The Science (and Art!) of Delighting People: From Cafe Perks to Multifamily Products

Tech Talk

Defining delight is the easy part. But, inspiring delight? That’s part science, part art. Here’s how it’s done and why it’s so worthwhile.

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First off, why build delightful software? Part of the reason I take on the challenge is that you can immediately sense the delight when someone looks down at their phone and they really get it! That’s a wonderful feeling to inspire in people. Also, I’ve always loved animations. When they’re done well, they take away the need for documentation altogether. I always wanted to be part of that approach, presenting information so seamlessly.

As HappyCo’s CTO, I’m lucky to bring this all together: leading teams that build visually-appealing solutions — ones that get people feeling confident and, ultimately, Make Happiness (one of HappyCo’s core values). In the multifamily space, after all, there’s plenty of opportunity for delightful software! With people’s safety and shelter on the line, it’s unfortunate that software has been so cumbersome — and so often at odds with our mobile world.

Yet, it’s also easy to take intuitive software for granted when all goes right. So, now that I’ve shared my own personal “why,” I’m excited to break down the science (and art!) of creating delightful products. Here it goes…

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The Math Behind Delighting People? As Simple as Free Coffee.

coffee couple

Put simply, delight is unexpected additional value, the feeling you get when the end result of a trade exceeds the expectation. That additional value can be added through two levers — reduced investment or increased gross value. As you can see from the graphs below, there’s always a “honeymoon phase” wherein customers become so excited about a product, their expectations reach a fever pitch (before they come crashing down!). While savvy companies can turn the tables, many flounder under such high stakes.

delight chart

anti-delight chart

Of course, it’s best to start from the beginning. Coffee shops are a great stage to show how this works. Imagine:

* You go to a cafe, order a coffee, and get a free cookie (unexpectedly). That joyful feeling as you walk away from the counter with cookie in hand (additional value): delight!

* You go to the coffee shop and order a coffee and the server let’s you know it’s Mad Monday and coffees are half price. That pleasant surprise when you get additional value? Delight.

As this Forbes piece illustrates, providing value in its own right is no longer good enough. Growth advisor Sweta Patel stresses, “the next step is to take that validation and hyper-personalize it. This means tailoring your service to your customers. If a customer has a thing for white chocolate, send them white chocolate on their birthday.”

That might seem a little… intimate. But the delight equation really does get interesting, as value comes in many forms. Take these coffee shop experiences, for example:

* The server knows your name, showing he/she cares enough to remember and use it: unexpected value, a.k.a delight.

* The server tells a great joke and you let out a chuckle: delight.

It gets weirder, though. If I’m able to share the additional value, it gets amplified. If instead of half price, my coffee comes with a free second cup (one for my spouse!), that win enhances the delight I feel. In extreme cases, moments of delight can spur life-long memories — and even media appearances. A recent Capital One example takes the cake. A customer named Christina got dumped by her boyfriend and had no choice but to move out and buy new furniture. Though Christina’s card was declined, a Capital One employee “commiserated with the situation, comped Christina miles so she could go on vacation and forget about her ex, and even sent flowers.” (Needless to say, an exchange this heartfelt was destined to earn coverage on The Ellen Show).

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Delight from a Tech Perspective: Pretty UI through Nifty Swag.

happy insights closeup

Of course, such above-and-beyond service would be unfeasible on a grand scale. But switching to a tech perspective, you’ll find there are a host of ways products can delight people. Among the ways to add return:

* Intuitive UX

* Surprisingly pretty UI design (not an expectation with Enterprise software)

* Fast setup and training

* A fun but unobtrusive animation or an inspirational quote

* A thank-you card or swag

As multifamily executives know well, enterprise software meant to improve operations can sometimes derail them altogether. The likely culprit? Faulty design. When UX is intuitive, things sit where you expect them. That provides delight because you don’t have to read documentation or waste cognitive effort. On the UX front, I’ve learned quite a bit from my HappyCo co-founder and friend, Jindou Lee. With an extensive background in video game design, he’s a firm believer that enterprise users have much in common with avid gamers.

In Jindou’s words, “if you imagine the user as a player who has limited resources — limited time, attention, energy and mental focus to expend on your product – then you do your best to make software as simple and efficient as possible.” But, there’s something much less quantifiable to consider: “the traditionally less-attended-to aspects of people’s lives — their feelings, motivations, and values.”

