How Customer Service Agents Create Positive Emotions: Four Delighters Drive Loyalty


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Howard Lax, in his Dec 2nd, 2021 CustomerThink article, complained that everyone talks about CX but few take specific actions. Also, Alan Zorfas and David Leemon state in the Harvard Business Review that an emotionally connected customer has twice the lifetime value than one who has no emotional connection.[1]

In 2005, Gerald Zaltman suggested that 95 percent of purchasing decisions are based on emotion.[2] While most service and CX systems focus solely on operations that take time and money to modify, basic emotional connection can be very easy to create with measurable impact in any service or sales environment – and with little investment.

Creating Delight and Emotional Connection

There are four simple ways to modify your response guidance to help customer service agents (CSR) create positive emotions and, in many cases, delight. These four delighters are enthusiasm, empathy, transparency, and compliments. Some companies have tried to identify a limited set of types of transactions where delight could be implemented; for instance, by proactively recognizing and acknowledging a customer’s previous patronage. “Would you like another caramel frappuccino today?” While this is a useful strategy, it can limit the range of contacts where CSRs consider creating delight. /p>

Agents should be encouraged to inject some emotional connection into every conversation they think appropriate, whether on the phone, face-to-face, or even digitally. CCMC’s 2021 National Customer Delight study found that 48 percent of delight was created digitally, so you can even leverage these approaches in chat, SMS, and email.[3]

1. Show Enthusiasm

The enthusiasm can be directed toward the transaction requested by the customer or about some circumstance the customer is experiencing. For the transaction, the response could be, ” I’d love to help you do that” or “I’m the superhero of lost packages, let’s get on it!”.

Also, a CSR can listen for cues on other things going on in the customer’s life and express enthusiasm for those occurrences. At one insurance agency, when a customer calls to say they have a new car to be insured, the CSR can ask, “That’s exciting, what kind of car did you get?”

Another approach is to ask an open-ended question such as how are things going, are you coping with the pandemic? The customer will often then share events like a birthday or a visit from grandchildren.

The same phrases can be used via voice channels or digital channels. Also, emojis can be used to communicate emotions as well.

2. Show Empathy

When a customer conveys a disappointment or problem, an effective approach to emotional connection is to express empathy. The first step is to apologize without accepting blame – “I’m so sorry to hear that happened.” The CSR validates the customer’s feelings, regardless of who caused the problem.

The CSR can also identify with the customer’s situation by noting that they have experienced a similar occurrence. “I’ve been in that same situation, I know what a drag it is.” or “I’ve traveled with an elderly person and I know how stressful it is.” A United Airlines pilot empathized with the passengers when he announced a further evening delay by saying, ” I know you all want to get home and DC is this crew’s home as well – we want to get there as badly as you all do”.

Other environmental factors can be identified quickly that complicate the customer’s day by listening for sounds in the background of a phone call. If there are children’s voices or noises in the background, you can say, “Wow, it sounds like you really have your hands full. I’ll try to handle this issue quickly.”

A basic transaction can be transformed into a powerful empathetic interaction with the empowerment of the front line. For instance, when Chewy, the e-commerce unit of PetSmart, receives a call canceling an ongoing monthly order due to the death of the pet, the CSR is empowered to send a flower arrangement and a sympathy card to the customer. Such an event occurred in the Maryland suburbs and was reported by the customer on the local neighborhood list-serve. She was touched that a big company cared enough to send flowers. Over 130 members of the list-serve responded with “likes” and over two dozen comments, some promising to patronize Chewy exclusively because of their sensitivity and caring. Companies cannot buy such effective advertising.

3. Be Transparent

While marketing and sales personnel cringe when asked to highlight limitations of products and situations, such a warning actually builds trust among customers because they become aware that the company is not pursuing sales at all costs.[4]

For example, a hearing aid company, whose customers are audiologists, takes great care to protect the audiologists from unhappy end-users by suggesting that they allow a two-day cushion on repairs. This assures the patient does not come for the fitting appointment before the instrument arrives. In another example, a high-end clothing retailer’s e-commerce CSRs warn customers if certain items run large or smaller than usual, saying “I need to warn you that these sizes run a bit small.” The customer appreciates the advice and views the CSR as an expert.

An internet service provider salesperson should always ask, “Are you an avid gamer? If so, I need to warn you that this offering is not good with first shot games as there is a half second latency due to the satellite communication delay.” The company has identified that selling an inappropriate service to customers will result in high rate of cancellations and negative word of mouth.

