Surprise And Delight: Walking The Fine Line Between Gimmicky And Great

5 min read · 7 years ago


In the annals of great customer experiences, few companies in recent memory have surpassed WestJet’s Christmas Miracle. If case you’re not one of the 41 million people who already watched WestJet’s video about their famous holiday CX experiment (or its moving sequel), the five-minute video takes viewers through a seemingly ordinary flight for a group of passengers traveling between Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. Before boarding the plane, an oversized video display features Santa on an interactive screen, asking passengers what they want for Christmas. Predictably, they ask for everything from warm socks to free flights home. When the passengers deplane and head to baggage claim after the relatively short flight, giftwrapped boxes tumble onto the luggage carousel—containing everything from a snowboard to a big-screen TV—addressed to the individual passengers who requested them and signed “From Santa.” It turns out that Santa actually delivers!

Needless to say, the WestJet customers were thrilled this kind act of unexpected giving, and the WestJet team behind the project seemed visibly delighted too. Even long after the holiday season is past, the WestJet “miracle” remains an ongoing case study in how to get “surprise and delight” right.

Putting People First

We, and the companies we buy from, sometimes have to be reminded that we are humans first, and consumers second. We might like to think of ourselves as rational, clever creatures who make decisions based solely on self-interest (or the interests of others), and logic. But unless we’re half-Vulcan, we’re probably not that logic-oriented. Our most powerful influencers are often those that impact us on an emotional level.

It is this emotional component why surprise-and-delight CX efforts are so often more successful than traditional marketing campaigns. If you’re part of a firm looking to build brand awareness and win customer loyalty, your competitive edge may not lie so much in your products’ superior value or quality, but more in your ability to be as considerate as possible. Individual gifts, personalized notes, and surprises that seem genuine and thoughtful can lead to lasting customers for life. The human touch. But how does one ensure that the effort doesn’t backfire and come off as too gimmicky, forced, and contrived?

Give Customers A KISS: Keep It Sincere And Simple

First, remember that CX done right can support the idea that less is more. Aim for quality over quantity, deliver your message in an honest and straightforward manner—even with brevity—and your message is more likely to be appreciated and remembered. Even the WestJet campaign, despite its Herculean logistics, was based on a simple and familiar holiday premise, and for the customers lasted only as long as the pre-board to the short flight and the walk to baggage claim.

Though our lifespans these days may be longer than ever, our attention spans are heading in the opposite direction. Advances in mobile technology have put every imaginable distraction just a click away. At every turn, we consumers are barraged by information, entertainment, and, of course, a steady stream of sales pitches. So aim to surprise and delight—but do it quickly. As in every other relationship in life, little gestures, when it counts, can add up to a lot.

Something For Nothing

If your company extends a special offer, or preferential treatment to a particularly valued customer, there should be no strings attached. Few things are worse than thinking you’ve been given a gift, and then realizing that you have to, in some way, pay for it.

Air miles are a classic give-and-take example. For months, you have been saving and watching the frequent flier miles pile up. Then when you actually try to make a booking for a free flight, you find peak travel times are all blacked out, or if you’re lucky enough to redeem miles for a ticket, you’re hit with baggage surcharges and security fees. And the verdict is out whether “free” miles are going to be even more lackluster as airlines begin to tie them directly to the amount spent on a ticket and no longer on the length of a flight, which wouldn’t make them nearly as free anymore.

But just to drive home the point that the opposite of surprise and delight is disappoint and annoy, here are some specific tips to keep in mind (and some cautionary tales from those who didn’t):

Make Sure It Makes Economic Sense

When the president of WestJet was interviewed about the cost of such an indulgent feat as the Christmas Miracle, he quickly outlined how expensive traditional television commercial advertising was and assured people it was not only more authentic, but also financially sound.

Consider that against the experience of Casa Sanchez taqueria, a small restaurant in California that promised free lunch for life to anyone who got their iconic logo—a boy riding a burrito—as a tattoo. People were more willing to ink up than expected, and upon doing the math at the rate of participants flooding in (after the campaign had already launched), the cost was belatedly projected to be over $8 million. The restaurant had to quickly cap the number of recipients before their surprise and delight turned into Chapter 11.

Make Sure It’s Smart And Safe

WestJet might have had a competitive advantage as an airline, knowing already the massive amounts of regulations they have to comply with just to operate. The fact that they were able to pull this off in an airport in the post-9/11 world means they clearly thought out how to make sure that customers, employees, and other airport patrons remained safe and all protocols were followed. They considered every part of this customer journey and experience from beginning to end. But other companies don’t always think things through so fully. Snapple got caught off-guard by simple physics when their attempt to break a world record by building the largest popsicle ever was erected in Time Square. Well, almost erected. The 80-degree day wasn’t factored in, and as the popsicle was being stood up on end, gallons of melted Snapple gushed out into the city streets. The fire department was called in to clean up the mess, and, while fortunately no one was hurt, presumably someone else still holds the largest-popsicle world record.

Make Sure You Get the Credit You Deserve

WestJet let their Santa do most of the talking, but none of the passengers (at least over age 8) thought the gifts really came from the North Pole. Surprise and delight doesn’t work without a bit of self-promotion, and finding the right balance between serving your customers and serving yourselves is, of course, the whole delicate balancing act of CX itself. GM probably could have afforded a little more self-promotion, however, when it donated 276 cars to the Oprah show. While Ms. Winfrey got a lot of credit for surprising every guest in the audience with a free car, people still think of it as “The Day Oprah Gave Away Cars” and not as “The Day GM gave away $5 million in Pontiacs.” As a result, GM probably actually earned disproportionally little goodwill for their efforts.

Whatever your campaign strategy may be, what’s key to remember is that ordinary customers, like you and me, are irrational people who love free stuff. But it’s also deeper than that emotionally, or the WestJet Christmas Miracle video wouldn’t have gone viral. What we love to witness is the recognition that we’re emotional beings who want to feel cared for, even—or perhaps even especially—by ordinarily faceless enterprise corporations. Put that little detail at the forefront of your CX efforts, and your customers may love you all year long.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Surprise And Delight: Walking The Fine Line Between Gimmicky And Great

More Sales & Marketing articles from Business 2 Community: