What Is Customer Happiness + 11 Ways to Inspire It
Illustration by Meredith Miotke

Your relationships with your customers have more in common with relationships in your personal life than you might think. Like the happiness that you derive from being around your friends and loved ones, customer happiness is a product of a lot of time, effort, and learning.

It's not just about a single action but the accumulation of activities over time.

Think about it like this: If you were going out and your date did something nice at the beginning of the evening but then ignored you for the rest of the night, you probably wouldn't go out with them again. Why would you expect your customers to keep coming back if you effectively do the same thing to them?

We've all heard the one-off stories of legendary customer service, like the time a Morton's employee brought a steak to a customer at the airport. But inspiring your customers to fall in love with your company requires more than grand gestures. It takes an ongoing investment of consistently excellent service.

This level of commitment can feel daunting, especially if you're a small business with limited staff. Still, by incorporating a few core principles into your business model, you can integrate customer happiness into everything you do.

What is customer happiness?

Customer happiness is the level of loyalty and satisfaction that your customers experience after engaging with your product or team. It's the feeling that comes from your customers having their needs met regularly, at the right time, in the right way.

It may seem like "happiness" in this case is a bit too vague. Unlike other metrics, like Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score, or Customer Satisfaction Score, there isn't a defined way to measure your customer happiness — unless you create another survey to do so.

If there's no way to precisely measure customer happiness, how are companies supposed to know they are improving? Combine all of the measured inputs that you have around customer experience, along with the qualitative understanding that you have from customer-facing teams, and you're on the right track.

Using a dashboarding software like Domo or Looker makes it easy to collate and visualize all of the information in one place.

Customer happiness vs. customer satisfaction

Considering how tricky it is to nail down a measurement for customer happiness, it may feel tempting to measure customer satisfaction instead. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is a survey used to gauge a customer's satisfaction with a service or product by asking, "How satisfied were you with (X) today?"

CSAT is a significant indicator of customer health, but it is not as meaningful as true customer happiness. Satisfaction is something that contributes to happiness rather than something that can serve as a one-to-one substitute. After all, CSAT is traditionally about a single experience within the customer timeline — customer happiness spans the whole thing.

Measuring both CSAT and customer happiness is valuable, though — ultimately — it's all about making an emotional connection with your customers. Gallup has even gone so far as to state that customer satisfaction is worthless without the emotional response that often drives customer happiness.

Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of your long-term goals in moving toward customer happiness. The two are similar, but not quite the same.

Why is customer happiness important?

The lifetime value of someone emotionally engaged with your brand is more than twice that of a highly satisfied customer.

Happy customers buy more from your company. They tell their friends about how awesome you are. They are usually willing to inform your product roadmap by giving you useful insights into how they use or what they want to see in your product.

Customer happiness also helps to serve as a pulse check for your company. It enables you to identify where your bottlenecks are, where you can improve, and what your customers want. When you can know instead of guess what actions your customers are taking and what's important to them, you deliver faster.

That faster delivery and emotional connection with your customers also promotes internal happiness. Your customer support team has to deal with the repercussions of any potential unhappiness in your customer base, and if they're continually getting yelled at or scolded for things they can't change, it's demoralizing.

In return, employee happiness has a significant impact on the long-term performance of a company. After all, no loyal customer wants to learn that their favorite employee had to leave for higher pay.

Customer happiness is cyclical and valuable. It touches almost every aspect of your business and continues to get stronger and stronger each time it makes its way around a cycle.

11 ways to inspire customer happiness

Now that you know how valuable customer happiness is, you're probably chomping at the bit to get started. Luckily for you, this isn't rocket science. There are tons of small, simple ways that you can get started boosting your customer happiness today!

1. Perfect your persona knowledge and brand voice

If you want your customers to care about your company, you need to be likable. The best way to be likable is to create a brand identity that resonates with the people you want to sell to.

If you don't understand your brand personas, you won't have any foundation to build your brand's voice. To identify your personas and perfect your brand voice, ask yourself two questions: Who and why?

You need to know who you are trying to reach and why you are trying to reach them. For instance, if your product has a target audience primarily made up of 70-year-old men, you wouldn't use the same language as you would trying to reach Gen Z women.

If your purpose is selling medication to people with a terminal illness, you will use different phrasing than you would selling party supplies. You must know your customers to delight them.

2. Give your customers a voice

Give your customers ways to provide their insights on how you could be doing better. Traditionally this has been done with CSAT surveys or NPS, but there are many other ways that you can learn about your customers:

  • Focus groups

  • Point of sale studies

  • Social media

  • CRM insights

  • Email

  • Landing pages

  • User groups

  • Communities

In all of these spaces, give your customers ample opportunities to speak up about what they care about and what they need. You can promote customer happiness by understanding and then driving toward those needs. Both your product and your customer experience will be better for it.

