Systematic delightfulness: define and deliver a great customer experience

Is your organization committed to providing a high-quality experience to every customer or prospect? Well of course it is. Can you imagine anyone answering “no” to this question? Yet, Jeanne Yocum’s recent blog is a good reminder that customers have bad experiences regularly and that management may be unaware until a specific problem raises its very unhappy head. To reduce the risk of being blindsided, my last post suggested some proactive steps small business owners can take to assess and improve the customer experience their business provides.

One frequently overlooked consideration in the “great customer experience” discussion is that providing a great experience depends upon first defining what that means from the perspective of your organization’s customers and prospects. After all, if employees don’t know what they are aiming for, how can they hit the target? To encourage that discussion and because a great customer experience is in the eye of the beholder (customer), I am highlighting three small businesses in western Massachusetts that have provided a wonderful customer experience to me. In each case, this was a result of the business’ systems—which are attuned to customer needs—and an inclination to exceed expectations. This ability to be systematically delightful is key, and any small business owner who aspires to provide great customer experience needs to get beyond the usual platitudes—for example, going the extra mile or world-class service—to specifically define what it means operationally for his/her business.

Hope and Feathers Framing (Amherst, MA) has only recently attracted me as a customer. Earlier this summer, I was rushing to refresh my guest room in anticipation of visitors who were arriving in four days. When I took some posters in to be mounted on foam core, I was told they would be ready in a week. I asked about paying extra for expedited work explaining my dilemma. Although there was no such option, the owner offered to try to meet my schedule on a best effort basis. I left the posters with fingers crossed that I would hear something in three days, but the next day the owner called to tell me the work had been done. Now that is a best effort! Needless to say I was delighted.

Encouraged by this experience, I took in a piece that had been in need of a frame for the last 20 years. When I couldn’t decide what I wanted, the Hope and Feathers system kicked in with an option to leave the item in their pending projects box so that I had time to think. This served both the business and me well; I didn’t backslide on the project and they got my business. The piece looks great and 20 years of procrastination is over.

The Gazebo (Northampton, MA) has been serving the women of western Massachusetts for 35 years with a wide selection of undergarments and lingerie. As a customer, I love that they have invested in an information system that can look up my past purchases. This makes it easy to spontaneously stop in and restock without having to know sizes and styles myself. This convenience serves the business and me well; it is easier for me to buy—and for them to sell me—exactly what I want.

On the delight side of the equation, when the owner realized that my daughter—a soon-to-be bride who was buying a slip—had nothing to carry with her down the aisle in case of tears, she offer a handkerchief as a gift for that purpose. This small token was a surprise to us, but the beautiful selection my daughter had to choose from was evidence that the owner was prepared to delight.

Meritt Richmond (413-548-9288; Leverett, MA) is a cabinetmaker who has worked on projects throughout Massachusetts. He has made several small pieces for me, mostly to give as special gifts to my children and other family members. Meritt’s system demonstrates that it isn’t always about technology. He sat down and talked with me about what I wanted, making recommendations and sketching to work out ideas as our conversation proceeded. In addition to the beautiful pieces that resulted from this process, he has taught me things about wood and furniture that have changed the way I view both.

Recently, Meritt surprised me with a small cutting board as a gift. He told me he is appreciative of his longstanding customers and wanted to demonstrate that to each of us. Needless to say I was touched and delighted.

What does “great customer experience” mean in your business? How do your business’ systems help you to provide it? How do you delight your customers and prospects? Add your approaches as a comment below. Or, if you are not able to answer these three questions, it is probably time to get to work on them.


Karen Utgoff, principal of Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, is a market-oriented business strategist based in Amherst, MA. Learn more at

© Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting 2013. All rights reserved.


  1. Mary says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. It's always nice to see businesses recognized for exceptionally good service. There appeared to be genuine human kindness in each of the interactions you highlighted. While I've never yet been a customer at any of these businesses, you can bet that I will keep them in mind for future.

    Thank you. And thanks, as always, for a very helpful blog. I always learn here.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover