Is ‘Surprise and Delight’ an Effective Client Experience Strategy?

“Can you think of an example of a meaningful client experience?”

This is a question I often ask in workshops, as a way to help advisors think outside the four walls of our industry and hone in on the feelings connected to an extraordinary client experience.

The responses are varied, profound and, often, verge on the heroic. I hear stories of people who have gone above and beyond to accommodate a need, fix a problem or make a client feel special. Real super-hero stuff.

More often than not, the examples reflect a strategy referred to as ‘surprise and delight’, which at its core is about creating truly memorable moments.

The 'however' is this. While ‘surprising and delighting’ clients can be powerful, it doesn’t constitute a client experience. The full experience should combine that strategy with tactics designed to ‘scale the extraordinary’.

Let’s look at both strategies.

Strategy #1: Surprise and Delight

The Ritz Carlton’s story about Joshi the Giraffe is a great example. If you aren’t familiar with the story, which has been told and re-told in client experience presentations the world over, here are the highlights. 

A child left his stuffed giraffe at a Ritz Carlton; devastation ensued. The frantic parents contacted the airport, the taxi company (yes, in the days before Uber) and the hotel. And the concierge at the hotel assured them that all was well. Rather than simply returning the beloved giraffe, unceremoniously stuffed in a FedEx box, the experience was very different. The hotel staff took it upon themselves to give it the trip of a lifetime, documenting every stage from a visit to the spa, to the golf course to the pool. And they documented the entire thing to share with the child, creating a memory for life. Lovely, right?

This is a powerful example of ‘surprise and delight’ and one that has paid off. My guess is that the parents have since invested heavily in the Ritz Carlton.

By way of summary of this strategy:

  • The trigger for this strategy is ad hoc. In this example the trigger was a lost stuffie.
  • The execution is dependent on an ad hoc trigger. No one can know if there will be a lost stuffie.
  • As a result, the ability to scale is limited.

And while the ability to scale is limited, it's still a great story and an even better experience for that family.

Strategy #2: Scaling Extraordinary

Despite the many benefits of a surprise and delight strategy, there are some limitations. And that's why progressive firms also focus on 'scaling the extraordinary'.

There are many examples of this strategy in action.

  1. An advisor takes on a new client and starts by helping them get organized. A team member works directly with the family to organize, document and track everything and create a process for doing so in future. As a result, clients feel more in control.
  2. An advisor provides every client heading into retirement with a copy of a book that helps them understand the psychological impact of retirement to focus on mindset as well as money.
  3. A firm provides access to curated services that go beyond wealth management to support their clients with other key priorities, such as health and wellness.

By way of summary of this strategy:

  • The trigger for this strategy is defined. In the above examples, we know when a client is onboarded or when they reach a specific age.
  • The execution is consistent because the trigger is defined. We know that all clients - or a certain segment of clients - will hit that trigger.
  • As a result, the ability to scale is significant.

In these examples, the experience goes above and beyond 'table stakes' but can be delivered consistently and efficiently.

Connecting Culture and Client Experience

To some extent, both strategies highlight a connection between culture and client experience, but that is particularly important for surprise and delight.   

It’s unlikely that the Ritz Carlton has a point on their client journey map that tells anyone what to do if a child loses a stuffie. However, they have invested in training their staff to be proactive and they have empowered them to take action.

It’s one thing to craft a great experience and another to create a culture of experience. Both matter. (But that’s a topic for another post.)

Take Action

As an industry, we love to share stories of surprise and delight. However, it’s equally important to remember that we cannot wait for engagement opportunities to arise. In an ideal world we need to implement a consistently engaging experience that is punctuated by moments of surprise and delight.

Taking action, today, is simply about considering how you have structured your overall experience. Does it incorporate each of the following core goals? If not, where are the gaps for your business?

  1. Laying a strong foundation to deliver strong service.
  2. Scaling extraordinary to consistently deliver an experience that differentiates you.
  3. Creating a culture that encourages the team to surprise and delight clients.

Related: Crafting a Unique Prospect Meeting: The Anatomy of Differentiation