Half Of Customer Happiness Is Surprise

Thomas GadMay 8, 20194 min

When we think of happiness, and what generates it, we often look at the event that brought happiness in isolation. But the time leading up to the event, anticipating it, and the time after the event, remembering it, bring at least as much happiness as the event itself. Happiness is as much built of moments of anticipation and remembering as of doing. This is why companies and brands must keep the joy of anticipation, and memory, in mind if they are to deliver true happiness to their customers.

In fact Marsha Richins, a professor at the University of Missouri, found that consumers receive more pleasure during the anticipation phase of a purchase than during the acquisition phase (Richins, 2013). As brand owners, you can harness and maximize the pleasure of this anticipation phase, through teasing, tempting and treating your customers.

Just as the trailer of a long-awaited film gives people something to look forward to long before the experience begins, so must brands tease their customers with leaked information and hints of what is coming. By increasing your customers’ exposure to your brand and your promised product or service, you can also tempt them with the unfamiliar and unexpected.

The very act of exposure to the new and the different increases a person’s favorability towards it (Zajonc, 2001).


You can also offer your brand as a treat, a reward to look forward to. This can be done through limited availability, like seasonal sweets and foods that people look forward to all year. Another successful approach is the one Audible chose, making your brand an everyday treat that people can enjoy at any time. The Amazon audio book company portrays everything from the daily commute to mundane chores as an opportunity to escape into the pleasure of your choice of audio book.

When the anticipation phase is over, and you begin the acquisition phase of a purchase, the best way to keep a customer happy, and increase that happiness, is through interaction. By intervening, and nudging the customer towards the happiest path you can enhance your customer experience and gain greater loyalty for your brand. But guiding your customers on the path that will give them most satisfaction can be tricky. People are easily distracted. An immersive entrance and clear, direct instructions and exits encourage customers along the right path.

After you have generated the joy of anticipation, and the pleasure of a satisfying customer experience, it is the memory of the experience that determines if the customer will return, or even tell their friends about your brand. The problem here is that memories are not perfect representations of our experiences. Therefore, getting memories on your side can be the key to customers coming back and bringing their friends along with them.

When Daniel Kahneman presented a talk at an official TED conference, he said that ‘endings are very, very important’ (Kahneman, 2010). The ending dominates a person’s memory of events. The Spring NYC shopping app demonstrates how to finish strong with a thank you e-mail from the CEO as well as a personalized, hand-written thank-you letter from a member of the Spring NYC team.

The memory phase is also a good time for fresh surprises. Unpredictable and surprising events are more likely to be remembered than expected moments. And each time you remind your customers of your brand, product or service, new memories are created. With your brand, always consider how you can remind your customers of the benefits you provide and reinforce your positive attributes.

Emotions matter with branding, and the way to creating a positive, happy customer experience lies through understanding what creates happiness: not just delivering what the customer expects, but also in the anticipation of that delivery and the memory of it. By expanding our view of customer experience to include the time before and after the sale, we open up new possibilities of experience innovation.

Start With Needs, Create Trust And Anticipation, Then Surprise With Delivery

Following the path detailed above, you start devising your branding strategy by considering whom the market for your product or service is. And be generous with the boarders here; almost all categories have customers ‘we didn’t think of’. It’s better to be wider and more generous than you imagine necessary. It is more ‘expensive’ to lose unexpected users, than it is to reach out to too many. In each communication, and in selecting the media audience, ask whom this is for. Is it for your existing customers or potential customers, your existing employees or potential employees, your old or new business partners?

Make promises you can keep and meet their anticipated needs. In order to create trust, you need to fulfill anticipations, and anticipations always go back to needs. However, as Maslow shows us in his hierarchy of needs, these needs are different for different people:

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs

This hierarchy of needs applies in most decision situations. When you buy a car, for example, do you buy one for ‘safety’, one that all your friends have or like (‘belonging’), or one that makes you feel good (‘self-esteem’)? Just as you make buying decisions based on your underlying needs, so do your customers. But is there a need that dominates your market? Do more people in your target market want ‘safety’ over ‘self-esteem’? Do more of them want a sense of ‘love/belonging’? This is what you have to find out. And when you have, focus on delivering proof of trust and surprise by meeting anticipated needs.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Thomas Gad, excerpted from his book Customer Experience Branding, with permission from Kogan Page publishing.

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