The power of transparency and honesty also can have great impact in a business-to-business environment. Two quick examples:

  • A mid-level executive of a major equipment manufacturer was bidding on a 50MM plus contract with a major retailer. The manufacturer believed the requested design in the request for proposal not the best approach but worried that criticizing the specifications would lose the bid. When the proposing company communicated that they thought an alternative design was much more cost/effective, the buyer ultimately awarded them the contact, commenting that, “all the other bidders had simply quoted on the requested design rather than telling us that there was a better way.”
  • The front line sales representatives of a major logistics company, will pitch that the customer lease 100 trucks to achieve dramatically improved fleet uptime. The logistics company’s group VP of Sales also requires that the sales rep discuss at the same time, what happens when one of the trucks breaks down. “We’ll take two hours to try to repair the truck before we will give you a replacement.”

4. Give Compliments

Customers love compliments. Steve Curtin In the book Delight Your Customers, Steve Curtin writes that people report that compliments make them feel appreciated, valued, respected and important. He provided the example of a supermarket cashier who rang up a bag of dog food for a customer and, while continuing to ring up items asked, “What kind of dog do you have?” When told a Labrador retriever, she replied,” You could not have picked a breed with a better disposition.”[5] The cashier showed interest and then provide a relevant compliment.

While phone and digital service channels provide fewer queues, compliments are still easy to create. In a problem situation, you can compliment how calm the customer is, despite the frustration. For example, “I’m know how frustrating this is, I am really impressed by your calm/patience.. ” If the customer provides all the necessary information to allow you to take action, you can compliment how well prepared and organized the customer is.

The one problem I observe with compliments is that if an employee, or worse, a whole team, all use the same compliment over and over, customers will soon recognize the pattern and question how genuine the compliment is. For instance, before the Covid pandemic, I would often wear a necktie on airplane flights to business meetings. On one airline, I was told by six different flight attendants welcoming customers that they liked my necktie on about twelve different flights. My ties often have little animals like hedgehogs, but they are not that cute. Obviously, the staff had been told to compliment men’s neckties and (women’s shawls which my wife had complimented on multiple occasions).

What is the Payoff?

The most immediate payoff is a rise in customer satisfaction and delight scores. In one recent experiment, a two and a half hour training and brainstorming session for a team of CSRs supporting the skin-care and make-up company, Beautycounter achieved a four-point lift in top box ratings, from 84 to 88 percent, over 2,500 contacts.

Three additional payoffs for delight and emotional connection are willingness to pay more for the product or service (enhanced margin), more robust positive word of mouth referrals, and improved CSR team morale because they have both the flexibility to pick when to delight and immediate positive feedback from the customer for their action. For a more complete description of the impacts of delight actions, see my July 26, 2021 article detailing the compelling payoff of delight.

Take Action Tomorrow

  1. Present the four delight approaches listed above to your team and ask your them to identify three actions in each category that would be appropriate. Develop basic language for each and roleplay the approaches. For the approaches that seem comfortable, put them on a small sign in front of the CSRs and let them use them for a week. Share what seems to work well and what does not feel genuine.
  2. Create a delighted category for your monitoring and survey measurements (above completely satisfied) for both phone and digital channels and start identifying delight occurrences and the market impact. Track incremental repeat sales from delighted customers.
  3. Celebrate successes and encourage staff to expand their repertoire of delight phrases. Record what works in an idea book. This is the approach that Southwest Airlines uses to fosters wacky, fun things that happen on their planes. They have a fun manual providing over 200 ideas.
  4. Involve supervisors marketing, sales, operation, and compliance early so they understand what you are trying to do and are comfortable with the pilot test approach.
  5. Once you have quantitative data, start creating an intentional delight strategy as a Word Of Mouth management program.


The specific methods of creating emotional connection using the four delighters described above, enthusiasm, empathy, transparency and compliments, are as infinite as the creativity of your front line CSRs. Encourage supervisors to allow the testing of this creativity. Occasionally something will flop but I guarantee over 90% of attempts will succeed.

As you discover especially impactful, creative examples, please communicate them to me at [email protected] or Share the wealth of delight and emotional connection techniques!


[1] Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon, “An emotional Connection Matters more than customer Satisfaction”, Harvard Business Review, August 29, 2015.

[2] Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think, Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

[3] John Goodman and Scott Broetzmann, 2021 National Customer Delight Study, June 30, 2021, video and infographic, .

[4] I had the CMO of a Fortune 200 company wince when I mentioned warning about investment pitfalls by saying, ” It’s not in the DNA of marketing guys to talk about problems.”

[5] Steve Curtin, Delight Your Customers, AMACOM, New York, 2013, p 53-55.

John Goodman

Mr. Goodman is Vice Chairman of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting (CCMC). The universal adages, “It costs five times as much to win a new customer as to keep an existing one.” and “Twice as many people hear about a bad experience as a good one.” are both based on his research. Harper Collins published his book, “Strategic Customer Service”, in March, 2019. He has also published, “Customer Experience 3.0”, with the American Management Association in July, 2014. He has assisted over 1,000 companies, non-profit and government organizations including 45 of the Fortune 100.


  1. Spot on, John. Voice communication allows for these delighters.
    How can we build some of these attributes into self-serve or chatbot interactions?


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