Satisfy customers first, then delight them

If you want to be a bad product manager, hope that cool unexpected aspects of your product or service will make up for deficiencies in other areas. Sure, your product has some flaws, but it’s easier to add some neat features than fix the parts that are broken. Enough attention-grabbing items will draw attention away from the problem areas, and the positive feedback you get from the nice-to-haves will make people forget what’s missing.

If you want to be a good product manager, satisfy customers first before attempting to delight them. There is a lot of talk lately about how to “delight the customer,” and organizations are attempting to do this through exceptional customer service or unexpected product features. This likely driven by an attempt to generate buzz and goodwill by customers raving about these delights, often on social media. When done well and appropriately, the benefits of these delighting product aspects can truly differentiate an offering and an organization.

However, when companies attempt to add delights to a product or service without first satisfying the basic needs and expectations of customers, the extra add-ons have the opposite effect. When customers see a company putting effort into neat/cool/unnecessary features or benefits but ignoring basic fundamental aspects, it implies that the organization is either (a) trying to cover up their faults, or (b) oblivious to customer needs. Either way, it does not send a positive message to the market and is likely to backfire.

Simply put, you can not exceed the customer’s expectations without first meeting them. Furthermore, to paraphrase Dan Pallotta (from his excellent blog post I Don’t Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore), it is so rare that a customer actually has their expectations met, much less exceeded — a problem caused by companies not having any idea of what the customer’s expectations are in the first place, or forgetting basic tenants of customer service. This lack of customer understanding can have disastrous results.

Take the example of Qantas Airlines, which launched a contest on Twitter which asked customers to respond with their “dream luxury inflight experience.” Normally, this would have been a reasonable promotion, but, as David Meerman Scott writes in his blog post Qantas Airways Twitter #fail:

In the past month, Qantas had faced a major strike, which grounded the fleet and has experienced ongoing disputes with the unions that represent pilots, mechanics, baggage handlers, and caterers.

The travelling public was greatly inconvenienced during this period of turmoil and cancelled flights. I had friends who couldn’t make it to America for long-planned meetings because of the strike.

Qantas offering this frivolous contest struck people as insensitive.

Luckily, there are other companies and products more successful at delighting customers, but only because they have first satisfied basic needs. For example:

  • The Volkswagen Beetle — both the original 1950s version, and the “new” 1998 revision — famously included a flower vase on the dashboard. A bud vase in a car is certainly an unnecessary feature, though one which captured a lot of attention from customers. Luckily for VW, the reaction was positive because the car met all the expectations of potential buyers and then some. Had the car suffered from poor reliability, dismal fuel economy, safety problems, or any other major flaws, the bud vase strategy would have backfired. (Sidenote: VW announced earlier in 2011 that the next version of the classic car would not include a bud vase, in an attempt to make it seem less like a “chick car.”)
  • MailChimp is an email marketing service provider, competing in a growing and fairly crowded market. They stand out from their competitors through their quirky and comical yet friendly style. A newsletter administrator is notified of a new subscriber to their mailing list not through a dry, curt note, but with a friendly “Nice! Guess people like what you’re saying.” Analytics showing which countries are most popular are noted by “Hey look at you being all popular in these countries!” Newsletter unsubscribes are announced with “Nuts, you had a few people jump ship. Ah, who needs them anyway?” This style is beyond just the copywriting (though their recently-unearthed internal style guide — Voice and Tone — provides many more examples), but it permeates their entire company culture. Of course, this is only successful because the fundamental service that MailChimp covers the needs of customers and is on par with others in the market. Had they attempted this style but offered a product which was missing several expected features, customers would likely jump ship to another less quirky but more reliable competitor.
  • Google’s “Easter Eggs” are uncovered on a fairly regular basis, from the recent let it snow (which displays falling snow) and Happy Hanukkah (which adds a Star of David banner below the search box) to the more obscure do a barrel roll. The decorative changes to their homepage logo — known as Doodle 4 Google — have taken on a life of their own, to the point where there is a team of Doodlers dedicated to these regular logo changes. Clearly, these Doodles and easter eggs are successful in getting users to return over and over again to the site, but only because they are (at a minimum) satisfied with the quality of the search results they receive. A less-robust search engine which attempts these attention-grabbing tricks would certainly have not have as positive a response from the market.

As a product manager, when a opportunity to “delight” the customer appears, but before acting on it immediately, ask yourself these questions:

  • Has the product first satsfied the basic customer needs?
  • Are there any obvious flaws in the product which should first be addressed?
  • Does the effort needed to “delight” the customer have the potential to offer a return?
  • Is it likely that a customer will notice this “delighting” aspect?
  • Is this “delight” done in a way to enhance the current offering, or will it have the potential to highlight preexisting issues?

It is a noble goal to delight the customer, as both companies and consumers benefit when executed well. However, product managers need to ensure that basic needs and fundamental expectations are first addressed before attempting to enhance products and services with unexpected delights.

10 thoughts on “Satisfy customers first, then delight them

  1. Jeff, Couldn’t agree with you more on this. In the rush to actualize visions, get traction, and find new revenue streams it’s easy to skip over the basics of just solving a customer problem. I really like how you put it: “Is it likely that a customer will notice this ‘delighting’ aspect?” We often fall in love with our own ideas and expect the same to happen on the other side of the table. I recently saw a tweet which quoted someone as saying “fall in love with a customer need, not a solution” which I think is a good complement to your points. Thanks for the great post!

  2. I’m totally agree with you. I’m working in the Digital Market and most of the concern is how to make the layout cool, attractive but they don’t never ask what the customer needs.

    My point is we must research the guest needs before starting to do some functional or features for product.

  3. Functionality is paramount for any product or service without your customers will be going to the competition. The product must meet the basic needs, as you point out, prior to adding the bells and whistles. I have came across many website designs that have lost their functionality because of the time that has been spent on the “cool” design in lieu of the need. How can we satisfy customer needs? Ask them; conduct market research and most of all listen with the intent to understand their needs. Great article.

  4. Good point – check out the Kano model for additional structured information on satisfying vs delighting customers…

  5. Meeting and exceeding customer expectations is critical in product development. One of the areas we forget is product instructions. I’ve recently completed an opinion poll on the relationship of clear product instructions and the perceived quality of the products and the results are surprising. To find out more, go to The basic results are available for free.

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