has gone in there in the first place was to drink and not eat. It clearly didn’t register.

This really reflects how some businesses completely miss the point of understanding and delivering customer needs. When working with clients on developing customer centricity, one of the models we use is a simplified Kano approach – using the coffee shop saga as an example:

Unstated need what I don’t expect to have to ask for 
  •   A cup
  •   Coffee that is drinkable
  •   Access to milk & sugar
Stated need what I explicitly ask for
  •   A Latte (or other type of coffee)
Delighter what I don’t ask for, expect or need
  •   Biscuits, vouchers or other freebies

The point here is that many businesses put a lot of effort into delivering the stated need. They can also spend time, effort and considerable expense on providing delighters. However, fail to deliver what is intrinsically expected (unstated need) and everything falls by the wayside. Moreover, providing something that delights today can quickly become expected in the future. Unless delighting is actively understood and managed, it can just as quickly result in the opposite effect for which it was originally intended – dissatisfaction!

As a further example of this, I did some consulting work for a services business last year. They were seeking to link and align their business vision and imperatives with their values, strategies and day-to-day projects & activities. The management team quickly highlighted they were very customer-centric and that part of their vision was about being seen as “best by the customers in their market”. When asked to highlight what they did to ensure they were best, a range of specific elements were identified.  Realisation started to dawn on the team almost immediately when these elements were broken down using the Kano analysis. Ninety percent of these were focused on doing things that delighted the customer, (most of these were later confirmed to be inconsistent and unsustainable). Worse still, much, much less effort was invested in ensuring that the customer’s unstated expectations were understood and then delivered. That said, with this recognition, it provided a valuable wake-up call to the team and it did eventually generate a more focused customer-centric approach.

Delighting customers brings challenges. It requires a business to have deep and clear insight into what customers expect and need. It requires a culture that embraces continual innovation and change. It requires a business to invest in its people and processes so there is consistency to delight. It needs the business to deliver the basics as a matter of course.  Finally, it requires customers (and their insight) to be directly at the heart of business strategy. That takes significant time, money, effort and commitment ….

If sustainably delighting customers is easy, then creating customer dissatisfaction is easier. Just delight them without delivering their basic needs and expectations.

JohnCroninJohn Cronin is Managing Director of Blairgowrie Associates Limited.  A management consulting business that helps organisations accelerate growth through: strategy & business activity alignment; customer & market insight; growth-focused business improvement.

This entry was posted in Business Consulting, Management Insight, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Don’t try to delight customers

  1. Stacey english says:

    Hi John
    Loved your article.
    Very thought provoking and spot on.
    Glad out coffee was hot!

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