Surprise & Delight

Surprise and Delight. Saying these words puts a smile on my face. My body relaxes and I’m taken to multiple visions of what those two words mean to me.

HBR summed it up well in a 2013 article titled, Surprise Is Still the Most Powerful Marketing Tool: “Surprise is like crack for your brain. People are designed to crave the unexpected.”

Here are four of my favorite surprise & delight crack experiences:
  1. Virgin America Airlines – My surprise and delight summary: “Like traveling first class in every seat.”
    • I recently started traveling cross country from San Francisco to Boston. I happened to book Virgin on my first trip and haven’t booked another airline since. It’s more than the soft lighting, fun music and crazy safety video. Every seat has power outlets and individual free in seat entertainment units. All flights have wifi. Virgin empowers every passenger to order food and drinks when they want, on demand, via in seat touch screens. No more waiting for an angry flight attendant during the pre-determined cart service. And the upsell process is fascinating to experience. You can pay from $25 to >$500 to upgrade your seat. This is done during online booking or via an email notification. It's fun to participate in a ‘name your price’ bidding process for first class. If United or American tried this I would be annoyed. Virgin has earned my trust by using surprise and delight on every flight. So much so that I switched my credit card from Gold AMEX to Virgin’s Premium Visa card. I haven’t been disappointed. And I think I’m landing in Boston 30 minutes early (per usual)… surprise and delight.
  2. Starbucks – My surprise and delight summary: “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
    • I walk in. Sherman smiles and says, ‘Good morning, Tia. The usual – Soy Caramel Machiatto?’ Then there is a chorus of “hellos” and “good mornings” from the lady who handles food ordering to the barista. Sometimes when there's a long line, by the time I’m at the cashier, my drink is ready. My community of Starbucks baristas remembers me, my drink and small details of my daily routine that I appreciate. This came to life when my boss was kindly getting me a coffee. When he ordered, the barista said, “Is that for Tia? We love Tia!” Yes, showering me with compliments to the CEO of our company when I’m not there will keep me a loyal for life. Need I mention the seamless app that allows me to be sans wallet and alerts me when I’m near a Starbucks anywhere in the world? My very own homing device for an addiction that is more about consistency of experience than it is great coffee. 
  3. Soul Cycle – My surprise and delight summary: “A moving, meditative pep talk for my soul in every work out.”
    • I was in a work out funk for 6 months. Soul Cycle catapulted me out with a sweat dripping, concert loud music thumping cycle class in candle lit darkness that moved me to tears during the meditative song. The instructors are more than beautifully sculpted incredibly healthy spin doctors. They combine intensity with a soothing voice that carries you through motivational words and meditative coaching. I leave feeling like I can conquer my day and life challenges. Soul Cycle breaks the mold. From the bright white interior accented by bright yellow visions of bicycle wheels and motivational words. To the full service approach of cycle shoe rental (great for travel work outs), premium Smart Water and towels on every bike. Forgot a hair tie – grab one from the jar. Need ear plugs because the music is just a tad too loud – grab a yellow pair from the jar. Need to shower post your work out – face wash, shampoo/conditioner, lotion, hair dryers are waiting for you. The kicker? Classes are $30 (less if you prepay in bulk). More than my monthly membership to 24 hour fitness. And I’m good with that.
  4. Lily Atelier (Camas, WA) – My surprise and delight summary: “Local business that takes personal shopping to heart, leaving the big guys in the dust.”
    • Before we moved to San Francisco, we lived in a small mill town in Washington across the Columbia River from Portland. I found a gem of a women’s boutique clothing store in Camas, Washington. Over 7 years Dawn and her team took the time to get to know my personal style. They’ve been with me through body changes like birth, training for a triathlon and turning 40 (she shut the store early for my very own champagne filled 40th birthday shopping experience). And 3 years after we have moved, I still shop there. Dawn texts me pictures from market, ‘thinking of you – found some great work skirts.’ She sends texts to my husband before mother’s day and my birthday which usually ends in a gift certificate purchase. She ships all of my clothes, free of charge, from Camas to San Francisco. When I open my package there is a sweet personal gift included. My favorite candle. A new colored cami that compliments something I just bought. A bottle of whiskey for my husband (no joke). And I’m paying less than Nordstrom prices for pieces that have worked together in my closet for over 7 years. Did I mention I don’t see these clothes on anyone else? Lily Atelier helps me be unique.

The one thing these experiences all have in common? They’re personal. And what each of these business owners do? They don’t invent or cater to the masses. They cater to a tribe. Their goal – to surprise and delight.

As Seth Godin put it in a recent blog post: And that's the secret to thriving on the edges: Build something that people will look for, something that people will talk about, something we would miss if it were gone.

Not for everyone.

For us.