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Customer Focus - Build Loyalty, Not Delight

A common watchword in marketing is “delight” – every interaction has to bring joy, or else the company’s reputation might suffer, and business might be lost. But bringing “delight” to most customer interactions is admittedly a tall order. If you’re striving for that and struggling, you may be relieved to know that there are better ways to win business. Focus on ease, not delight, to build a loyal customer base.


Reorient your customer focus toward what customers actually want – not more delight but less hassle.

What is Build Loyalty, Not Delight?
It’s often said that successful businesses need to “delight” customers. This involves things like free gifts; loyalty benefits; personalized attention; or getting them what they want painlessly. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of these, research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that, in fact, what leads to customer retention is actually just the last one: making things easy for them. While a hotel, restaurant or spa certainly could win repeat business due to providing “delight” to customers, generally people are more willing to punish bad service than reward good service, whether in person or over the phone. So rather than trying to target what makes people delighted and exceeding that, it’s better to figure out what makes them annoyed and avoid that – an approach too many companies overlook, to their detriment.

How does Build Loyalty, Not Delight improve employee engagement and culture?
Those working directly with customers are at the front line when it comes to customer frustration. Telling employees to “delight” customers, while never a bad thing, may also be asking the impossible, and that’s not necessarily the employee’s fault. If, rather than putting emphasis on “dazzling” a disgruntled customer – which can easily backfire, if an overly cheery attitude rubs the wrong way at a frustrating time – you focus instead on making every step of the interaction as easy as possible, customers will become progressively less upset as the interaction goes on, making employee stress levels lower and providing much more achievable metrics of accomplishment than “delight.”

What are the benefits?
Rather than “adding content” to customer interactions, by striving to understand what customers are actually looking for you’ll achieve better customer retention.

How do you Build Loyalty, Not Delight for customers in the workplace?
The research study looked at the following questions:

How important is customer service to loyalty?
Which customer service activities increase loyalty, and which don’t?
Can companies increase loyalty without raising their customer service operating costs?

The results revealed two key findings. First, “delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty”; rather, “reducing their effort – the work they must do to get their problem solved – does.” Second, acting on this knowledge can help “improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.”


Focus on Customer Effort, Not Customer Satisfaction

In the study, 89 of 100 customer service heads said their top priority was to “exceed expectations.” Yet the findings showed having expectations exceeded makes customers only “marginally more loyal” than just meeting expectations. In other words, it’s nice if it works, but it’s not necessarily cost-effective. Also, it doesn’t often work discussing their latest customer service interaction, 84% of customers reported their expectations were not exceeded. So, what should you be doing to ensure customer loyalty?

Separate the idea of satisfaction from loyalty; they’re both nice, but they’re two different things. In the study, 20% of satisfied customers reported they actually intended to stop doing business with the company; meanwhile, 28% of dissatisfied customers intended to stay.

Replace the CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) score used by most business to measure interactions with something new: a CES, or Customer Effort Score. CES tracks how much effort customers say that have to expend themselves in solving their problems. Of customers who said they did not have to make much effort, 94% said they would buy again; a full 88% would even boost spending. On the flip side, of customers reporting they had to go through a lot of effort, 81% said they would speak badly about the company to others in future.

These numbers make clear that effort is a major barrier to loyalty. The best way to actually impress and retain customers is not to make life more delightful but rather to make it easier.

For instance, if someone calls your company, reduce the wait times they face. Make sure, as soon as possible if not immediately, a person picks up and not a machine. Try to eliminate the need to transfer the call. If you do have to transfer, make sure that the person doesn’t have to explain themselves again.

You can also make people’s lives easier by paying attention to what kind of person you’re dealing with. One company in the study had reps who listened to whether the customer calling was a “controller,” “thinker,” “feeler,” or “entertainer.” Each personality type meant a different script. While it seems complex, the strategy proved that all customers are not the same: indeed, the company in question reduced repeat calls by 40%!

Another company said they have employees avoid words apt to trigger frustration, replacing them with positive alternatives. Instead of “don’t” (as in, “We don’t have that now”), try “We’ll have that next week.”

Perhaps the most surprising – and effective – example was the company that tracked every time they had to say “no” to a customer. It then reviewed all these cases to check for outmoded policies to replace or unnecessary procedures that could be improved. In one year, it changed 26 things, leading to an overall savings of $1.2 million.

Track what hoops customers need to jump through and remove (or lower) as many as possible. “Annoy less” is not as big a buzzword as “delight,” but it will earn you more loyal customers in the long run.

Reference Material
Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers

Updated on: 08/18/2023

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