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BUSINESS A surprising approach to better customer experience BY ADAM HOETTE IN THE QUEST for building a better experience for your guests, why not use some strategic surprise? With so much competition for customers in the travel space, organizations are con- stantly seeking unique ways of creat- ing meaningful bonds with those they serve. This challenge can often feel like a daunting and expensive one, but it doesn’t have to be. Providing customers with something valuable—when they least expect it—is an extraordinarily simple and low-cost path to crafting great customer experiences. We’ve all felt the effects of surprise. While we often think about them in the context of our personal lives—birthday parties, for example­—many of us have also been the recipients of surprises in our role as consumers, from ticket upgrades to complimentary gifts and more. Regardless of where they come from, they almost always leave an impression. Surprises, even small ones, resonate. They also have a profound effect on the human brain. Research has shown that surprises activate neural reward centers, providing recipients with, literally, a rush of delight. One study even found that the unexpected nature of an event may prove more memorable than the event itself. As that study’s co-author put it, “If you get a present for your birthday, that’s nice. But you’ll like it a lot more if you get a pres- ent and it’s not your birthday.” This presents organizations with a big opportunity for creating impact with customers. Supplementing a brand’s services with a few unexpected offer- ings gives customers a positive psycho- logical boost. It puts them in a better mood. From a business perspective, it’s pure value creation, adding to the over- all experience without taking away from 16 April/May 2018 any other part of it—a true win-win. Companies in the travel and tour business can utilize this knowledge to provide more remarkable travel experi- ences for guests, while at the same time creating differentiation for their brands. While customers relish the opportunity to be immerse d in their travels, much of what they encounter is, frankly, expected. When a company is able to disrupt those expectations—even slightly—it can create special moments that customers will remember. The possibilities for companies to use this approach are endless. Maybe a hotel offers free laundry service for guests, or a tour operator provides cold bottled water and soft drinks at no charge. The beauty is that there is no map. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Rather, it’s limited only by the creativity of those involved. It can, and should, look a little different for every organization. When a company is able to disrupt travelers’ expectations—even slightly—it can create special moments that customers will remember. When thinking about how to imple- ment strategic surprise in your offer- ings, start by asking a few questions: • Is there a theme in the feedback you receive from customers? • Are there any lulls in the journey of your customers (literally and figu- ratively) that could benefit from a pop of surprise? • What are the moments that would be a natural fit for this? Engage your employees and custom- ers to get a better sense of how and where this strategy would be of benefit. Front line employees often have the most significant amount of personal engagement with customers and there- fore are a tremendous resource in both the planning and implementation of such a program. The goal is to drive more satisfying encounters with guests, something that can only be achieved when the cus- tomer is at the center of the process. If this exercise begins to be seen as too planned and methodical—lacking a personal connection—customers will notice. So strive for sincerity. Surprise is a valuable tool that travel brands can utilize to create more memorable moments for guests. It is a low-risk means for providing an even better and more unique travel experi- ence. Implement one of your own and you may just find that—surprise!­—your guests are more satisfied than ever. Adam Hoette is the founder of Cerulean Insights, an experiential marketing company. Reach out to him at adam@ or go to cerulean-