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Loyalty and the Opposite of Surprise & Delight

loyalty and the opposite of surprise and delightToday’s post has a little quiz for all you incentive and recognition program sponsors and providers. Actually, it’s a one-question quiz, which is “What’s the opposite of Surprise & Delight?”

Before I give you my answer to that question, a little background is in order. As many of you know, Surprise & Delight is widely used in the consumer loyalty industry. Search the Internet for that term and pages of links will be returned. Here’s a link that provides a very good synopsis of both the Surprise and the Delight elements. Simply stated, Surprise & Delight occurs when “unexpected value that exceeds expectations” is delivered.

A good personal example involves the online shoe retailer, Zappo’s. When I placed my first of now many orders with them, I immediately received an email that said “great news – we’ve upgraded shipping on your order to next day delivery.” Maybe I’m an easy mark, but they had me hooked via that one simple Surprise & Delight tactic.

OK, now that we have established the context for my question, let’s move on to my answer. I submit that the opposite of Surprise & Delight is “Frustrate & Annoy.” Here’s the story that stimulated that answer, followed by some implications and recommendations.

On a recent business trip, I violated my own better judgment and used an overnight flight (the dreaded red-eye). Knowing that the flight would arrive at a very early hour, I called ahead to my hotel to ask about an early check-in.

Before relaying what I was told, I should note that I am in the highest tier of that hotel company’s loyalty program. As with most tier attainment, I didn’t request that status – the hotel company awarded it based on my numerous experiences with their brands. In so doing, I would submit that they set an expectation of certain differential benefits.

In my current example, I was hoping that it would increase the probability of an early check-in. My conversation with the hotel front desk seemed to validate that expectation, since she said that she would note my reservation and make every effort to accommodate me. She also offered that the hotel was not completely booked for the prior night.

Fast forward to my arrival at the hotel. When I relayed my prior conversation, and asked for any early check-in, the night clerk laughed in my face and said “we were completely sold out last night.” Remaining calm, I then asked if he could do whatever he could to expedite a room-cleaning for me – hoping that he would pick up on the status that his employer had conveyed to me. He said that he would.

Then things got very interesting. After occupying myself for several hours I returned to the hotel to find a new front desk clerk. I asked whether he and his night-shift colleague had conferred about my reservation. He confirmed that they had, in fact, done so and that he was working on a room.  Up to this point, expectations and reality were still largely in sync.

However, minutes became hours and my new front desk friend made no attempt to provide me with any type of update on the status of a room. Nor did he offer anything to help with the wait (a key to the fitness center, for example). Not hearing anything, I finally asked if any progress had been made and he blithely informed that I should check back in another hour. We had arrived at the Frustrate & Annoy moment. I finally got a room assignment eight hours after arriving at the hotel – and one-half hour before standard check-in. So much for the highest tier in their loyalty program.

The implications are pretty obvious. The personnel at this one hotel did significant damage to my perceived value of their employer’s loyalty program. I can say with certainty that I will never use that particular hotel again – and I’m a bit soured on the entire portfolio. And since I don’t typically complain, the impact will simply be that this hotelier will experience a drop in my bookings.

The recommendations are more numerous – and maybe not as obvious.

  • First, I highly recommend that you review the historical behavior of the top-tier customers or clients in your incentive program. Look for cases in which KPIs and point-earnings have eroded over time. It’s certainly possible that some of these customers have experienced a Frustrate & Annoy moment – and feel like they’re being taken for granted.
  • Once you’ve identified these customers, talk to them – via phone, survey, anything that will provide insight into the how actual execution of your program diverges from its design.
  • Finally, don’t overlook the value of using Surprise and Delight with these top-tier customers. I recognize that they’re the big point-earners and receive a good deal of rewards, but they’re also critical – to sponsor and provider alike.

As an aside, we have a number of partners in the promotional products industry that can produce attractive items (mug, coaster, etc.) decorated with an incentive program’s branding. Creating and sending an item like that unannounced can serve as a very effective Surprise and Delight.

In closing, I urge you to seek out and minimize those Frustrate & Annoy moments. And don’t forget the power of simple, relatively inexpensive Surprise & Delights. Decreasing the former and increasing the latter can have a huge impact on the success of your program – and your business.

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