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Surprise and Delight is Not a Strategy

Businesses that employ techniques to “surprise and delight” customers in an attempt to distract them from noticing systemic flaws in value (for price paid) or product or service quality are misguided.

To illustrate, there is a large plumbing and HVAC company in my area that has its technicians carry a small red carpet to the customer’s doorway and roll it out before announcing their visit. The company’s goal in doing so is to make a lasting positive impression on its customers by “wowing” them with this unexpected gesture of respect, elegance, and special attention to detail.

Last year, a plumber from this company came to my home to repair a leaky faucet. When he arrived, he carefully rolled out a red carpet in front of the threshold to my home. After completing the repair, as a courtesy he offered to check the water pressure in my home: 120 psi. (That’s about 40 psi too high.) He then determined that the pressure reducing valve in the water closet had gone bad and suggested replacing it. The estimated cost: $1,040. I thanked him for his counsel but told him that I’d wait on replacing the valve. Within a few days, I received a handwritten thank you card in the mail from the plumber.

Later that same week, I had a second plumber out to my home. He did not have a red carpet in tow, did not offer as a courtesy to proactively check for any other plumbing issues, and never sent me a thank you card. But he did replace the pressure reducing valve for the cost of the part ($79) plus $160 in labor. That’s $801 less than the quote I received from the plumber who rolled out the red carpet. Who do you think I’ll call the next time I have a plumbing issue? Who would you call?

Unless you’re a magician or, I suppose, a manufacturer of Jack-in-the-Box toys, your business strategy should not be predicated on “surprise and delight.” To properly serve customers, a company’s value proposition shouldn’t rely on unexpected, over-the-top gestures to compensate for inflated prices or subpar product or service quality.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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