There is a luxury hotel chain with a legendary general manager in one of its flagship properties. He has an unusual way of creating customer enthusiasm — he removes the complimentary hair dryer from his guest’s room. The guest will invariably call down, complaining there is no hair dryer, whereupon the general manager will take the hair dryer up to the room himself, with a charming apology and a request to call him personally if he can do anything to make their stay more enjoyable.
This is known in the business as ‘Superb recovery’: the guest is so bowled over by the general manager coming up in person, that what could be a reputational risk in terms of a quality problem turns instead into a story to tell their friends about how impressed they were with the quality of personal attention in the hotel.
At the heart of what makes this service sleight-of-hand work so well, of course, is the manufacture of surprise. Research confirms that besides focusing the individual’s attention on an event, and increasing the memory of it, surprise amplifies positive (or negative) emotional reactions. This is why challengers in particular focus so much attention on using surprise in the customer experience as a source of strategic advantage. Emotional amplification is one of the ways they create a strong and loyal customer base, and the social salience it generates for them is a key way to offset the established brand’s larger spend. This requires being ready to do the unexpected, and having a very clear sense of where in the communications and user experience that unexpectedness should lie.
And in a number of categories, hotels being one of them, genuinely surprising a seen-it-all customer anymore today is hard. Which is why, like that hotel manager, we may need to do what initially appears counter-intuitive in order to create it.
Adam Morgan is founding partner of eatbigfish. Follow him on Twitter @eatbigfish.