When you’re a customer, it’s fun to be surprised and delighted by an experience that’s been personalized just for you. Maybe it’s your favorite deli that remembers you don’t like mustard on your sandwich. Or a visit to your physician’s office for a routine check-up. The nurse remembers you’re an avid hiker and asks about your recent outdoor adventures as she takes your vitals. Or the service counter at an auto dealership that offers you coffee just the way you like it and a desk for working while you wait for an oil change.

Surprise and Delight Build Emotional Connections

Surprise and delight might be as simple as feeling like a brand knows you and can interact with you on a personable level. Or it may be something more extravagant like free products or VIP treatment. When you have an experience with a brand that surprises and delights, you immediately start to build emotional connections. When customers are surprised and delighted, they can easily fall in love with brands.  They won’t be able to imagine doing business anywhere else. Not only does this create fierce brand loyalty, but it can also remove price as a barrier. When it comes to spending money, customers will return to brands they’re emotionally connected to, and price may not even cross their minds.

Recently, I had an interaction with a brand that created surprise and delight for me. I’m a pretty regular customer of Zappos. I like their service model and the positive things I hear about the way they actively work to support and nourish internal culture. They are an excellent example of a company that practices internal-external brand alignment – they are constantly working to align their internal culture with their external customer promise.

Zappos Goes Above and Beyond to Connect with Customers

As an online retailer that mostly interacts with customers via phone, email and internet chat, Zappos does a good job of building strong customer loyalty. For a business that has few in-person interactions, they’ve made it a priority to connect with customers on a personal level. It’s easy to find stories of Zappos going above and beyond like sending flowers to an injured customer or free shoes to the best man in a wedding.

A couple weeks ago, I had an interaction with Zappos using their on-line chat. I wanted to find out about shipping time to receive an item that I needed prior to a trip. I was connected to Amanda from Zappos, and she was as pleasant and personable as someone can be within the confines of a virtual interaction. She mentioned in her introduction that she loves owls. During the course of our exchange, I told her it was my birthday, and she wished me a happy birthday.

My Moment of Surprise and Delight

Nearly two weeks later, I had forgotten about my on-line exchange with Amanda until a Zappos box arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep with a large “Surprise” sticker on the front. I opened the box to reveal a personal card from Amanda (complete with a drawing of an owl), and a very warm note. She said how she enjoyed chatting with me and wanted to be sure I had a nice birthday.  The note went on to say that I am one of Zappos’ best customers, and she wanted to send me something special for my birthday. The box included a lovely necklace with my birthstone.

Was I surprised and delighted? You bet! It was especially surprising considering there was nothing extremely notable about my online dialogue with Amanda. I wasn’t an upset customer who needed soothing. I wasn’t asking for anything special or questioning company policies. I had an ordinary question, and she did a good job of providing information that I needed. I didn’t even buy anything that day, although it’s easy for Zappos to see I’m a pretty regular customer.

It’s often the case that brands will only put forth the effort to surprise and delight a customer when there’s a major complaint or the threat of lost business. To truly build emotional connections, the bigger opportunity lies in surprising and delighting your regular customers – those people who already do business with you and showing signs of loyalty.

In the case of Zappos, a quick search of #zapposlovesme reveals numerous stories of ordinary and regular customers enjoying moments of surprise and delight. The testimonials page of the Zappos website offers many similar stories. The common theme from customers is their utter surprise at the experience Zappos created and the feelings of intense loyalty that have been generated as a result.

It was fun to be on the receiving end of a completely unexpected moment of surprise and delight. Zappos took an ordinary customer interaction and turned it into something memorable. I would assume Zappos’ employees enjoy these moments too. Making someone’s day, whether in a small or big way, is exciting and gratifying. This is a natural way to engage employees while aligning internal culture with the external marketing promise.

In what ways have you been surprised and delighted by brands? Share your stories and how it made you feel as a customer.

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.