Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Exploring Alternative Antecedents of Customer Delight

Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Exploring Alternative Antecedents of Customer Delight

Article excerpt


Satisfaction researchers in marketing are in general agreement that the emotion of delight is comprised of joy and surprise. This study reviews the relevant emotions literature in psychology, the neurosciences and philosophy to show that there may be two different kinds of delight - one with surprise and one without surprise. The work of Plutchik (1980) is often cited as the basis for conceptualizing delight as being comprised of joy and surprise. We replicated Plutchik's two studies using more positive complex emotion terms than the original study. It was found that subjects could feel delighted without being surprised and that there were different emotion terms that were considered by subjects to be comprised of joy and surprise. These results were validated in a second study in which consumer emotions and other responses were captured in a live setting during the intermission of an upbeat, fast tempo Irish Dance concert. The results show that consumers could be delighted even when they were not surprised. We show how these findings clarify and explain some unexpected results obtained in past research on customer delight. The implications of these findings for both theory and practice are also discussed.


There is considerable interest among marketing scholars and practitioners in finding ways to increase customer loyalty. While satisfying customers was considered as an appropriate way to increase customer loyalty, recent research has offered evidence that in many industries satisfied customers were not loyal customers (Reichheld 1994). These studies found that customers who were completely satisfied were more likely to be loyal than customers who said they were satisfied. The customers who were completely satisfied with a firm have also been labeled as delighted customers. So, in recent years, delighting customers has been proposed as a way to increase customer loyalty towards a firm.

As interest in customer delight has grown, there appears to be a growing consensus among satisfaction researchers in marketing that the emotion of delight is comprised of joy and surprise (Oliver 1989; Westbrook and Oliver 1991; Kumar and Olshavsky 1997; Kumar and Iyer 2001). This conceptualization of delight as a combination of joy and surprise is seen in all the existing literature on customer delight. Although this conceptualization has not been controversial in the academic literature, practitioners have been less enthusiastic about the implications of this conceptualization. A common problem cited by many managers is that this conceptualization suggests that to delight their customers a firm has to pleasantly surprise their customers. Obviously, for firms that have frequent transactions or interactions with their customers, the cost of surprising customers at every transaction is impractical and prohibitive.

There are different ways in which one could respond to the concerns raised by these managers. One response would be to point out to the managers that surprising customers may involve raising the bar on a firm's performance and if the firm did not raise the bar themselves, the competition would raise the bar by improving their performance and take away the firm's customers. The managers typically counter this response by pointing out practical limitations with respect to how high the bar can be raised in a short period of time. Another response would be to point out to managers that firms ought to surprise their customers in an area where the firm has some sustainable competitive advantage. This would mean that the competition cannot easily emulate the firm's moves and so the firm will get some time before competition can provide the same level of benefits. The firm can then use this time to find another way to raise the bar. Although this response makes intuitive sense, it also raises an interesting question. If a firm were the only one providing a certain benefit, would the customer continue to be delighted with this benefit after the first time that they saw and enjoyed the benefit? …

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