The Key to Great CX? Balancing Delight and Ease


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Delight has become a customer experience buzzword. A lot of people think that their customers will stick around if they dazzle them with perks and discounts. By contrast, some experts believe that you should forget about delighting your customers and that the best experience is the easiest one. Neither camp is wrong. We say “Do both!” The best customer experience is both easy and delightful. 

Whether you are Team Delight or Team Low Effort, we don’t think you have to choose. Who says delight and ease must be mutually exclusive? The key to great CX success is to create a balancing act between the two, offering effortless experiences to your customers whilst managing to delight them. Those who get this right are the real CX masters. Every business wants their customers to be happy. Offering effortless experiences is one piece of the puzzle. But adding elements of delight along the customer journey creates the ultimate sticking power. Loyalty improves with the combination of easy experiences and the memorable moments that wow. 

While we advocate for both delight and low effort, you should never go overboard with delight at the expense of convenience. Customer effort is a significant predictor of customer loyalty, so if adding bells and whistles makes any processes slower or less efficient, you should reconsider that strategy as annoyance will likely outweigh delight. Remember that delighting your customers will not make up for a difficult experiential process. Even if moments in their experience were positively memorable if it was a struggle to get to them, customers won’t come back.

At the same time, just because you are delivering seamless customer experiences repeatedly, doesn’t mean your customers won’t leave for a competitor. If you’ve figured out how to make your processes very low effort for your customers, your competitors can too (if they haven’t already). When done right, infusing CX with bits of delight can be a key differentiating factor that keeps your customers coming back. 

The ideal customer experience strikes a seamless balance between delight and effort. How this manifests varies depending on the type of business and where customer expectations lie. Ultimately, a brand needs to deliver on their brand promise, which in the case of a low-cost business offering may not entail moments of delight, but seamless service that requires the customer to exert low effort can also be delightful in and of itself. A luxury brand, however, where expectations are higher, must ensure that to deliver on their brand promise, they need to intertwine moments of delight with seamless, low effort experiences.

Ultimately, delight does not pay the way creating easy experiences does. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t give your customers bonuses that exceed their expectations. An easy way to delight that shouldn’t detract from ease is the introduction of freebies, perks and discounts. Many brands do this well, but these gestures cannot cover up inconveniences in service. Continue to focus on customer effort, but introduce moments delight in unexpected and memorable ways.

Sarah-Nicole LeFlore
Sarah-Nicole "Nikki" is a Customer Success Manager at CX Index, a Dublin-based Voice of the Customer (VOC) Vendor. She contributes her insights on the many benefits of prioritising customer experience to the CX Index blog. She is currently based in London but has lived in New York, Dublin and Paris. She has a B.A. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT and an MSc from Trinity College Dublin.


  1. While this is a useful discussion of the polarities associated with CX (and I’d concur that the state of experience ‘delight’ tends to be overkill which doesn’t adequately pay back the investment for creating this state), there is also ample evidence that an over-focus on ‘ease’ (read through the Customer Effort Score metric) has both analytical and actionability challenges. We have determined that some friction can actually be good for customer experience: In sum, there doesn’t need to be an exact balance between the CX poles; but, there does need to be consistent, positive perceived value and benefit. If striking equilibrium is the goal, then experience processes should be directed at creating both functional and emotional outcomes for the customer.

  2. Good article, @Sara-Nicole LeFlore. However, I would assert that it’s a bit more complicated. According to the neuroscience, six factors, not just two, must be considered. The brain makes goal-directed decisions among alternatives using a value computation weighing six elements:

    1. Context: type of decision, why it is important, who is impacted, what role the person plays in making the decision, and how the choice impacts other decisions
    2. Payoffs: expected rewards (or avoided punishments) that come from making the choice, such as which better meets physical, security, belonging, self-esteem, or self-actualization needs
    3. Costs: what must be expended, such as effort or money, in exchange for the payoff
    4. Delays: how long one must wait to obtain the payoffs
    5. Probabilities: how likely one is to obtain the payoffs
    6. Preferences: how much one alternative is favored over another, based on perception or previous experience

    The brain views effort as a cost which offsets the payoff, so reducing cost increases value. “Delight” increases preference, which also increases value. But depending on context, how the brain perceives the nature, speed or likelihood of the payoffs between options also affects value perception and their ultimate decision.

