Consumer psychology

January 19, 2024 •

7 min reading

Decoding consumer psychology: Secrets to customer delight

Written by

By strategically integrating joy and surprise into your customer interactions, you tap into the realm of consumer psychology. Understanding the triggers that evoke positive emotions allows you to craft memorable experiences, strengthening the bond between customers and your brand. Here are a few expert tips to elevate your approach and create lasting impressions.

When a consumer chooses to buy a product or service, they expect a positive outcome. If you deliver that positive outcome, the customer, generally speaking, will be satisfied. If you go over and above to deliver a benefit they did not expect, then they experience delight.

You can delight your customers by going one step, or several steps, further than necessary to create a memorable experience with your brand. And that’s the key - delight is memorable. In today’s consumer world of rising prices, ‘shrinkflation’, and underwhelming customer services, delight doesn’t happen very often. That’s part of the reason why it sticks in your mind.

The other reason that delight is so memorable is that it’s an emotion, and, according to psychologists, when you have an emotional response to something, you remember it for longer. Can you remember the last time you were genuinely delighted by a brand? You probably can. And research shows that once you’ve delighted a customer, they’re more likely to buy from you again.


The psychology of customer delight

If you want to create experiences that consistently delight your customers, you need to understand the theory behind it. According to psychologists, two core ingredients create delight: joy and surprise.

Creating joy means different things for different brands. It comes fundamentally from understanding your clients, meeting their needs, and showing you care. You can create joy by delivering authentic and uplifting experiences when customers interact with your products, services, or brand.


Surprise is less straightforward. It occurs when you break away from the customer’s expectation for their experience with your brand. Customers expect a certain routine when buying a product or service, and when something positive happens that deviates from that routine, customers are surprised and that triggers the emotional response of delight. In most mundane customer interactions, there’s no delight without the element of surprise.EHL Solutions for Organisations  Are you looking to enhance your team's technical expertise or leadership  skills?  Develop your people, address your challenges, and transform your business  practices with EHL Solutions for Organizations  Check here for more details

Six ways to create happy customers

Recent research looked more deeply at the theory of customer delight to understand what contributes to this type of emotional response. It identified six properties that can be present in a customer experience, either individually or in combination, to create delight. Here’s the list of those properties and some examples of how to do it:

1. Create positive emotions

There are a range of positive emotions that correspond with customer-reported delight. They include joy, surprise, awe, contentment, peace, relief, and a sense of achievement. While it might be tempting to try and generate all those lovely feelings in one go, it’s wiser to consider each one individually and examine how each emotion can be triggered at different stages of the customer journey. The joy may come from opening the door to a luxury boutique, or being handed beautiful package with a precious purchase inside. Suprise may come from finding a hand-written note in the box, or being shown a secret hidden benefit during a tour. Peace and relief can be found in being reassured of the excellent post-purchase service.

At every step in a customer expeirence, emotions play a part, and savvy brands make sure those emotions stay positive throughout the ride.

2. Prioritize interpersonal interactions

Positive interactions with service providers can help to create delight. That includes interactions experienced directly by the customer but also indirectly, such as hearing another customer interacting with an employee. Authenticity, sincerity, thoughtfulness, and a human connection all influence the customers’ perception of delight. 

While that may sound easy, it requires customer-facing personnel to have a high level of emotional intelligence (or EQ). This quality an integral part of hospitality, which isn’t just an industry, it’s a skill set that starts with a strong foundation of EQ. One way to increase the EQ level among staff is to offer specialized training, such as training on customer experience.

3. The art of problem-solving and collaboration

While problems aren’t usually a good thing, having an element of problem-solving in their encounter was also found to be a path to delight. This is true for consumers who were less focused on service expectations and more on whether the product or service resolved the issues they were experiencing. It’s also a key element of service recovery, where brands turn problems into an opportunity to impress and retain the loyalty of their customer by solving difficulties in a way that goes above and beyond expectations.

4. Appeal to all five senses

Triggering customer senses can also elicit delight. Sights, sounds, flavors, textures, and odors can all influence how customers experience products and services. They also have the power to evoke memories and a sense of nostalgia, both of which can be a source of delight.

