The Art of Delighting Customers

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Delight is not an “add on” or “nice to have” it is an integral part of a great customer experience.


A few years ago, I had an inspiring stairwell conversation with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, after his talk at the annual Business Innovation Factory Conference in Providence.

His talk at BIF was a personal story about his journey from working in a culture he disliked to one he purposely created with culture as one of its driving principles. In 1996, he co-founded a company called LinkExchange, which was sold to Microsoft two years later for $265 million. He talked about building a company based on hiring by need rather than a culture fit and how demotivating it was to work in that environment. So when he began investing in the company that became Zappos, he wanted to make sure that culture was built into the fabric of the company.

But what we talked about in that stairwell was the essence of “delight.” How can you continually think of ways to delight customers?  What is the relationship between customer service and delight?  

One of the things he talked about was sending orders overnight when customers had put in 2nd or even longer delivery dates.  And giving customer service people the ability to improvise to deliver a high level of service. The best story was about a night of drinking and his challenge to friends to see if he could get a pizza delivered by calling Zappos customer service without identifying himself. The service representative said, “I can’t deliver a pizza but I can tell you the three closest Pizza delivery companies and here are their numbers.”



Delight. It is that rare commodity that is often lost in the day-to-operation of a company. I seldom hear executives say, “How can we delight our customers today?”

"Category of One Branding"The idea of delight mirrors the same roller coaster experience of many business ideas that feel more like a trend than a fundamental business practice. The nadir was an article in the Harvard Business Review “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicolas Toman.

Based on extensive research, the thesis of the article was “that when it comes to service, customers create loyal customers primarily helping them solve their problems quickly and easily. Framing the service challenge in terms of making it easy for the customer can be highly illuminating, even liberating, especially for companies struggling to delight.”


Struggling to Delight

I believe the key phrase is “struggling to delight.” Companies like Zappos, Nordstrom’s, Disney, L.L. Bean, Amazon, Lexus, and Singapore Airlines don’t have to struggle to delight, because customer service is built into their culture. Companies that struggle with delight are creating “delight” to compensate for less than satisfactory products or services.

Delight is not an “add on” or “nice to have” it is an integral part of a great customer experience.   And you can’t delight when all other areas of your business aren’t working in synchronicity.

So how can you authentically delight your customers? Like Tony Hsieh, just put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Find the obstacles that make it a challenge for customers to become satisfied?   Then, reward satisfaction with delight. Stay humble about delight. Don’t try to delight with the desire to upsell. Talk with customers not at them.

And most of all, empathy goes a long way to make a customer feel less like a customer and more of a human. Look for our blog post series featuring awesome customer service initiatives that have generated WOW for others. Great ideas for your local business.


The Author-Martin Baker
Senior Manager, Global Digital at The Hershey Company


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