Where does “delight” fit in customer support?

This week, I came across a Twitter discussion about the term “delight” in Customer Support.

The word has had a precipitous rise and (depending on who you talk to) fall within the industry.

After Tony Sheh published Delivering Happiness, many companies decided they were going to be amazing at customer support – this was now their “core competency”. Hitting SLAs and maintaining a high CSAT became wrapped up in terms like surprise, wow, and delight. Companies like Ritz-Carlton further reinforced this by making headlines for how they treated a little boy’s left-behind stuffed animal.

Then, Matthew Dixon published The Effortless Experience, and many minds in the industry started to shift the other direction. Surprise and delight weren’t the goals; the ideal destination was a “low-effort experience” marked by comprehensive self-service channels and next-issue avoidance. The holy grail wasn’t press headlines or a 100% CSAT score; those were indirect forecasts of brand loyalty at best. The goal was to reduce the effort required by the customer to resolve an issue – make it simple and easy.

At this very moment, I have a Support Specialist role posted at Ness that uses the term “delight” purposefully (please apply!). I want to reiterate the case for where “delight” falls short and why I believe it still has a place in the industry.

Where “delight” falls short

Before jumping into why I feel “delight” shouldn’t be totally cast aside, let’s summarize some of the reasons why it has fallen out of favor.

It doesn’t tell your team what to do.

Let’s say you’re writing a guide for new agents joining your team. Your goal is to impart the critical 100-200 words they’ll keep top of mind when working with customers.

Now, imagine that most of that guide reads like this:

Remember, delight is our number one objective. We want customers telling their friends and family about our brand so go knock their socks off in the queue. Put a smile on their faces. Make your interaction memorable!

Sure, maybe that could work, but it doesn’t tell them:

  • How to prioritize one ticket over another
  • When to make exceptions for customers
  • What features to prioritize in the next release
  • Whether they should optimize for fast response times or first contact resolutions (or some mixture)

“Go delight our customers!” might make a good motivational topic, but you have to translate that to tangible actions for your team.

It’s lagging (at best).

Related to the tangible aspect, delight often manifests in things like CSAT, NPS, repeat buyers, decreased churn, and (in rare instances) tweets/posts/PR stories. These are all great indicators that your strategy is working, but they’re all lagging indicators (if they show up at all).

We’re looking for leading actions and indicators – “predictors of delight” that we can implement, evaluate, and tweak.

If the goal of our customer support organization is to delight our customers, it’s really difficult to understand how we’re doing day after day or even week after week. Instead, if we further define delight by specific actions (% of replies within X hours or % of contacts resolved on first contact, for example), we can better evaluate our progress over a day/week/month.

Lagging indicators create a slow learning cadence, which is not what we’re looking for.

It often bumps against the three p’s.

That is people, profits, and processes – three categories that determine what your organization can or can’t do.

Let’s say you’re part of an organization:

  • With a profit model based on razor-thin margins.
  • With a performance evaluation process specifically focused on an agent’s volume, average handle time, and “efficiency” (e.g. how much of their working time they spend talking to customers)
  • And agents (people) who receive bonuses based on taking the most calls over a given month.

Together, these three p’s incline the organization towards a specific model of customer support. It’s difficult (read: not impossible) to flip the script towards a delight-centered approach focused on high-quality interactions and creating raving fans.

Takeaway: For “delight” to work, it has to be aligned with the business at all levels. People are highly adaptable, but profit models and processes are harder to flip upside down.

It’s not really what customers want.

If you were to ask me what I want when I contact customer support, I’d probably say, “My issue resolved.” I would not say, “An over-the-top experience that I’ll relay to friends and family for weeks.” Yet, putting the emphasis on overdelivering during each interaction emphasizes the latter even when most customers just want the former.

Why delight still has a place in support

That’s 500 words on why I feel delighting customers is often a great intent but ultimately misguided objective. So, why did I include it specifically in our job description?

Primarily because it’s a helpful signal externally and a guidepost internally.

Externally, it’s a signal to candidates that they’re integral to our success as a company. We’re committed to giving them the tools, resources, and time necessary to build relationships and deliver for our customers. Their work will matter to the bottom line of the business. In many companies, customer support is strictly a cost center; this is one tiny way to signal we’re viewing it differently.

Internally, it’s a philosophical reminder that we’ve chosen to invest heavily in customer support. “Delight customers” connotes something entirely different than “satisfy” or “appease”.

More concretely, it’s a reminder that we should put the customer first when building our internal processes and choosing what to measure. Initiatives within support should ultimately be evaluated based on the customer outcomes they achieve.

Wrapping This All Up

Ultimately, I don’t think the term is the problem here. Call it delight, surprise, or wow – this piece matters less. The key is don’t stop there. These terms have to be lived out across your business, including how you hire, incentivize, and evaluate team members, what you measure, and what goals you set for your organization.

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