Want Engaged Customers? Deliver The Unexpected

We live in an era of predictability. You are predictable 93% of the time (Northeastern University). Don’t worry, I am too. And companies, yes companies, are predictable too.

Why are we predictable? Ask Google.

Today, we have access to more information than ever before:

  • I want to go to a place by car, I can check  how long it will take, traffic situation, where to park, gas stations on the route…
  • I would like to go to a restaurant for dinner, I check their reviews first.
  • I would like to buy a car, I have lots of information already even before getting to the dealer.
  • I have an interview, I know the background of the recruiter, his interests, his connections, the languages he speaks, where he worked before…

I remember a time where you actually needed to go to places to get to know the product, to compare and to finally make your decision. Nowadays, we already know with a 90% probability what we are going to buy, even before going to a shop. We spent time looking in the internet, comparing, seeing reviews and building our decision in our brain.

What’s the 10% left that make us decide to buy one product or the other? The experience we have with the seller. No matter if it is on a website buying online, or physically at a point of sale. When we are doubting about two similar products, we will choose the one where the company provided me with the best customer experience. Period.

More (good) options to choose from

I also remember a time when there was only a couple of options at every industry when you wanted to buy something. Just couple of leaders with a great product so different than their competitors than if you had budget enough to buy it, you wouldn’t even consider looking at others. Remember the first iPhone devices? I was using their biggest competitor at that time, a Samsung Omnia running on the old Windows phone. Embarrassing difference. And yes, I feel very old right now. And I didn’t have budget to buy the iPhone.

Another example could be in the telecom industry. Do you still based your decision about buying a new mobile device on a contract, on which company has the best network coverage? Don’t think so anymore. Most of them have similar quality, some of them rent it to their competitors, so it is actually the same network. Also, you can buy exactly the same phones at telecom “X”, “Y” or “Z”. What makes the difference then? In this case is mostly about price and experience. If you have a poor customer experience or you heard your friends talking in a negative way about their telecom provider, you will most probably skip that one when looking for your next one, even if it is more expensive.

Today, there are lots of good options at every industry we look at. There are more companies than ever before delivering exceptional products to market, and it is more difficult for us to choose between those. Want an example?:


Easy, right?

Predictability  generates expectations

Being predictable by having lots of information, automatically generates expectations. When you go for a coffee (by now you probably know I like cappuccinos) you do have an expectation. If you haven’t been there before, you may have heard the coffee at that place is great. You have that expectation. You may have found the place just by walking by and it looks like a nice coffee place. You have that expectation. If you actually go there every day because you know they have great coffee,  you also have that expectation.

Breaking those expectations (for good please)


Having to differentiate yourself by providing a better experience makes things complicated for most of the companies, because many don’t know how to do that, creativity is not their strongest asset.

“Reward pathways in the brain respond most strongly to the unpredictable”

(Changes in human brain activity research, Emory and Baylor)

The key factor here is to always try to go the extra mile. To know what it is expected from you and find a way to give something else on top of that. Let me give you an example:

Recently, we invited a customer to spend a couple of days with us so he could see our solutions and meet the people who make things possible at our company. We booked the best hotel in the city for him. When asking him about how he liked the accommodation, he was quite satisfied. The hotel was good, clean and with a good level of service. He mentioned he ordered a cappuccino in the afternoon (I swear I didn’t influence that choice) but with soy milk as he has intolerance to lactose. They didn’t have soy milk. But the waiter talked to the manager and said he would have it for his breakfast the morning after.

My customer was quite impressed by that. He really liked it. That was a good customer experience, but how they could’ve made it a great one? By going the extra mile.

This is the best hotel in town. I would expect the best service in town too. If I was the manager of that hotel, knowing there is a supermarket 1 minutes away (by bike, we are in The Netherlands, so we always count distances by bike) I would go myself to buy soy milk right away. I would come back, make that cappuccino with soy milk and my guest would have it on his table within 5 minutes. That’s a great experience. I am sure my guest would post it on facebook or twitter right away.

More examples?

Continuing with coffee… I normally go to the same place to have my…? Cappuccino. Because, I like the place, the coffee, and (most) of the people working there are friendly. Last week, I went there, sat down and waited for more than usual. I was already starting to think that they were taking too long. When the waitress came I ordered a cappuccino and she just put it on the table right away as they already have seen me and they know what I order. I really like my experience, they made it from good to great just by doing that.

Now, I am sharing this with friends, on facebook, here… (Barista Café in The Hague) What does that mean for a company or brand? Lots. They could be spending fortunes in marketing campaigns and maybe wouldn’t have such an impact, if they do the same with other loyal customers.

Last one example, the best one, I promise

I came across an article about customer experience, that explained how Australian researchers at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) responded to a letter from a 7 year old girl named Sophie, a future scientist. Sophie had a request to CSIRO, “please make a dragon for me”.


Instead of dismissing the child’s request, the organisation took the time to make a public response apologising for their lack of success in creating a dragon in their 87 years of history as an institution.

Stories about the little girl and her desire for a dragon appeared in TIME, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Shine, and elsewhere.

Finally, they made a 3D printed dragon for Sophie:


Do you see the value of doing the unexpected?

“Customers don’t only need to perceive you as better, but also as different”

The only way to do that is to constantly innovate, looking for that little thing, that gesture, that action that they don’t expect from you.

Want a great customer experience? Go the extra mile, deliver the unexpected.









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