In Rome, near the Colosseum, there is a kiosk with free water dispensers. This is no mere water fountain. There are automatic-dispensing buttons to match the size of your water bottle. The water is blissfully cold on a hot day. And most excitingly, there are actually two dispensers – one for still water and one for sparkling. 

I am a BIG fan of sparkling water. So on a 30-degree day spent almost entirely outside, filling up my bottles with ice-cold fizzy water was like a gift from the heavens. Pure delight. (Uptown Waterloo, time to up your game.)

Another thing of which I am a big fan is Haribo, the German candy company. Their gummies are particularly excellent. (I cannot be left alone with them.) Online retailers Clearly (glasses and contacts), and Qwertee (t-shirts) both send little packages of Haribo gummies with orders. More delight. Though a surprise perfume sample could trump even delicious gummies.

Are either of these modes of delight absolutely required? No. Plain, old water can be dispensed from a simple tap or fountain, which it was elsewhere in the city. And most online purchases I’ve received did not come with gummies.

I am a simple creature who can be filled with joy by surprise infusions of sugar, gelatin and/or carbon dioxide. But the more important point is that it’s not always hard to delight customers, and it can go a really long way.

Not enough organizations are even making an effort to delight people, though. Not that this is new. Providing delight is an expense, of time and resources if not also money. But if things are slowing down economically, and sales are going to take longer to win and be harder to come by, making an effort to delight is going to make a difference.

Even during the height (depths?) of the pandemic, when the hiring market was red hot, companies could have stanched the departure of employees for greener pastures by making an effort to be a delightful place to work. Does it sometimes only come down to money? Sure. But liking where you work and who you work with is also very influential. It’s no different from being a partner in a relationship who consistently makes an effort and is thoughtful long term.

Unfortunately, companies that have jumped on the layoff bandwagon have shot themselves in the foot. Their remaining employees are likely demoralized and will be overworked in many cases. They simply will not be able to add “delight customers” to their workloads. I’d think it would feel hypocritical as hell to even try.

Many companies have whole teams of people who could be positioned to regularly provide delight. But a lot of companies don’t tend to value their support folks very much. Those teams tend to be staffed with the most junior people, who get limited and very specific training, and have little to no agency to craft solutions and customer experience. Oh, and they’re generally paid miserably. 

Now, consider a kid who’s worked in a fast-food joint for a couple of weeks and compare them to a career server at a high-end restaurant. Even if the McD kid tries their best, you are just not going to get anywhere near the same experience from both people. This is the difference between what most companies enable their support teams to deliver and those that provide consistently fantastic customer support and experiences. It’s like they’ve realized that it’s cheaper, and even lucrative, to keep existing customers long term than to constantly be hustling for new ones, especially with high churn.

Also since the onset of the pandemic, people behaving badly toward companies’ employees has become its own epidemic. Jerks have always existed, but rudeness, abusive behaviour and even violence started becoming almost normalized. Of course, those taking the brunt of it have been frontline staff. The support teams of the hospitality and retail industries. Often young, less experienced, poorly treated – by customers and employers – and poorly paid. 

Again, zero room for or motivation to provide delight there. People dealing with and anticipating trauma, who just want to do their job and get paid for it, and who most of all would probably love to quit, aren’t really equipped to specialize in delight. Which really sucks, because a great restaurant experience can easily become a lifelong memory and turn you into a regular. 

Is free sparkling water going to get me to book a flight to Rome? No. Are gummies going to guarantee that I’m a lifelong contacts or t-shirt customer of specific companies? No. But I remember those experiences. More importantly, I remember them every time I need those products. And sometimes even when I don’t need them, but might buy anyway. It also occurs to me when I buy stuff that doesn’t attempt to deliver any delight.

Companies that are going all in on AI, in whatever form that takes, are going to be facing a similar issue. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but at present what you get with those AI tools is a whole lot of stuff that isn’t great, doesn’t tend to do a very good job of answering people’s questions, and has output that looks pretty much the same. Not delightful. 

Plus, there are still plenty of people who will get really annoyed if they want to get in touch with a company and can’t get a real human. Have you ever heard of anyone being delighted by a chatbot or automated phone system? I thought not.

Companies are not doing prospects, users or customers any favours. Most of the time people have other options. They don’t have to choose you. But if you manage to create delight you’ve upped the odds that they will, and will continue to. 

It also means that you’ve probably done the hard work on the big stuff that matters. Companies don’t generally do little delightful things if they’re struggling with the fundamentals or their operations are a total mess. 

You know the story behind Van Halen and the brown M&Ms? It’s like that. The venues that remove the brown M&Ms are the ones that read the whole rider and did all the technical and safety stuff to keep people safe and help ensure a great show. 

The companies that send Haribo have also probably done the work to deliver solid UI and UX on the website, figured out fulfillment and logistics, have competitive pricing, and have their shipping sorted as well. All before and unrelated to a single packet of gummies getting sent out.

Of course, there’s one more key element that plenty of companies miss. All the delight initiatives in the world are probably going to fail if the company just rolls out what they decide is delightful. For delight to work, it’s got to resonate with your audience. You’ve got to know your prospects and customers. Now, one gummy does not fit all. But there are elements of delight that are pretty universal, or that will at least resonate with a good portion of your audience. 

Yes, delight will always be subjective. Plenty of my friends are tragically anti-carbonation. Sparkling water is the last thing that would delight them. Some people don’t like or can’t eat gummies. No delight there, either. And yet all of us wear t-shirts and many of us wear glasses and/or contacts. Know your audience and do your best. 

Plus, there’s nothing to say you can’t try something else, or just switch it up from time to time. Just be careful. Swiss Chalet dropped the Toblerone in favour of Lindt truffles in the Festive Special over 20 years ago, and some people are still salty about that.

Oh, and if you really want to up your delight game? A friend stayed in a hotel in Switzerland where the dining room had still, sparkling and extra sparkling water on tap. Real winners figure out how to turn the delight up to 11.