The introduction of the Internet in 1991 led to an unprecedented shift in marketing practices. No longer were telephone calls and postal mail the only ways to market. Personal email addresses, which had previously been limited to students and employees, were now available for free to anyone. This opened the door to mass email marketing and by the mid-1990’s inboxes were cluttered with millions of unsolicited marketing emails.
Today, customers of every business are demanding more personal, customized web experiences, especially on mobile devices. By the end of 2015, the number of Smartphone users will surpass 3 billion worldwide and they are changing the way people think about communication, engagement, and commerce. Over 90 percent of smartphone owners expect stores and businesses of all kinds to provide important services via apps now or they will consider taking their business elsewhere.
With all the advances in technology, one thing hasn’t changed when it comes to marketing — you have to approach your customer with something memorable that will make you stand out from your competitors. And few things are more memorable than getting a surprise from a brand you love that creates a feeling of delight.
Earlier this year, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, confirmed what we have always known: we love surprises. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain activity in response to pleasurable stimuli, the researchers found that the nucleus accumbens — a region known as the brain’s pleasure center — responded much more strongly when the event was unanticipated.
“What this means is that the part of the brain that has always been associated with pure pleasure really cares about when you get something unexpected,” said study lead Dr. Gregory Berns, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory. “So if you get a present for your birthday, that’s nice. But you’ll like it a lot more if you get a present and it’s not your birthday.”
“The region lights up like a Christmas tree on the MRI,” said study co-author Dr. P. Read Montague, an associate professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “That suggests people are designed to crave the unexpected.” The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Smart marketers have always known this and the “surprise and delight” strategy is being talked about more and more as it becomes clear that most transactions today involve devices, usually mobile devices, and it takes more effort to stand out among the vast array of digital experiences available.
A Human Solution Matters
The emphasis on email marketing, website visits, conversion rates and concerns about return on investment (ROI), may have created an over dependence on analytical solutions to what is a very human idea. If you want someone to be loyal to your business, brand and product, you must do things that instill trust, confidence, value, and that demonstrates that there are still humans behind all the digital solutions.
The first order of business is to be sure you have a digital experience that matches your customers’ expectations. While older folks developed the ability to be patient at an early age, we now have generations of people who have grown up not having to wait for anything. Studies have shown that a 10-second wait for a web page to load will lose you 50 percent of consumers, and researchers discovered that a website begins losing traffic to competitors when it takes more than 250 milliseconds longer to load!
Next, you need consistency throughout the touchpoints where customers interact. For example, no one likes to navigate through a complex call center phone menu, entering account numbers and answering automated questions about what the problem is, only to be told by the person who finally takes the call that they don’t have any of the information just entered.
And how many chat sessions have you endured only to find out that they can do little more for you than give you the customer service phone number?
Visual consistency is important today as well. The look and feel of all your digital channels should have a feeling of consistency and it has been shown that potential customers convert at a higher rate if an organization seems to have its digital visual act together.
But surprises take the prize for delighting your customer and instill loyalty and the desire to share their experience. Lots of examples exist of how companies have surprised and delighted customers. You may have heard about what Kleenex did to show they take seriously the connection they have to making people feel better. They examined Facebook posts and found status messages from people who said they were sick. Kleenex contacted their friends and was able to get the addresses for 50 people. Within two hours, they prepared elaborate kits with Kleenex products and delivered them along with their best wishes. Every recipient photographed their kit and posted it on Facebook, resulting in over 650,000 impressions, 1500 interactions, and to date, over 76,900 views of their video.
You can see more examples of high profile surprise-and-delight campaigns at the Vmob website.
You Don’t Have to be an Enterprise-Level Business to Surprise and Delight Your Customers
- Did you realize that waiters who left two free mints with the check get a 21 percent better tip? Surprise your customers with a simple freebie at times during the year NOT associated with a holiday or other promotion.
- Send thank you notes — preferably hand-written — to new customers. People who got handwritten thank you notes from an auto mechanic in Ohio said they would never use another mechanic in their life because of that note.
- Check in with customers. If someone buys a beginner set of whatever, check in to see how they are doing and if they need any help.
- Anticipate a customer’s needs. If a customer buys a product that suggests they need it fast because they are going on a trip, offer to pay to upgrade to a faster shipping service. You will get a customer for life.
- If a shopping cart gets abandoned and the likely cause is high shipping costs, contact the customer and offer to split the costs of shipping. The repeat business you generate will more than pay for the shipping, which is a tax deductible business expense for you anyway.
- In your customer interactions, “default to yes” for the small stuff. Don’t argue, don’t quote policy, just help.
- Support your products, even if they are out of production. The iRobot people, the makers of the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot, support all their models, even the first ones they made. If someone calls with a problem with a 10-year-old, first-generation robot, if they can’t find a way to repair it they will give you a substantial discount on a new one.
Make “surprise and delight” the mantra of your entire company just because it is the right thing to do. The immediate ROI might not show on a spreadsheet, but the loyalty and word-of-mouth it will generate will be worth it. And besides, it’s just the right thing to do.