5 Tips For Creating Delightful Surprises For Your Customers

The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.  – Ashley Montagu

While enjoying a cup of coffee at my neighborhood McDonald’s, I noticed a very young boy, maybe 4 years old, sitting with his mom just a couple of tables away from me. From the excitement on his face when his mom set a red box, with a printed gold smile in front of him, it was clear he was about to dive into his favorite, child sized Happy Meal.

After playing a minute or two with the toy included with the meal, he started to count, out loud, the number of chicken nuggets inside the box, laying them on the napkin his mom had neatly unfolded on the table. “One.” “Two.” “Three.” “Four.” Suddenly, there was a look of amazement and surprise on his face as he gave out a very audible, happy squeal of delight while reaching back into the box to pull out one more nugget.

As he slowly laid it on the napkin with the others, he let out an enthusiastic “FIVE!” “LOOK MOMMY.” His mother put her finger to her mouth in an effort to quiet him down, but the young boy couldn’t contain his excitement, proclaiming for every other diner to hear, “I GOT 5 NUGGETS INSTEAD OF 4!

His mother smiled and praised him for his counting skills and encouraged him to eat his dinner before it got cold. Instead, he scooped up the nuggets and threw them all back in the bright red box before beginning the counting process all over again. This time his count was much faster as he knew that the last one he would pull from the box would be the unexpected, magical, bonus nugget. And as he did with the first count, when he lifted it from the deep confines of the box he hollered “FIVE!” and held the nugget high in the air as if it were a valued trophy he would treasure forever—all before taking a giant bite out of it.

The scene made me chuckle and, as I went back to drinking my coffee, I thought about the happy surprises I’ve enjoyed, not just as a kid, but throughout my life. Truth be told, I don’t believe we ever get over the excitement or giddiness that comes from being surprised no matter how old we are. And maybe not so surprisingly, there are great emotional benefits for both the “surpriser” and “suprisee.”

In her book, “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” co-author Tania Luna says that “If the surprise is something that forces you to change your perspective, then you have to change the way you’ve been looking at things. If I wasn’t expecting you to surprise me or give me a gift and now, I’ve just gotten this pleasant experience, I have to change the way I think about you — and maybe even our whole relationship.”

Her writings suggest that surprises put emotions into hyper-drive. If we’re surprised by a positive experience, our feelings of happiness or joy will intensify, and we’ll be more inclined to share that sense of wonder with others.

Ms. Luna’s science of surprises also applies to businesses and their customers. As consumers we love receiving little bonus surprises from the businesses we patronize. Whether it’s a free dessert from a favorite restaurant, a free hotel room upgrade or complimentary tickets to an event, these unexpected perks give us a warm fuzzy feeling inside, especially when they are given solely for the sake of appreciation for our patronage. One way to transform satisfied customers into delighted customers is through the element of surprise.

Further studies have found that customer loyalty also has a significant impact on a company’s profits. And, of course, delighted customers are more likely to be loyal than those who are merely satisfied.

But here’s the challenge—to delight your customers through surprise, it must be personal and perceived as a surprise and not just some strategic attempt to surprise. But, it’s not as difficult as you might think.

All you need is a little creative thinking, a bit of insight into what makes your customers happy and a degree of autonomy that encourages your team to always be conscious of what is in the best interest of your customers.

Here’s 5-tips for creating delightful surprises for your customers:

  • Surprises need not be epic. A kind, simple gesture can have a huge impact—like honoring an expired coupon or voluntarily matching a competitor’s price or just taking a few moments to strike up a friendly conversation with your customers. Always remember…the customer’s experience is all about how you make the customer feel. Regardless the size of your gesture, if it makes them feel valued, special and important, you’re more likely to generate a loyal, raving customer.

What’s one kind and simple gesture you can offer that will make your customers feel they made the right choice in doing business with you?

  • Mix it up. Don’t surprise in the same way every time or all the time. When it comes to surprises that delight, spontaneity is key. My local convenience store occasionally comps my fountain drink purchase. It doesn’t happen with every visit and I never expect it. I’ve also witnessed them comp bakery items and sandwiches. Even though these spontaneous acts of generosity may not sound like a big deal, saving a buck or two is always a delightful surprise for every customer.

