Written by Steven Cristol, Founder and Managing Partner
of Strategic Harmony® Partners
It's a notion counter to everything in our marketing bones, but sometimes our obsession for delighting customers can actually be too much of a good thing. From a product portfolio perspective, I wouldn't go quite as far as the recent Harvard Business Review article, "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers" (Jul-Aug 2010 issue). But this is a serious product development issue: with limited resources, every time a product or service over-delivers on one customer benefit, it increases the probability of under-delivering on another. And lurking in that resource misallocation is vulnerability for your brand.
At the simplest level, over-delivery is providing any customer benefit in excess of what is required to attract and keep customers. So how do you know -- before the product is built (and long before customer satisfaction research sometime after launch)? The answer is quite straightforward if you already score your product development projects in terms of alignment with specific customer benefits (drivers of brand choice that define ideal customer experience -- e.g., easy to use, reliable, etc.) and if you know your current competitive standing on each benefit (e.g., superior to competitors, inferior, or parity).
Armed with those basics, you can look at how all product features on a roadmap (or headed for it) are aggregately aligned with each benefit. When doing this, we often see that the bigger product improvements are on one or more benefits where the company is already the clear leader. Meanwhile, that same roadmap is under-delivering on benefits where competitors are at parity or even ahead. Analyzing total roadmap delivery by benefit also helps prevent over-delivering on, say, the #4 most important benefit to your customers while under-delivering on #1 -- another all-too-frequent outcome without such analysis.
Human nature: we love doing things we're already great at. But when this happens in excess in product development, the brand often ends up extending its lead on customer benefits that it's already comfortably superior on while opening itself to competitive attacks on other key benefits. So by all means let's delight customers with next year's new products. But let's do it in proportion to the relative importance of each customer benefit and where your brand needs the most help competitively.