Luxury boutiques are famous for appealing to senses with rich smells, such as leather and perfume, and a glasses of champagne and little treats. New fun gadgets in fashion boutiques invite customers to play with outfits in a visually pleasing and interactive way.For some brands, this might seem difficult. How can a purchase made online trigger the senses? Easy, appeal to the sight and sound elements online, then deliver a package that includes something delicious such as a sample of luxury chocolates or a scented wrapping paper, all unexpected.

5. The timing of events

Customer delight can emerge from a prolonged sequence of events or be instantaneous, highlighting the importance of first impressions and after-service encounters. The desire for fast or more leisurely service depends on the customers’ needs and desires at the time.

One way to test the timing of the customer experience is by engaging with myster shoppers who can be mandated to evaluate their experience. Online retail environments must also be carefully analyzed using web analytics and consultants to sexamine User Experience (UX) issues. For example, the brands Zara and Nike both underwent UX analysis tests, where the timing of page load content was found to be a negative factor for both brands.

6. A sense of control

Having a sense of control or being able to shape their service experiences can also create positive experiences. Having lots of choices or simply being able to collaborate with a service provider to find an acceptable solution can be a route to customer delight.

Examples of this personalization factor abound across many sectors. Hotels can offer pillow menus and personalized concierge services. Restaurants can offer vegan or gluten-free options for their most iconic dishes. Good retail websites can give consumers easy tools to filter results that specifically meet their query.

In conclusion, the research suggests that it’s rare for just one of these properties to produce customer delight. More often, it’s a combination of two or more properties that create the positive experiences that lead to delight. Within that, three of the properties - positive emotions, interpersonal interactions, and problem-solving - most frequently produce delightful experiences.


Frictionless is good, delightful is better

Businesses exist to create products and services that answer their customers’ problems and meet their needs. They aim to be functional and effective but not usually delightful. To be delightful, you have to go the extra mile, and when profit margins are king, that’s not somewhere many businesses are prepared to go. However, according to the research, it’s well worth it if you do.

One study found that the customer satisfaction associated with a frictionless experience had a diminishing return in terms of the customers’ repurchase intention when it reached higher levels. Customer delight, on the other hand, showed an increasing return. So, the more you delight your customers, the more loyal and engaged they become.


Improve customer experience and create positive events

To say it’s been a difficult few years is an understatement. The pandemic brought huge challenges and increased levels of depression, loneliness, and psychological distress. While the situation for many has improved, high inflation, rising interest rates, and war could lead to a global recession. In short, we all need some good news, and unexpected doses of joy and surprise can go a long way to improving people’s sense of well-being.

While a delightful experience with an organization might seem trivial given the scale of the problems many people face, being able to lift a customer’s mood becomes all the more powerful. Research suggests that customers remember the feelings from positive events for longer than negative events. Known as the fading affect bias, this self-defense mechanism helps us to maintain a positive outlook on life. So, the delight you create will be remembered. And ultimately, it’s how you make your customers feel that will keep them coming back for more.

To learn more about delightful customer experiences, and how to achieve them, check out these articles.

Are you looking for training or education related to this topic? As the world’s top-ranking hospitality school, with over 125 years of experience, EHL Hospitality Business School’s Graduate School (GS) offers programs for the leadership sphere focusing on human-centricity, and thereby improved customer-centricity, which elevates the customer experience by involving all levels of an organization.

“Brands are looking to demonstrate a genuine commitment to their customers’ well-being by providing moments of joy and escapism where they are least expected. More than just a marketing tactic, the “Joyconomy” is a movement - one that sees local as well as global brands prioritising uplifting experiences, community, and playfulness as core parts of their identity.”
Kanika Bali, Senior Strategist, Wunderman Thompson
“Customer Experience Management is becoming a top strategic priority for organizations. Leaders who aim to shape the future legacy of their business and industry must address this human value by engaging with customers at cognitive, emotional, behavioral and sensorial levels in what we call ‘the essential experiences’.”
Ryan Laver, EHL Alumnus