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There's a word for businesses that surprise and delight: Preferred!

 Jan 10, 2017 11:00 AM
by Chris Ward

Most of us have go-to providers. People or companies we prefer to do business with. A favourite store, restaurant, taxi company, or advisor, for example. While different businesses will approach this in different ways, there is one thing on which most preferred providers will agree: An ongoing effort to surprise and delight is a big reason that customers keep coming back.

Committing to surprise and delight.

Surprising and delighting customers requires an overwhelming combination of responsiveness, creativity, curiosity, communication, and business acumen to break a buyer’s interest in taking his or her business elsewhere.

To work, it’s a commitment that must be firmly embedded in a business’s DNA. It takes planning and lot of hard work. And it takes a certain attitude… an attitude that starts at the top and cascades down to influence employees who regularly interact with buyers.

Attitude is everything.

Many businesses talk about the need for a can-do attitude. You would think that being responsive to a customer’s complaint, question or concern would be a no brainer. Sadly, many organizations seem to leave decisions around how to respond, how quickly to respond, and the outcome up to employees who feel overworked and underappreciated. And, in many cases, undertrained, under coached and under supervised.

Far from being surprised and delighted, the wrong attitude can leave customers looking for another provider. Here’s a case in point.

What do you mean replacement doesn’t mean replacement!

A colleague purchased a printer at a local store. As printers are known to breakdown, he also purchased a one-year replacement guarantee. Shortly before the year was up, he discovered that the automatic feed wasn’t working. So, it was back to the store for a replacement.

Without getting into detail on what was said and to whom, my colleague discovered that his guarantee only covered the amount of the original selling price, not the cost of a new or replacement machine. Having purchased the original, on sale, for about $140, this meant spending an additional $190 to get his replacement. Ouch!

The dictionary defines replacement as “a person or thing that replaces another.” To my knowledge, no dictionary includes the caveat “along with an additional $190!” Being both confused and annoyed, my colleague asked to speak to the manager who, of course, repeated the store’s policy.

No argument with the policy.

The point is not that the store’s policy is wrong. The policy is the policy. The point is simply the way it was handled and the confusion that it created.

My colleague had no idea that the replacement guarantee was, in reality, more of a money-back guarantee. That wasn’t mentioned when he made the original purchase.

When his confusion was brought to the attention of store staff, he was treated like a wayward child who should know better. Talk about attitude! Had the clerk or manager been even a little sympathetic to my colleague’s situation, any unpleasantness and bad feelings could have been turned into something quite positive.

Without a doubt, this incident contained a healthy dose of surprise. Unfortunately, it’s wasn’t the kind this business was looking for.

Chris Ward

Chris Ward is a Co-founder and Principal with Strategic Retreats. Over the past 25 years he has facilitated business and brand strategies for professional services firms, industry and trade associations, charities and SMEs; and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews and dozens of online surveys for organizations of all types and sizes.



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