3. Always listen

Listening is an underrated skill. There are many ways to listen to customers, but the most important thing is to make sure they know you hear them.

During all interactions, mirror back the experiences of customers with understanding. Combined with social listening tools and feedback analysis, this empathetic approach can set off fireworks between you and your community.

4. Make their experience personal

Customers want to interact with human beings who are warm, friendly, and helpful. In every aspect of your company — from email marketing to your help desk — approach people like you would approach neighbors (warmly but respectfully).

By creating a human experience, you can spark meaningful relationships with current and future customers.

Your support team should know the context of who they are speaking to. Your team should personalize your marketing with the customer's name and essential details. Base your sales experience and playbooks on previous purchases and other customer contexts.

Use the tools at your disposal to create as personal and excellent an experience as you can.

5. Treat every customer like a VIP

Being a VIP has some real perks. More than any specific benefit, VIP status offers the positive feeling that someone values and appreciates you. The good news is that you can give that to every customer, regardless of their budget or needs.

Start by offering every customer your undivided attention and personalized content so they're always hearing a voice made just for them. You'll create VIPs who will not only buy more — they'll give you referral after referral.

6. Practice gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful emotion. Expressing it to customers builds positive feelings while humanizing your company in the eyes of the world.

Don't be stingy in your gratitude — say thank you in every email and every interaction. Expressing gratitude this way also makes it more likely that someone (even a customer) will help you in the future.

Beyond just saying thank you, consider exploring creative ways to express gratitude. For instance, send thank-you cards or treats on special occasions or offer discounts to commemorate long-term usage or membership.

Something as small as a pair of cool socks can be inexpensive for your company but feel extremely meaningful for your customers.

7. Measure and track your metrics

How do you know where things are going awry if you don't have any way of tracking it? Make a point of putting metrics in place to understand how your team is performing:

  • Understand things like time to first response, customer satisfaction, NPS, and how they shift over time.

  • Analyze your customer interactions to understand their needs and concerns more readily.

Beyond that, correlate them together to understand how specific shifts within your customer's experience impact your overall customer happiness and health. When you empower yourself with data, you give your team a leg up on promoting customer happiness.

8. Value consistency

In the service industry, you're only as good as the last meal you serve — and that's true of any customer service business. It takes 12 positive experiences to offset one not-so-great interaction.

To hit the mark every time, companies need to empower employees with cohesive values, standards, and guidelines for interacting with customers. The trick is to provide consistency in the service level while still enabling team members to play to their strengths.

9. Stand by your promises

Never make false promises or overcommit to your customers. When you overpromise and underdeliver, the customer feels cheated and lied to. You end up breaking the bond you've worked so hard to build.

It takes so much more effort to rebuild that relationship than it does to communicate effectively, even around difficult topics. Your false promises lead to churn — and maybe even damaging reviews on social media or via word of mouth.

Take this situation, for instance: Your sales team, instead of explaining that you don't quite have the feature that a customer is looking for, explains that the customer support team will help after purchasing. After purchasing, the customer looks to support for assistance in implementing the feature.

The support team is well equipped to reset expectations, but imagine the frustration that your customer feels when told something they just paid for isn't available? It will take tons of extra effort to rebuild a relationship that you should have never broken in the first place.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to customer happiness. It will end up saving your team time and money in the long run, even if it derails a few deals at the beginning.

10. Admit mistakes and apologize

Every organization is going to hit blips and bumps that disrupt business. Whether it's a snow day or a data leak, you're more likely to recover if you get out in front of the problem. Always practice transparency. Share the situation and your concerns, along with any steps you're taking to resolve the issue.

Saying “I’m sorry” is imperative in situations like this, but a simple apology isn't always enough. The Ritz Carlton, for instance, grants their employees the ability to spend $2000 per customer per day to improve a customer's experience.

You might not have that much budget to spend, but you can still empower your teams with the flexibility to go above and beyond for your customers. Let them choose when to offer refunds or specific actions to take in the face of a serious issue.

Don't forget: Your community wants to hear about fantastic breakthroughs, too. Every time something goes awry, you have the chance to use it to turn around the experience.

If people reach out frustrated, it's because they care enough to reach out at all. Exercise good judgment, and lean into these opportunities to build exciting relationships with a growing community.

11. Offer privileges and rewards

Companies like Southwest Airlines, Patagonia, and Nordstrom have distilled customer happiness to an art form, creating real value with their offerings. They know that one-time incentives are fun, but you need to sustain that momentum over time to have a real impact.

Invest in regular rewards, incentives, or sales that people look forward to — and add in one or two extras for a fun surprise.

Customer happiness always wins

While it's good for your customers to feel good, working on these 11 things will also help your team feel good.

When you embrace customer happiness as a core component of your business, you create the ideal environment for you and your team. What's not to love?

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