How to ensure ‘surprise and delight’ is experienced by every client

Posted 21 May 2024 by Julie Littlechild

"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 planners think outside the box 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, 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:

  • Trigger: Typically ad hoc and spontaneous - in this example the trigger was a lost stuffie.
  • Execution: Dependent on the occurrence of specific, often unpredictable events - no one can know if there will be a lost stuffie.
  • Scalability: As a result, the ability to scale is limited due to the ad hoc nature of the triggers.

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 adviser takes on a new client and starts by helping them get organised. A team member works directly with the family to document and track everything and create a process for doing so in future. As a result, clients feel more in control.
  2. An adviser 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:

  • Trigger: Defined by specific events in the client journey (e.g., onboarding, life milestones).
  • Execution: Consistent and repeatable, ensuring all clients benefit from the extraordinary service.
  • Scalability: High, due to the structured nature of the strategy.

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 a profession, 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. ‍Strong service foundation: Establish reliable, high-quality service as a baseline.
  2. Scalable extraordinary: Implement processes that consistently deliver exceptional experiences.
  3. Culture of experience: Foster a culture that encourages and empowers employees to create memorable moments for clients.

By combining these elements, you can create a client experience that not only meets but exceeds expectations, driving loyalty and satisfaction that delivers consistently.

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Julie Littlechild

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Julie Littlechild