Want to Improve Customer Experience? Master the Element of Surprise


Kyle H DavidFounder of Kyle David Group

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What’s the difference between satisfactory customer service and flawless customer service? What makes for an experience your customers are sure to talk about? The answer: an unexpected surprise.

Article 4 Minutes
Want to Improve Customer Experience? Master the El

Customer-loyalty consultant Chip Bell calls the unexpected “service with sprinkles.” Everyone loves a good cupcake. However, everyone loves a good cupcake even more when there’s that added dash of sugar. Customer service works the same way. Customers love when you treat them kindly...that’s expected. However, how can you make their experience with you even more memorable?

The elements of surprise

If you want to surprise your customers and give them an experience they’ll remember, you have to master the three elements of surprise.

As defined by Harvard Business Review, a surprise is…

  • Addictive
  • Cost-Effective
  • Behavior changing

When you can master the three elements of surprise, you’re guaranteed to deliver an experience that’s sure to get customers talking online and off. And, as we all know, word-of-mouth, referrals, and viral stories are a sure way to give your business a boost.


One little surprise should inspire your customers to keep coming back for more, wondering as to what’s next. Have you ever eaten at McDonald’s during its Monopoly campaign and excitedly peeled the sticker off your box of fries to see what you won? Maybe you won more fries or a free sandwich. Chances are you went back to McDonald’s again during the campaign to see what else you could win.

People have become addicted to the McDonald’s Monopoly game, so much so that some customers have threatened their health just to see if they can win one of the rare cash prizes.

How can you implement a similar campaign for your business? Try your hand at giveaways or raffles. Utilize a punch-card system like some restaurants do, rewarding customers every five times they make a purchase. No matter what you decide, the key is to keep customers coming back.


The other key is to make sure your business doesn’t go bankrupt. McDonald’s can afford to give out free fries just like MasterCard can afford to run its #PricelessSurprises campaign, where prizes range from tech gear to Grammy Awards tickets. Obviously, your business will have to do what falls into its budget.

Some affordable surprises you can try?

  • Mail customers birthday cards, thank you cards, and/or just little notes that say hello.
  • Send them a box of their favorite candy, or company swag, on a whim.
  • Come the holidays, send customers gift cards to restaurants they may love, special books they may find useful, or another little surprise they’ll appreciate.

For example, our higher ed web design team at KDG sends out “celebration boxes” packed with fun swag for clients who have launched a new website with us.

While everyone loves getting mail, not every surprise has to be a letter or package. Sometimes a memorable surprise can be as simple as free cookies at the register or warm coffee for customers on a chilly day. An unexpected surprise doesn’t have to be grand, flashy, or expensive, it just has to be kind, sincere, and authentic.

Behavior changing

Finally, a surprise must be behavior changing. You want your customers to do something after they’ve been hit with a surprise. You want them to act. As Harvard Business Review explains, surprises “drive learning” and alter regular behavior.

Several years ago, IKEA launched an unexpected campaign that didn’t only trend online but got customers to take action. IKEA built a replica of a Syrian refugee’s home in the middle of one of its stores. As customers meandered the giant warehouse and thought of the store’s famous restaurant, they were hit with an unexpected and heartbreaking reality. Chances are after they saw that display, IKEA customers were more likely to pay attention to news stories of the refugees’ flight, learn more about the crisis in Syria, and possibly even donate to charities that helped victims of the nation’s civil war.

Expect the unexpected

One final note to keep in mind: don’t focus so much on surprises that they become evident sales ploys. What makes a surprise a surprise is its authenticity and spontaneity. A surprise, when overdone, can easily become stale, leaving customers to wonder “What’s the catch?”

No one knows your customers better than you do. Watch them, listen to them, and understand them. Your customers may not appreciate a flash mob surprise, thousands of which already flood YouTube. Instead, create a surprise catered just for them, one that will leave a lasting impact.

Kyle H David

Kyle H. David has made a career in technology and entrepreneurship for nearly 20 years. In 2001, he formed The Kyle David Group, now KDG. Over the past 16 years, KDG has grown at a rapid pace, attracting clients ranging from the United States Senate to major financial institutions, international nonprofits, and Division I universities.



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