What extra item, accessory or small additional service can you occasionally throw in to an order that will add a bit of unexpected delight for your customers?

  • Treat customers as unique individuals. Not all surprises will delight all customers equally. A few years back, I finally decided to give up the habit of smoking. I took a coupon for a few cents off a smoking cessation product to my neighborhood drug store. As I shared with the cashier how determined I was to quit, she set aside my chintzy coupon and gave me a huge stack of even better coupons with even greater savings that made giving up cigarettes the most affordable thing I’ve ever done. What she did for me wouldn’t delight every customer. But through her ability to listen and empathize with her customers as she did with me, I’m certain she has found ways to surprise and delight others, as well. And, by the way, I’m happy to say that I will be 4 years smoke free in January 2020—-and I owe a large part of that success to that wonderfully thoughtful cashier.

How closely do you listen to your customers so you can better connect with them as individuals and perhaps  make a difference in their lives?

  • The most appreciated, delightful surprises come from a team member’s willingness to go above and beyond to be of help. After placing an order for my favorite specialty drink at my neighborhood Starbucks, I stepped to the register to pay and suddenly realized I left my wallet and credit cards at home. I reached deep into my pockets and found a few cents in change, but I was still way short of being able to pay for my drink. It was an embarrassing moment when I told the barista to cancel my order. As I started to walk away, the barista invited me back to the register and said in a very calming, cheerful voice, “I’ve got you covered. Maybe pay it forward next time you visit.” She made my day and yes, I happily paid it forward during my next visit.

How much freedom do you give your staff to do whatever necessary to make a customer happy?

  • Even when an incident isn’t your fault, you can delight your customers by making it your problem. When a rainy, spring day in Kansas City caused a 3-hour delay of the 2019, KC Royals baseball team home opener, the organization surprised their fans with free tickets to return for another game anytime during the season. The team realized that so many of their fans that day never knew if the game would ever get played and left early. The Royals gave the tickets as compensation for an inconvenience they had absolutely no control over. And, since the game eventually got played, the team had no obligation to do anything for the ticket holders.  What makes this a delightful surprise is that the KC Royals took responsibility for something that wasn’t their fault (the weather) but made it their problem, allowing them to build goodwill with their fan base for the remainder of the 162-game season. Read more about this story at “Kansas City Royals “WOW!” Their Fans.”

How willing are you to exceed expectations by taking responsibility for something that may not be your fault in order retain a loyal customer?

These 5-tips only scratch the surface of ideas for surprising and delighting your customers. To generate more of your own, start by having fun considering the limitless possibilities. Think about the unexpected things businesses do to delight you. Learn from them and, if possible, adapt what they do to your own business. No one holds a patent on delighting customers. You’re free to exceed expectations in any way you choose, regardless of where the ideas came from.

As always, I welcome your questions and feedback in the comments. Feel free to reach out to me through the email address that follows.


This article authored by: Ron Ruth  |  Keynote Speaker, Customer Experience Design Consultant & Coach, Founder of the #Inspiramaginativity™ Institute.


Ron Ruth, Keynote Speaker, Customer Experience Design Specialist and Creative Brainstorming Facilitator.

Ron is the author of “How To Speak Fluent “WOW!”—The Language of High-Spending, Loyal, Raving Customers.”

Contact Ron to speak at your upcoming event or to provide a special, Customer Experience training session for you and your team – email ron@ronruth.com or call (816) 224-4487.


“Ron Ruth is a natural speaker and storyteller who excels onstage. He is so inventive in his entertaining and interactive delivery style that audiences are immediately drawn into his presentations as willing participants. Ron has always been a breeze to work with and is a speaker I know I can always count on and recommend without reservation.” – Shannon Underwood, Wedding MBA Vice President/Conference Director

“Ron Ruth’s fun and entertaining presentations will engage your imagination and take you on a playful journey outside your comfort zone to explore the limitless innovative possibilities that can dramatically improve your passion for what you do and increase demand for your services.- Peter Merry, Speaker, Author, Business Coach

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