The Secret of Happiness Is …


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…low expectations.

When you have no choice your expectations are lower and ‘pretty good’ can be pleasantly surprising. (Also, when you are disappointed, the world/supplier is responsible, not you. So you can at least externalize your dissatisfaction).

When you have 100s of choices, your expectations are raised. Get the choice right and you will be as happy as possible. There is an optimum choice. And it’s up to you to make it. Now. If you are still not happy with the choices you make, you blame yourself.

The more options we have, the more we regret what we didn’t choose. This opportunity cost becomes a lingering regret that subtracts from the satisfaction of the choice.

That’s a distillation of the core of Barry Schwartz’s excellent book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, which Schwartz says he wrote after counting 175 different salad dressings and 75 iced teas on his local supermarket shelves and thinking, “This is crazy”.

As a secondary point, that’s why customer satisfaction ratings can stubbornly refuse to go up despite service improvement initiatives: as things get better all over, customer expectations rise, and they/we are more easily disappointed and less easily satisfied. “Customer expectation inflation” Jim Sterne once told me he calls it.

‘Customer choice’ has been a mantra for the past ten years. Customization, lists of offerings and options for the customer to express a preference, wrapping a customer experience around the individual’s needs, ‘have it your way’, pillow menus in the hotel bedroom (‘browse the pillow menu, tick your preferred choice, inform reception and your personal pillow will be delivered to your room’)… much of this extra choice actually loads effort and responsibility onto the customer in a world that’s already full of hyper-choice.

The agony of constant decision is often something the customer wants taken away not added to. So, if part of your customer strategy is the assumption that offering more choice makes customers happier, it may be time to review that particular assumption.

Phil Dourado
Author, Speaker, Independent Consultant
Founding editor of Customer Service Management Journal in the United States, and of its companion title, Customer Service Management Journal (now rebranded as Customer Management Magazine) in the United Kingdom. He is the author of The 6 Second Leader (Capstone, John Wiley & Sons, 27).


  1. Phil

    Your blog reminds me of the old saying “under promise and over deliver.” However, it only works for the first few times. When the customer is used to UPOD, it loses its power. So what’s the source of happiness?

    Daryl Choy
    Make Little Things Count


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