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Omnichannel commerce | Marketing

Why You Need to Surprise and Delight Even Infrequent Customers...

image: Young lady in summer clothes blowing a giant multicoloured wind fan.
...and how to do so

When it comes to customer relationships, familiarity breeds loyalty: Of 1,000 consumers surveyed by customer experience consultancy Strativity Group, nearly 40% said they interact with their favorite company at least once a week. That's great news for businesses that offer frequently needed commodities such as groceries and office supplies. But what if you sell, say, sofas or threshers?


"Opportunities exist for companies with infrequent purchase cycles," insists Strativity Group president Lior Arussy. "Organisations that have frequent interactions by nature—supermarkets, for instance—have an advantage over those that do not. If your organisation does not have frequency, you need to create other elements, such as delight and surprise, because you can't think, 'Don't worry; tomorrow I can make it up.'"


Thanks to the internet, it's become easier for businesses to stay in touch with consumers between purchases: Facebook pages, Instagram and Twitter feeds, and email newsletters are among the web-enabled touch points. But clogging a customer's Facebook feed with self-promotional messages, for instance, does not necessarily count as a favorable, meaningful interaction for consumers. "By asking me to like you on Facebook, I'm doing something for you," Arussy says. "You're not doing something for me."


Arussy is hardly advocating dumping your social media. Instead, he says that to create customer loyalty and advocacy—which for businesses with longer purchases cycles is critical—you need to "surprise and delight" customers.


"Surprise and delight is everything I do not expect," he says. "It's creating the wow factor through small details. People will spend thousands of dollars on a product, but what will they brag about? The free keychain. Because the perception is, This isn't what I paid for, it's something they gave me."


One car dealer that Strativity works with pays the local police to block off the street from outside traffic whenever a new buyer drives an auto off the lot. People typically call friends or post photos of their new cars almost immediately after buying them; "now they also have a story to tell after they drive off," Arussy says.


Believe it or not, service fails and other errors also provide opportunities to surprise and delight. Arussy recalls another auto dealer that, when customers who leased vehicles complained about poor service or other snafus, typically gave them a one-month waiver on their lease. That did help appease customers, but it didn't necessarily delight them. The dealer then decided to instead empower employees to send a $25 box of quality chocolates to any customers they felt enjoyed less than stellar service, even if the customers didn't complain.


"Customers actually reacted better when instead they were sent an apology with a box of Godiva chocolates," Arussy says. "They said, 'No one's ever done something like that before.'" Not only were they delightfully surprised, but the dealership's cost of rectifying errors declined significantly.


Other ways to surprise and delight include sending customers a handwritten thank-you note or birthday card ("How many handwritten notes have you received in the past year?" Arussy asks). Some ecommerce and catalogue companies include a free gift or a product sample with each order. If you have a bricks-and-mortar store or an office, let shoppers or people waiting for their appointment help themselves to a free beverage and a snack. (Bob's Discount Furniture, a retail chain on the U.S. East Coast, has a "complimentary cafe" where shoppers—and their kids—can choose from gourmet coffee, ice cream, candy, and fresh-baked cookies while they shop.)


The most important element in creating surprise and delight, according to Arussy, is human interaction. Companies need to encourage and empower employees to go beyond the usual transactional mindset. For instance, if a customer mentions to a sales associate that the computer she's buying is for her grandchild, the sales associate could make a note of that and, several weeks later, contact the shopper to see how the grandchild enjoyed the gift.


"Customer experience is not just nice to have. It's a core value proposition today," Arussy says. "This is a race for differentiation. Products can be copied today faster than ever. In a world where customers are expecting exceptional or nothing, especially in a low-frequency business, you've got to charge up and turbo the interactions you do have with them."


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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