In the world of HappyCo, that means infusing products with our core values. Unexpectedly pretty UI design isn’t a maybe — it’s a must. As Jindou puts it, our core value of Make Happiness “drives us to change people’s relationship to work from one of simply obligatory labor to one of ease, pleasure, and dare I say, fun.”

Fast setup is also an area where software companies have a chance to shine. The beauty of intuitive UX is that the training phase becomes a breeze. Multifamily executives have reason to fear cumbersome software that makes users feel inadequate. But a switch to mobile inspections doesn’t have to be menacing! Given Happy Inspector’s welcoming interface, regional managers at Maxus properties found a 45-minute webinar was just right to get everybody on the same page. Zach Moreland, a Property Manager at Maxus’ Park Edge Apartments, breaks down why it was all so seamless for his team:

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"Once we got it going, to actually show my leasing staff and maintenance guys how to use it, it was literally you open the app, click some buttons and follow the steps — it’s really easy."


Zach Moreland
Property Manager, Park Edge Apartments

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Naturally, it takes many minds and much planning to strike the right chord with UI, UX, and software setup. Still, there’s even more potential to create delight when you up the ante for users by mixing in fun animation or a compelling quote with your product. Showing your gratitude through a personalized thank-you card or nifty swag also goes a long way in building loyalty.

While these efforts may sound time-consuming, they’re well worth it in the end. After all, there’s an unsettling side to value expectation: when you get less than anticipated, an anti-delight multiplier takes effect. I think this has to do with a breakdown of trust; future trades come with an additional cost, as there’s suddenly doubt about how much value will be received. This is a surefire way to degrade a relationship, and it’s also why managing expectations (not overselling or under delivering) is so important.

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Forging Delightful Relationships: The Art of (Consistent) Surprise.

surprise flower gift

Delight has a fascinating property in relationships. When all goes well, it’s what elevates a relationship from good to great. Whether the connection is business or personal, we are delivering value over time. But over time, delight becomes a strange beast. It’s no longer rational. Humans eventually adapt to the same unexpected additional value by expecting it.

This makes sense, but it also necessitates a little more art than science. Maximizing delight ultimately requires surprising customers consistently with additional value. Here’s where the anti-delight multiplier I mentioned earlier comes into play once again:

* If you are given a half price coffee on the first few visits, but then the discounts stop cold, you feel annoyance (anti-delight).

* When someone buys you flowers every day, the experience grows predictable and thus loses its luster (i.e. expectation is the new level of value).

So, it seems to deliver delightful anything (or, maximum delight consistently) is quite difficult. You have to change the type of additional value you bring often enough to keep it fresh, and you can’t give too much unexpected value at once (suspicious or creepy). It’s also unwise to assume that sheer variety spurs delight. Forbes contributor Steven Denning warns, “don’t overload products with features that most people won’t use and that make the product hard to operate. For instance, my DVD controller made by Sony has 54 buttons, most of which no one in our house knows how to use: it delights no one.”

Rather, as Subway’s recent marketing triumphs make clear: personalization, or at least the outward appearance of it, is a prime path toward delight. By using an advanced mobile messaging system and exploring the realm of “personalized pricing,” Subway is “starting to leverage mobile’s intended utilities — convenience and conversation — for a new iteration of loyalty.”

Whether it’s pretty UI or personalized exchanges, delight can take many shapes. From an organizational perspective, we should use this knowledge and try to build in unexpected value that costs very little to us. This might even mean hiding our true intentions (slightly) just to catch customers off guard in the best of ways!

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Delightful design that boosts your bottom line: Happy Inspector.
Real-time property inspections never looked better! From customizable forms to compliance and costing features, Happy Inspector is a straight shot to accurate data and reliable budgets. Learn more today.


About the author


Andrew Mackenzie-Ross
CTO and Co-Founder

Andrew “Mackross” is the CTO and co-founder of HappyCo where he leads a stellar team of engineers, designers and product managers to develop a range of software applications for some of the largest companies in the world. Prior to HappyCo, he worked on social games at Halfbrick and on award winning mobile apps for Harcourts that have been recognized globally by Apple as “best-in-class real estate apps.'' Andrew started programming at a very young age and built a fantasy league competition platform for the Rotary Club as one of his first few projects. He grew up in Australia and was accepted to study at the Australian Science and Maths School and Flinders University, but he eventually dropped out of college to pursue his love of programming.

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