People seem to be happy when we exceed their expectations. “Underpromise, overdeliver” is the mantra. However, people are delighted when they the additional element of surprise is added to this.
It’s possible to game happy but it’s a lot harder to game delight. You can make reduce expectations and cause upfront misery, and then exceed results after the customer has forgotten about this. E.g. “Your car won’t be ready until next week” when it will be ready tomorrow. People are able to adapt their expectations based on previous experiences, however, so that trick might only work once. See The Oatmeal comic above. Our expectations of flying are so low that when we get a WHOLE canwe’re delighted. You can’t do that often. The bean counters won’t like it.
Sometimes, it’s easy to delight when your whole industry or profession is maligned. A friendly police officer, a patient lawyer, a cheerful dentist — at the right time and place, the maligning can actually help delight. “Wow, you’re a nice person.”
It’s also possible to get lucky. You’ve hit a high demand industry with little competition where your costs are much less than what the market will pay, so you can use that margin to create an amazing experience. Or, circumstances align perfectly that the outcome is much better than the expectation. In that case Results ≫ Expectations.
But maybe it’s possible to delight by just adding surprise? Yes, results still have to be greater than expectations but maybe by an infinitesimally small increment. To be scalable, the surprise can be tangential to the result. For example, MailChimp delights by just having a button send a mail campaign by adding a quivering, sweaty monkey paw over a launch button.
The cost is negligible. You can make 1,000 versions of the above for very little dev work and customers might come back just to see these. The reason that this works is that the tangential surprise signals some thoughtfulness to the customer and that they are not being taken for granted.
In the end, happy customers will return but delighted customers will bring others.