    As CX professionals, I think we must better understand how the brains of our customers work if we want to influence the decisions they make. It will also keep us from making false tradeoffs between decision factors, such as you articulate so well regarding effort and delight. It will also keep us from overlooking other important decision factors in our CX initiatives.

  3. Excellent piece! I would like to embellish on your points. You say both are important but ease trumps delight. So, how does that explain this comment: “The attraction was great. We waited in line over an hour to get in. But, in many ways the wait was as great as the attraction since they had so many creative ways to entertain us while we stood in line!” Personal experience: The line to get in Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway in NYC was three blocks long; the wait was two hours and in the rain. The food was okay, the seats were uncomfortable, the diner was packed. But, the magic of watching waiters perform Broadway songs was magical and worth the un-ease we endured.

    Now for the delight part of the discussion. Delight has been defined as value-added or exceeding the customer’s expectations–that is, taking what the customer expects and adding more. That is a linear approach that risks elevating the customer’s expectations right along with the add. Upgrade me to a better room because I am a loyal guest of your hotel and what am I likely to expect my next visit? And, what happens if you need to sell that upgraded room rather than use it as a perk.

    I recommend value-unique, not value-added. As customers, we are far more attracted by different than we are by more; ingenuity more than generosity. And, there are unlimited ways to be unique and clearly a limit on how far you can push “more” before running out room or going bankrupt. My wife and I have the same brand of car and take both to the same dealership for service maintenance. The service tech always puts a logoed bottle of cold water in the cupholder of the car after an oil change or tire rotation. That is value-added and is very nice. But, they also always make certain my favorite flavored coffee K-cup is at the Keurig coffee machine the day I wait in the waiting area for service (Hazelnut is in my customer profile). And, there is sometimes a long-stemmed flower on the dash to take home to my wife when I drive away.

    Now, here is the difference in these service experiences. The value-added cold water brings a smile on my face but I do not talk or tweet about it to my family or friends. It is good (like a box of popcorn), but not unique (like a box of Cracker Jacks with a free prize inside). But, the personalized K-cup and flower? That is a story I am eager to tell all who will listen. Research shows a compelling story (“You’re not going to believe what happened to me”) is far more powerful as an expression of customer advocacy than a strong recommendation (“I would highly recommend Mayday Airlines”). More powerful means they are more likely to trigger buying behavior on the part of a prospect. Recommendations create awareness; compelling stories create action. Who cares if the customer says they “intend to recommend you to a family member or friend?” Intentions don’t move the needle, behavior does.

    We need to be clear about the meaning of emotional constructs like effort and delight. What is the difference between experiences that wow us versus those that leave us in awe? Does an experience that makes us smile have a different impact on loyalty than those that make us giggle or tear up? Effort also has different meanings to customers depending on the context. Fans of the Green Bay Packers football team do not leave the game just because it is 12 degrees, snowing and therefore not “easy.” Harley fans don’t complain about having to wait six months for delivery on a high demand bike; it is a symbol of value and yields bragging rights.

    One last dimension to add to this discussion. If you decided to use either “easy to do business with” or “enchanting to do business with” as your marketplace distinction (assuming the other option is adequate or satisfactory) which one would likely most excite your associates? Interview frontline folks who work for an Amazon-like company and folks who work for a Disney-like company and gauge which culture yields the highest morale?

    You are correct in saying it should not be a binary choice–easy vs delight. Both are important. But, if it is a forced choice, I would put my money on a profoundly remarkable experience because I believe if the experience is enchanting or special enough, most customers will endure some un-ease to get it.

  4. Great article, and I, too, think that it is not ease vs. delight. In general I’d say that it is three steps: It is first effectiveness (my jtbd needs to be accomplished), then ease (efficiency) before delight. I know that this is simplified. There needs to be a friction in order to get to the experience. Why? Because something that is highly efficient and frictionless is also not memorable. The outcome is the experience. In consequence: Where the process is commodity, make it frictionless, where some friction adds to the experience, add it. In measures … to avoid escalating expectations.

  5. Agree with Chip and Thomas that it doesn’t have to be either/or, but rather how much and when.

    I’m less convinced that ‘delight’ should be left until an experience is both effective and efficient. “Moments that matter” should be designed into an experience, not left to do “someday.”

