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    Where is the delight?

    I have recently found myself on the conference circuit. Though bad for my eating and sleeping habits, it has exposed me to a number exceptional companies, and leaders of those companies. From Facebook to Flipboard, Airbnb to Lyft, Hired.com to Scoutmob, and many others in between, there have been many common themes. The most pronounced of these themes is mobile – what it means for the current strategy and future direction of each of these companies and their core product.

    But as pronounced as this mobile theme is, there is a certain phrase that does not just pop up frequently, but is ubiquitous: delight. Yes, all of these online companies, companies that technically only deal with their customers through apps and websites, are completely preoccupied with providing their customers with a truly “delightful” experience. They reason that how can they grow without customer recommendations? And why would customers recommend them to their friends if they are not continually coming back and using their products themselves? And how better to ensure people keep coming back to use their products than provide them with a delightful experience?  

    It all makes sense. And hearing this word, delight, over and over from these online businesses, businesses that rarely if ever get the chance to meet their customers face-to-face, it made the absence of this word all the more pronounced and surprising in my conversations with vacation rental managers. This is in no way meant to suggest that vacation rental managers do not care about the customer experience. Speak to any manager and you will hear words and phrases like “relationship,” “customer service,” and “exceptional people,” but these are all very different from delight.  

    Having exceptional people, who provide impeccable customer service, will help you build strong relationships with your customers, no doubt.  But where is the “delight” that goes above and beyond what any customer could reasonably expect, and as such completely sets you apart from the crowd? If these online businesses are so focused on it, why are we in the vacation rental industry, where we interact face-to-face with nearly all of our customers, focused so much more on the mundane? How can we move from providing a wonderful renting and/or rental experience, to a truly delightful one?

    The answer does not have to cost a lot of money, though one company did give the example of sending bottles of Dom Perignon to its customers. There was also a story of an Airbnb host who wrote to complain that his pizza cutter was missing after a guest stayed in his apartment. This was clearly not Airbnb’s fault--the host had booked the renter-- nor technically its problem, but the next day a package arrived at the man’s house with a new pizza cutter.  Needless to say, he was delighted enough to blog about it.

    So the question becomes, what can you do to not only delight your customers, but to institutionalize a culture where delighting your customers becomes the norm? I am sure everyone has their own ideas. Here, however, I will provide one suggestion that I am stealing from a company that excels in creating delightful customer experiences.  

    The idea is simple, and it is this: give each of your employees who interacts with customers a budget for “customer delight,” and at the end of each period have each person report back to the group on how they used their budgeted dollars. The money should not be used to resolve run of the mill issues – there is already a budget for that.  This money is there to go above and beyond the call of duty. To ensure that at least one customer, or maybe many, has a delightful experience with you.  

    This also makes delighting your customers a game, and a competitive one at that. Each period your employees will compete with one another to come up with the best, and most creative ways to delight your customers, and all within whatever budget you set. This will not only spark new and exciting ideas, but in the group reporting it will also surface them so others can give them a try. Most importantly of all, it will delight your customers!

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