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Using Surprise & Delight to Build True Loyalty Sentiment

Surprise and Delight is a well-established component to great brand experiences and loyalty programs, harnessing the Decision Affect theory that unexpected outcomes have a greater impact than expected outcomes. Though best suited to service oriented businesses, others have found ways to side-step the challenges of scaling this approach, succeeding brilliantly in deepening emotional connections with their customers.

Ritz Carlton Creates Surprise & Delight by Meeting Unexpressed Needs

Ritz Carlton provides a prominent example with their approach to identifying and acting upon the guest’s “unexpressed needs” to create Wow moments. Employees are empowered to capture these needs discretely using note cards around the hotel, and brainstorming experiences for the guests that meet three criteria: unique, memorable, and personal. The outcomes are powerful and now legendary, with experiences such as how they helped a boy who lost his stuffed animal "Joshie the Giraffe at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia island. Not only do these experiences make a customer for life, but they also achieve immense word of mouth.


Key to success for this approach is having enough front-line service personnel to deliver this kind of experience and empowering them to act in creative ways. There are diminishing returns as surprise and delight programs become more predictable, turning into expected benefits. This creates a dilemma for operators who crave consistency, and it can create issues for members who receive a sub-par experience.

AirBnB’s Mixed Results

There are other challenges to scale these kinds of benefits. AirBnB created a program to recognize hosts for the things that they do to satisfy their guests. The program, called AirBnB Love, provides a range of gifts to their hosts using a gifting platform. However, because of the lack of a personal touch, a common reaction to AirBnB Love is skepticism, with the unexpected and impersonal outreach feeling like a scam. Some of the gifts were met with less than positive responses (ie a keychain is not unique or memorable). More than a few hosts have questioned why they had not been recognized. As you can see, the positive intent of the gesture was lost in translation because it was not unique, memorable, or personal. The AirBnB case shows the challenging tightrope of executing surprise and delight at scale.



T-Mobile Tuesdays – The Unloyalty Program

For those looking to scale this kind of program and lacking a deep frontline staff, surprise might be a better way in. For example, T-Mobile has created an entire loyalty initiative around T-Mobile Tuesdays, which offers their customer new offers every week. Always fresh, it could be a discount on a movie release, new menu item or local sporting event. As noted in the sidebar, the positioning is distinctly “UnLoyalty”, with T-Mobile flipping the script and proving their loyalty to their customers.


“In 2016, we found ourselves ten Un-carrier moves down and looking for our next big thing. Looking at other major brands at the time, we saw that a traditional, points-based program might be a decent way to generate additional sales, but we chose a different approach—and flipped the script on the tired loyalty program. We asked: What if, instead of making customers prove their loyalty to us, we proved our loyalty to them?”

“The answer was T-Mobile Tuesdays—the Un-carrier's fresh take on customer appreciation. It's NOT a loyalty scheme or a typical rewards program. Customers aren't forced to spend more, track points, refer friends, or prove their loyalty by being a customer for a minimum period of time. The simple goal of T-Mobile Tuesdays is to say “thank you” to customers by providing simple, easy access to free stuff and great deals—all without forcing customers to spend more with T-Mobile. Full stop.”

The results have been strong, according to T-Mobile:

  • In these last five years since launching T-Mobile Tuesdays, customers have enjoyed well over $1 BILLION worth of freebies and exclusive discounts. That includes 1.8 billion gallons of discounted gas, 150 million hours of free movies, 55 million free cups of coffee, and 28 million free burgers.
  • The net promoter score for customers who use T-Mobile Tuesdays was 14 points higher than the industry average. And after extending eligibility to former Sprint customers, the net promoter score jumped another 7 points to a new record for T-Mobile.

LoyaltyLevers Take: Using Surprise & Delight to Build Positive Sentiment

T-Mobile Tuesdays is certainly unique and memorable, and while not personalized at an individual level, it does create a sense of appreciation for the group. The changing menu of offers stokes excitement about what the new offers will be each week, and the high redemption rates are evidence of the level of Delight. It’s an innovative program that uses T-Mobiles critical mass to deliver Surprise/Delight and Value to members at an extremely low cost to T-Mobile.

Used with care, Surprise & Delight is a great way to build stronger relationships and true loyalty among your customers. While out of pocket cost may be low, it does require significant ongoing support. A process emphasizing creative thinking followed by market research and field testing will avoid potential missteps and help ensure success.


  • Creates an emotional connection with the customer
  • Engages front line staff and customers in a positive way
  • Changing benefits avoid creating a sense of entitlement
  • Generates strong word of mouth
  • Low out of pocket cost


  • Difficult to scale
  • Requires front line staff for a personalized approach; operational complexity
  • Can backfire if not done appropriately