Forgive me, but every time I pick up my drink on the Starbucks counter, after waiting in a usually long line with others whose cups get placed on the same counter with the same amount of impersonal interaction, I wonder how it is I am supposed to feel delighted. Was it the name on my cup, spelled correctly or not? Or the checks in the “Extra Hot” or “Skim” boxes? Or the fact that I can sit at the table for a lot longer than the five minutes it takes to consume my $5 drink?
Since the decade of “delight” began, companies in all industries have scrambled to come up with their own processes for delighting customers. All with the notion that the more you delight, the more you buy, and the greater your loyalty is. And so we have believed for years. However, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) conducted a study with more than 75,000 people who had interacted with contact center and customer service reps via phone or online channels, and found that satisfaction has little to do with loyalty. Even those free products or service upgrades you might give away during a transaction don’t translate into brand loyalty. What I find especially telling from this study is the fact that 20 percent of satisfied customers for a brand said they intended to leave the company, and 28 percent of those customers claiming to be dissatisfied said they planned to stay. Huh?
So what is a brand to do?
Stop focusing on delighting. Serious attempts to delight customers, in my experience, have resulted more often in customer service protocols employees must follow that are often more irritating than delightsome. When my bank tellers all give me the same carefully rehearsed closing line, verbatim, I don’t feel special. And when I get a phone call 10 minutes after checking into a hotel room to see if I like the room, I’m not delighted. But rather irritated as I know it didn’t come from the heart but rather the customer service training script upon which job reviews are based.
Customer satisfaction, according to the CEB report cited above, is more aligned with making the transaction process as simple as expected. We don’t expect to wait long on hold lines to talk to a customer service rep. We don’t expect to be passed from one department to the next, holding forever yet again, to solve a simple problem. And we don’t expect to get a free gift for every complaint we file, either. We do expect, consciously or unconsciously, to feel good about the brand and product choices we have made, and to feel like we mattered and our business and loyalty are noticed.
Showing customers gratitude, that is sincere and based on the moment, is more likely to win new customers and generate greater recall of a good experience than that name on a cup or a canned “thank you” line behind a stale smile. An article in Psychology Today by Amy Morin, a LCSW, lists seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude, whether it be on the receiving or giving end. The first benefit listed relates to the impact gratitude has on your relationships. Morin cites a study by a group called Emotion in 2014 that shows thanking someone you just met makes them more likely to pursue an ongoing relationship with you. This applies to personal and professional relationships. Thanking a potential customer for their time, their interest or their candor about their experience with you can trigger feelings of importance or personal validation for which people are likely to want to return.
Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis has researched the impact of gratitude for years, studying more than 1,000 people of all ages. The social benefits he sees in people who practice gratitude have many implications for marketers seeking to improve customer relationships, not just for those seeking to improve personal relationships.
Per Emmons, the most important social outcomes of gratitude are that it makes us:
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated
Imagine these traits in your customers.
- More Helpful: Customers who feel you are grateful for their business are more helpful in helping you help them. Instead of making you guess what they want, they tell you, good and bad, and thus enable you to deliver spot-on service and experiences, instead of guess what will keep them happy and loyal.
- More Forgiving: Perhaps forgiveness is the most important outcome of gratitude. If customers know you appreciate their business, their loyalty and referrals, they forgive the mishaps along the way – like getting the wrong product in the mail, or having to wait on hold way too long for a quick question, or even making a mistake on a marketing campaign. Knowing you are grateful for their business often leads to second chances, and then some.
- More Outgoing: We all need dialogue to know what we can do bigger and better. When customers feel you are grateful for their feedback and value their opinions, they will talk, post and tweet about you more often. If you can get your customers to be more outgoing by posting positive comments on Yelp and other social sites, you’ll get ahead faster in the race for acquisition and retention.
- Feel Less Lonely and Isolated: We all seek to be part of hives with others who have the same values, interests and personalities we do, and are grateful for circles and networks of people who are grateful to be part of our lives, too. Build brand communities that bring people together and show them how grateful you are for their support. They’ll gain more friends “just like them” who use the same products they do, and you’ll have greater loyalty, LTV and evangelism.
Gratitude works both ways. We experience physical, emotional and social benefits such as those above when we practice gratitude, and we also experience similar benefits when we feel others are grateful to and for us. Instead of that rehearsed and practiced attempt to delight customers at every point of sale, try something new. Inspire your employees to find personalized ways to show sincere gratitude every day, the kind that sparks positive behavior and feelings such as those mentioned above. Because gratitude comes from feeling empowered to engage and respond with kindness, not from a script or action-item list, and it gives customers new and unexpected reasons to be grateful for how your brand makes them feel that go far beyond seeing your name on a cup!