The Immeasurable Experience of Delight

By Cassandra @ Setmore

Writer, editor and scheduling product expert at Setmore Appointments.

Before we dig into delight, let’s look at an example: in 2014 outside a courthouse in LA, pedestrians and passer-bys were asked to rate their stress level. Next they were invited to sit on a patch of soft green grass, put on some headphones, and listen through a guided meditation featuring “the gentle purr of the happy kitten.” Then this happened:

In this Tidy Cats marketing campaign, unsuspecting people are delighted by surprise kittens.

Delightful, no? And almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face. When delightful things happen, we love it – they tend to catch us off guard, interrupt the typical humdrum of the day, and wrap us in a blanket of happiness that can last for hours if not longer.

The above was a promotional stunt for Tidy Cats cat litter, but the underlying problem they sought to address – stress – is a factor in everybody’s life across any number of industries. So the question is, how can delight help you grow your business, and do you need a buttload of kittens to do it?

Deconstructing the experience of delight

I’ve spent the last several weeks locked up in our underground laboratory, and I think I’ve finally unlocked the secret formula for delight. It looks something like this:

Delight = (Something Pleasant) x (Something Unexpected)

Surprise is the secret ingredient that makes delight possible. Just like the unsuspecting participants in the Tidy Cats campaign, nobody expected that moments after sitting down to a guided meditation, they’d be overrun by pint-sized puffballs. Certainly kittens on their own have the capacity to be cute, but a kitten where one is not expected is what really brought a smile to everyone’s face.

The brain science backs it up

A recent study demonstrated that the human brain, when exposed to unpredictable stimuli, caused portions of the bilateral nucleus accumbens (NAC), a big fancy name for the pleasure center, to light up with synaptic activity. This is the same part of the brain in charge of reward-based learning, by the way. Cue brain x-ray graphic:

This brain diagram shows the effects that surprises have on the pleasure centers of the brain.

Source: “Predictability Modulates Human Brain Response to Reward,” Berns et al.

When something surprises you, your brain immediately drops what it’s doing and gives your full attention to the thing that surprised you. This is largely a survival instinct – if something jumps out from the bushes, your body primes you to respond to it. As a result, surprises amplify the emotional effect of whatever you experience next, good or bad.

So in essence, delight is a brief moment of concentrated joy, made possible by the compounding element of surprise. But another key takeaway is this: delight teaches your brain to want more of a delightful experience, by inducing your brain’s reward-learning system. It’s often said in the business world, delighted customers become loyal customers.

Delight is meant to be shared

Most surprises can only be experienced once, but the brain always wants more of a good thing. So we’ll often find ways to re-experience something through vicarious means, usually by watching somebody we know experience it for the first time. When was the last time you ate something so delicious that you tugged on a nearby friend’s elbow and said, “You just HAVE to try this”? That’s the phenomenon of vicarious living in action (for a deeper dive, check out mirror neurons, which explains how this works).

Consequently, delightful experiences offer multiplicative value to a business. If you truly wow a customer with something pleasant and unexpected, you can bet on that customer to tell their friends and family about the experience. And you can further bet that those friends and family will shortly become customers themselves.

Finding the delightful in the everyday

The key to creating delightful experiences is all about finding unexpected ways to please your customers. This goes beyond “service with a smile” – we already expect service to be delivered amiably, so there’s no element of surprise and therefore no possibility of delight. What you’re looking for is the unexpected twist. Here’s another example: Urban Waxx is a Portland-based salon that serves mimosas while you wait (not pictured is the dispenser of free jelly beans).

A local waxing salon offers free mimosas while their customers wait.

I’ll admit this was a pleasant surprise the first time, but got rather dull after a few visits. My recommendation would be to change up the beverage of choice every few weeks – mimosas one month, mojitos the next, then gin & tonic, and so on. Again, the point is not about giving away free drinks, it’s about keeping customers on their toes. As a customer, I would be much more excited kicking off each visit with a mystery cocktail, and I would be more likely to brag about the experience to my friends and co-workers.

Here at Setmore, we’re all about experiences

I’ve already written about how experiences are what make us happy, not stuff – and delight is the proverbial cherry on top. If you look at delight as a chore then you’re doing it wrong. Delight should always be about transforming mundane interactions between business and customer into something fun, memorable, and shareable. It’s about bringing more positivity into the world. Not yet convinced? Just ask yourself: when was the last time you smiled while watching a video about cat litter?

Thank you!

– The Setmore Team

What experiences do you find delightful? Is it possible to bring those experiences into customer interactions? Let us know in comments below!

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  • A Smile, a Hug and Happiness with complete satisfaction.

  • Great blog. Thanks for reminding us about the joy of delight!

  • Thank you so much for sharing .I Lear a lot from your blog posts and apply it all to my brick and clicks business .

  • This is an awesome read, and yes “Delight” is the driven force that makes our evangelist lovers to spread the love for us and drive more traffic our way by sharing the great experiences they shared with our businesses. Delight is the last phase of our workflow, of our roadmap, of our gantt chart, of our goals and objectives, it is what makes us more successful by really following best practices about how to delight our users. Awesome read, and I love that you included neurological science study to back up your article.

    Thank you again.

  • Cassandra, your blogs are always a good read and I do use many of the strategies & skills w/ good results. please keep them coming. Barry from Summit Human Affairs Counseling Group, Lehi, UT

    • Awesome! That’s great to hear – I strive to offer insight and guidance that all Setmore users can put into practice right away. That being said, if there’s any topic you’d find especially helpful and would like me to explore in future blog posts, do let me know. Thanks!