• Robb G. Best

Watch Out: The Other Side of Delighters

Last week, we talked about how "delighters", those little extra touches, can make all the difference in sales. There’s just a few things you’ll want to remember.

1. Consider your market

Just what constitutes a delighter can get a little counterintuitive. Sometimes a cheap establishment offers perks that you’d never expect to find at a ritzier place. Consider the free continental breakfasts served at most budget hotels. An extremely upscale hotel is much more likely to direct you to a (pricy) in-house restaurant. Complementary breakfast is not the norm at a deluxe resort, and so we don’t even consider it as a possibility.

Delighters are all about exceeding expectations, and our expectations are not an exact science. Be sure you are offering delighters in keeping with your price point and image.

2. Consider your audience.

When you check in at a Hilton hotel, the clerk behind the desk offers you a large free cookie, warmed by a microwave. For guests on holiday, this may seem like a genius move, but there’s a slight problem. Some of us travel constantly, and for those of us trying to stay healthy, all those cookies would add up. Thus, there is a subset of frequent travelers who come to view the offer of that nice warm cookie as nothing more than a test of willpower—essentially, an annoyance.

Alternately, Sheraton lets you choose between an “amenity” (a snack, bottle of water, etc) or points, which can eventually be cashed in for a free stay—much more valuable to someone who knows they’ll be needing another room next week. Now both the vacationers and the road travelers are happy.

3. Novelty is key

As Kano himself noted, over time, a delighter can become so common that it reshapes customer expectation, moving from a fun bonus to a near-given. In other words, as the market evolves, delighters can become must-be’s. For instance, forget about free bottles of shampoo or conditioner, private bathrooms weren’t standard in hotels until after 1900. These days, if your hotel failed to provide your own bathroom, you might react roughly as if they had forgotten the door.

There’s an element of randomness to a good delighter. It shouldn’t be something that people will grow to expect. Thus, if your business depends on repeat customers, you should probably change up your delighters, or risk hard-wiring your clients to take that little extra for granted.

People in route sales often find themselves returning to the same locations again and again. You want your customers to take a break from their busy schedules to check out your latest offerings, and that means you need some kind of sweetener to buy their time. “Food bribes” are a common trick. A vendor stopping by first-thing in the morning might arrive with bagels and coffee, with the unspoken agreement that the customer will now at least pay attention for as long as it takes to chow down on that special treat.

That said, if your delighter each visit is that box of bagels and that hot coffee, your customers will come to associate you with a free breakfast. Now say one week you’re running a bit late and you don’t have time to stop by Einstein Brothers. Since you’re thinking of those bagels as a free perk, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. However, your customers are so accustomed to that weekly bagel, they purposely skipped breakfast today, on the assumption that you’d provide. Now they’re cranky and hungry—never a winning combination.

4. Delighters can’t make up for absent must-bes.

While it can be fun to brainstorm the cool little bonuses you can offer to set yourself apart, that doesn’t mean you can skip the fundamentals. If you show up each week with a box of baked goods but your product offerings aren’t worth looking at, you risk becoming a mere ‘donut carrier’ – a vendor who brings breakfast but no real value beyond that.

At worst, a delighter paired with a glaring lack of a must-be can feel downright insulting. If comedian Riley Silverman’s hotel had offered her a warm cookie but still neglected to give her a room with a door, her take-home impression would not be “Well, at least I have this cookie” but “Gosh, this place has some dysfunctional priorities.”

In a similar vein, it’s not uncommon for a company’s upper management to get excited about promoting new and upcoming products. However, if that same company has constant problems with delivery, customers will likely grow annoyed at what will feel like surface improvements with no real substance.

5. Keep up with your industry

Remember: as consumer expectations evolve, you need to evolve as well, and that means staying current with which former delighters are now must-be’s. Falling behind on this score can be deadly. For instance, in our previous book, Brain Apps, we outlined the rise and fall of RIM, the company that brought us the BlackBerry.

At the start of the smartphone revolution, BlackBerry was ubiquitous. But RIM leadership mistakenly viewed color screens and touch screens as fads—inconsequential delighters—rather than the wave of the future. As these features increasingly became must-be’s, RIM’s share of the market took a hard nosedive.

It’s not enough to know what delighters you offer; you need to keep informed about your competitors as well, or risk becoming the next BlackBerry.

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