This article was originally published by Customer Bliss in November 30, 2016.

“Surprise and delight” has become a mantra for customer experience. We say forget about surprising customers – just delight them. We know that’s counterintuitive. Indeed, Wikipedia’s definition of customer delight is “surprising a customer by exceeding his or her expectations and thus creating a positive emotional reaction.” But why should doing a good job be a surprise?

You delight your customers by meeting their needs within the expectations they have for whatever you are offering, whether those expectations are high or low. If they don’t know what to expect from you, why will they come? If their expectations are not met, why will they stay or return?


A well-designed service is predictably excellent. Service design and delivery – what we call SD2 – is what you do so your customers get the experience you want them to have – every time. Three ideas are embedded in that sentence. First, service design is proactive, not reactive; it involves choices, actions, and consequences. Second, service design starts with what you, the seller, want; it is about delivering on your promise to customers in accordance with your strategy, not about acceding to everything a customer asks. Third, service design creates consistency, and consistency is no accident.

Designing your services and their delivery to delight customers enables you to woo them, wow them, and win them predictably, scalably, reliably, and economically. Service design also allows you to figure out where your opportunities for delight are and are not, and to create the conditions that enable you to do make the most of them. Until you can deliver delight 100% of the time, any surprise you create is as likely to be a downer as it is an upper. A chocolate mint left on the pillow by housekeeping may be a nice touch, but it won’t compensate for a clunky check-in experience or pokey room service.


Customer delight is a function of customer experience and technical excellence. Both excellence and experience are opportunities fordifferentiation. While both are important aspects of your service offering, they are not necessarily equal. In a crisis, most people would put up with a rude, overbearing physician if, like TV’s fictional Dr. House, he was also a genius. But if you were choosing long-term care for an aged parent, you might put more weight on the quality of the experience, provided there was enough technical competence (and access to Dr. House if Mom needed him).

How can you tell if you’re delighting your customers? We have developed an SD2 Report Card that so you can rate yourself on the 10 essential elements of Service Design and Delivery – what we call the 10Es. The first five are customer-facing, focusing on what the customer actually sees and experiences; the second five are company-facing – the behind the scenes activities that your customer won’t see but will nevertheless affect the quality of his or her experience. The SD2 Report Card helps you measure how successfully your company, department, or function is creating a superior experience for customers. It also allows you to benchmark yourself against your goals or your competitors, or to compare business units within a company.


To determine your Service Design GPA, use a scale of 0-4, rate yourself in each of the 10 E’s – 0 meaning you’re terrible at this, 4 indicating you’re world-class. Add the numbers up, divide by ten, and see yourself GPA. A 3.2 would be the equivalent of a B-plus, for example.

Empathy: Developing products, services, and experiences from the customer’s point of view; taking full account of how your customers use and interact with you

Expectation: Ensuring that customers know what to expect from their interaction with you

Emotion: Knowing the emotions your customer brings to your relationship, and guiding customers to a satisfied feeling about working with you

Elegance: Providing offerings that are clean, simple, easy to work with, and complete –nothing superfluous, nothing omitted

Engagement: Communicating with customers – and they with you – at every point of contact, to understand their experience and how to improve it

Execution: Reliably meeting all the expectations you have set

Engineering: Possessing technical excellence (for example, compared to peers, but also to general business standards) and eliminating waste of materials, time, and effort, so that no extraneous effort is necessary on the part of you or your customer

Economics: Pricing your services appropriately, so that the customer gets value for money and you make the profit you expect

Experimentation: Building processes for improvement and innovation into the daily work of your business; developing capabilities to develop and roll out new offerings

Equivalence: Managing the customer, your team, and partner organizations so that you, the seller/service provider, are satisfied, too.

The numbers will tell you whether you’re stronger on customer experiences or on technical excellence and where you need to improve. More important, they’ll give you a fact-based method to get away from fuzzy phrases like “surprise and delight” and, instead, deliver delight.

© Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell

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