Why you should stop delighting your customers (and what to do instead)

Back in 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article called “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”. It caused quite a stir at the time, and people still reference it today when talking about where to focus your attention as a business.

As the HBR points out in the article, people don’t tend to return to an airline because of over the top service, but I bet you could immediately recall a tale of a terrible customer service experience that pushed you to never return again. I mean - I definitely have one airline that I will not return to because of a few bad experiences - even though I know it probably wasn’t a consistent issue.

You hear a lot in business literature about the crazy customer stories. The Zappos call that went for 10 hours, the United Airlines pilot who didn’t leave until a late passenger was on board, and when Trader Joe’s delivered food to a snowed-in man. They’re amazing stories, they warm your heart, and (to be honest) they make great PR for these companies.

The problem with these stories is that they are a 1 in a 1000 situation. They don’t represent most interactions with customers. This idea of focusing on delight is actually kind of bonkers. Going above and beyond 1 in every 1000 customers is not as good as hitting the mark perfectly on 999 of those same customers, even if it’s not service worthy of a viral article.

HBR instead suggests that you should instead focus on making it easy for customers to deal with you every single time. This isn’t a one-time thing, this is a continuous process, where you constantly look at how your business works and keep making small changes.

Does this mean you can’t do amazing things to delight your customers? No way! If and when the opportunity presents itself to blow your customers away, you absolutely should. It just shouldn’t be the sole focus of how you serve your customers; 

Predict future issues - and solve them before they happen

Now - before you worry that I think that you should be developing psychic abilities - I don’t expect you to just know what a future issue might be. I don’t need to - because you already have the ability to find that out by looking at your data.

Regardless of how big or small your business is, you have data about your customers, which you can use to try and prevent issues before they happen:

  1. Ask your customers for feedback! We’ve talked about it before, but it’s so important to ask your customers how they feel about dealing with your business.

  2. Use your internal data: Check your emails for follow-ups from past customers, check your analytics for your shop.

  3. Map your customer service experience. Start with how your customer might find your business, and follow the process all the way through to the point of purchase.

  4. Once you’ve gathered your data, analyse it for ways to make things easier for your customers. Improving customer effort is all about removing obstacles, so that’s going to differ depending on your business.

Think about the next natural step

This isn’t about predicting issues before they happen, this is about predicting what the customer would like to do next. After someone buys a product or a service, what’s the next thing they are likely to do?

This is where you have an opportunity to delight a customer because the ROI might be zero. You might recommend a few articles you’ve written that help to make the most out of the service or share some styling videos. You might even recommend another company’s product or service that complements yours.

The focus is on making sure the customer has the best experience possible, regardless of whether they ever return to your business again.

Make it easy to get in touch

In general, I recommend limiting your contact points if you handle all the customer service enquiries by yourself, and offer a wider range if you have a support team helping.

Regardless of how many channels of contact you have, the most important thing is to make it clear how to get in touch. Make your contact details prominent everywhere people might find them (social media, your website, Google) and make sure to structure how you will respond.

Introduce self-service

There are tons of articles about the importance of having people manage your customer service, not computers. I do think that there has to be a human element to your customer service, but I also think that introducing self-service can be the best way to remove customer effort.

In reality, a lot of businesses use self-service anyway already without really thinking about it. If you’re ordering from Amazon, it’s self-service! Here are some other ways you can add self-service:

  • If you have a product that you ship you can set it up so that the customers can track their package. It might save some emails from people asking whether something has been shipped.

  • Add an FAQ page with any common issues people might come across. Bonus points if it has an easy search functionality.

  • Make sure everything is mobile friendly. There’s nothing worse than trying to quickly update your address only to find that the website isn’t mobile-friendly.

  • Make sure self-service isn’t the only option. Not everyone wants to do things themselves. Some people like to chat with someone, even if it’s over email. This Forbes article talks about the fact that if someone takes the time to talk to you (be it face to face, over the phone or via email) do not redirect them to the self-service option.

Get it right the first time

Do not underestimate the importance of getting something right the first time. 60% of customers wouldn’t return to a business if they had a bad experience the first time, even if someone they trusted had told them that service had improved.

Now - will you get things wrong sometimes? Absolutely! You are after all, only human, but here are some ways to help if you don’t get it right the first time:

  • Apologise - promptly and properly. What’s nice about a small business is that you tend to know (almost) straight away if something went wrong, so that means you can get ahead of the curve and work to rectify the problem before the customer has a chance to decide not to return to your business.

  • Have a strong complaints process that treats the customer with respect (This might help get you started).

  • Focus on humanizing your business and adding personal touches.