Martin Zwilling

By Martin Zwiling

Having satisfied customers is no longer enough to keep you ahead of competitors. The bar has been raised to having “delighted” customers. Customer delight is defined as surprising the customer by exceeding his or her expectations, thus creating a positive emotional reaction. This emotional reaction leads to word of mouth and social media, resulting in many new customers.

For example, during the last holiday season Mercedes Benz USA launched a #MBSecretSanta program on Twitter to personally engage customers and help find the perfect holiday gift. Then they did just that by providing responders with over 1000 gifts, ranging from branded bears, baby clothes, watches, and Bluetooth speakers. It was a small price to pay for the surge of delight.

TD Bank used a similar #TDTHANKSYOU campaign to delight customers with thank you gifts ranging from Disneyland tickets for a single mom, roses for the elderly, and airline tickets for a mother who wanted to visit her sick daughter. With today’s instant communication and the Internet, these efforts were soon known around the world. The value of such viral efforts is huge.

Thinking this way, and then making it happen, requires some strong leadership and lots of effort in existing business, to overcome the long-standing processes and procedures. For entrepreneurs and startups, it can be a bit easier, but still requires resources and risk. In either case, I recommend seven specific steps to set up the right culture, and keep it going:

The priority on delighting customers must be visible at the top. By default, the perceived and most visible focus of most executives is to delight stakeholders first. Perceptions are set by your actions, what you measure, and what you reward. Make sure your actions are based on customer experiences, rather than only internal objectives.

Relate all compensation criteria to customer experience levels. Due to pervasive communication in the marketplace, customers see and react to your compensation and recognition practices. They have negative emotional and viral reactions to people getting bonuses and raises, despite visible product and customer support shortcomings.

Develop programs to exceed current role model leaders. Your competition is global, so look for best-of-breed globally, and apply it locally. Solicit creative thinking and continuous innovation to keep you ahead of the game today, rather than tomorrow. Look beyond industry boundaries for customer delight examples that you can adapt and adopt.

Hire based on people engagement ability, not just skills. If you want excited customers, hire friendly people who love to work with and help others. Resumes and traditional HR processes tend to focus totally on skills and experience. Group interviews are more likely to expose motivation, attitude, and people relationship and learning ability.

Get buy-in from the team on why, and let the team show you how. Your objective should be for every team member to look for opportunities to exceed customer expectations, not just meet them. Those on the front lines will know the best ways to excite customers, and will be more highly motivated if you inspire them take key actions.

Give key employees the freedom to practice delighting customers. Requiring escalation for every exception, or providing scripts and fixed policies, won’t do it. Ensure you have formal mechanisms for employees to make decisions and practice customer sensitivity. Take action on feedback and provide updates to show you are listening.
Highlight your company examples of exceeded customer expectations.

Stories and anecdotes illustrate your message and evoke emotions in a way that even the best facts and figures can’t, both for team members and potential new customers. They improve customer retention and loyalty, as well as improving internal morale and engagement.
A culture of delighting customers doesn’t happen by chance, and it requires more than just good training and excellent operational procedures. Surprising and delighting customers requires a backdrop of strong leadership, deliberate planning, and integrity in execution. It requires a customer-first rather than company-first culture at all levels. Is your organization there yet?

The Writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc.

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