The Problem With Delight

December 11, 2020

A cornerstone of my Customer Alignment thinking is delight gets in the way of providing a good customer experience. I’ll define delight as doing something to surprise a customer or purposely making the customer interaction overly memorable. Let’s take this MIT Sloan review article that caught my eye: The Magic That Makes Customer Experiences Stick. It starts innocently:

Terrible customer experiences get a lot of attention, which reinforces the strategy of standardizing operating procedures and laying down more rules.

The article goes on to ask a flawed question:

Is your company trying to minimize complaints or maximize customer delight?

The problem I have here is complaints and delight aren’t dependent on each other. If a company starts to “maximize delight”, that doesn’t mean complaints will go down with more delight. Maximizing delight isn’t always certain. Delight is subjective. Different people and different cultures measure delight differently.

They go on to suggest that resolving bad customer experiences make the overall customer experience worse:

While eliminating bad experiences may reduce complaints, result in fewer angry customers, and trim costs, the unanticipated consequence of moving most customers to the middle of distributions is that it will also result in consistent mediocrity. They will have undifferentiated, average experiences, which will leave them with few, if any, memories.

If a company only focuses on delight, they ignore the reliability problems within their service that the complaints are surfacing from. Even worse, by focusing on delight over the customer experience, a worse experience is incentivized—Leaders will celebrate high delight moments, while glazing over complaints.

A SaaS business needs to invest in providing a good baseline of support before worrying about investing in delight. I’ll define the baseline as timeline responses to support conversations that are resolved. Guess what? Plenty of your competitors aren’t providing a good baseline. It’s common to hear stories of people emailing executives or going to Twitter for hopes of a better support experience because the standard channel isn’t working.

Focusing on the customer experience

After you’ve mastered the baseline of customer support, it’s time to focus on improving the customer experience. That includes reducing experiences that result in complaints.

To separate your organization from your competitors, you need to build upon your baseline. The best customer experience when it comes to contacting support is seamless, not rage-inducing, or even better a support organization that’s proactively solving problems. Some of my favorite ways to improve the customer experience:

I’ll share an experience from Postmark. Awhile back, we were seeing support from customers thinking part of our in-app search wasn’t working. They’d search, not get the expected results, reach out telling us “search is broken”. The problem? Postmark was working as expected in these situations. Not an ideal experience that it led to folks thinking our product is broken! Our product team took this feedback to tweak our search to improve what’s returned and now we no longer receive those requests. Win-win-win.

When delight works

This article isn’t to say delight is a dirty word, but it shouldn’t be the focus over the overall customer experience, there are some places where delight can work:


When an organization focuses on the day-to-day customer experience first, then delight, it doesn’t become a choice to choose which one to focus on.

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