    In CustomerThink’s CX study published in 2019, we found that “leaders” (CX initiatives that were able to drive ROI or a competitive edge) prioritized attributes like “emotional,” “customized,” and “human.” While the other 75% that struggle to show value focused on more basics including “effective” and “easy.”

    In fact, the most popular attribute overall was “easy.” And the study found that most CX programs were focused on process improvement and touchpoint fixes, where efficiency is a key outcome.

    But when everyone is delivering the same thing, it ceases to be a differentiator. So, yes, work on effectiveness and ease, because if you don’t your competitors will. But don’t stop there.

    With rare exceptions, truly “remarkable” experiences need something more than just a fast/efficient process. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, or be done all the time.

  6. Bob’s emphasis on CX humanity, differentiation, and personalization are especially important here. From a blog post I wrote several years ago, some (hopefully helpful) thoughts:

    More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer experiences and relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have greater impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

    There are a number of ways in which taking a humanistic approach to everything customer-related works for all stakeholders, and directly influences and impacts their behavior. Here are four of them, building from an architectural base.

    1. Create a customer-centric human culture and set of processes

    Evidence of a humanistic, customer-focused enterprise is where values, mission and vision can be seen, and endorsed, by everyone inside and outside the company. As pointed out by books like Conscious Capitalism and Firms of Endearment, and as identified in multiple experience effectiveness studies, customer-centric company cultures, supported by customer-centric processes, also perform at consistently attractive financial levels over extended periods of time.

    2. Create experiences that are proactively human-engineered

    Within customer-related processes, experiences need to be designed, engineered, or re-engineered, so that authentic humanity is built in. With the dramatic increases in digital transactions, distanced relationships, and marketing automation, this has become an increasing challenge.

    More than Six Sigma-type rational and functional quality, it is the authentic warmth and openness that most customers desire from vendors, even when contact is minimal. Human-engineered experiences also require that measurement techniques be sensitive to the components that drive, or detract from, what customers get from their vendor relationships. Most companies collect small and big data to do more targeted marketing/selling, and use metrics like customer satisfaction, indices, NPS® and/or CES to reward or punish employees.

    3. Create human emotions and memories in transactions and relationships

    Today, delivery of functional and tangible elements of value, even at superior levels, are little more than experience table stakes. We often speak of the Daniel Kahneman “peak-end rule”, where subconscious positive and negative experience emotions yield the memories which drive downstream customer behavior. This psychologically-based approach is a critical differentiator for companies to successfully bringing the human touch to transactions and relationships.

    A couple of years ago, Bridget Duffy, MD, who is the Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, wrote an insightful CustomerThink blog post about how emotional connections, coming out of a culture of humanity, can drive customer loyalty behavior and company growth. From my perspective, the value of creating positive emotions can’t be stated much better than she did:

    Customers choose providers based on personal experiences, trusted relationships and valued recommendations. To understand customer needs and expectations, organizations must first map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy. Market leaders must provide services and use technologies that restore empathy and uniqueness to the customer experience.

    4. Create human connections between employee ambassadors and customers

    Advertising and promotion generate little trust. B2b and b2c consumers trust humans more than companies or institutions. Smart companies operate as “real people”, with employees working to provide value to customers.
    In humanistic organizations, employees at all levels, and in all functions, understand how their work and actions impact customer perception of experiences.

    It is not nearly enough for employees to be engaged. Humanistic experience is achieved when employees are armed and enabled to deliver on the brand promise. The technology and tools can’t replace real-time passion, or genuine commitment to the organization, brand and customers. It is employees who are the real, flexible experience engineers. As needed, they can treat each customer differently, and even the same customer differently, if the experience context is different (something I’ve labeled ‘divisibility’, which is also somewhat data-dependent).

    As a concluding thought, it’s important to point out that executing in all these areas requires enterprise and functional leadership that understands what human-centricity means in customer relationships and overall perceived experience value. As Dr. Duffy stated in her blog, companies “… must focus on building connections and relationships into all aspects of the organization – from executive leadership to frontline staff – so that from the first impression to the last, people feel a connection. Going beyond customer service to creating a real emotional connection to a product, service or company will drive market differentiation, customer loyalty and growth.”


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