Although he doesn’t allow any interaction on his blog, I still admire Seth Godin’s pithy posts for the way they deliver little nuggets of “A-ha!” in 300 words or less. One such mini masterpiece is The Least I Could Do. In 123 words, he breezily defines and as easily debunks one of the biggest myths about business success: “Doing the least acceptable amount is the way to maximize short term profit.”

You’ve seen plenty of businesses that are run this way – scraping away all the “excess” in order to “streamline” production, service, and operations. As Godin points out, this dogma is a big part of business school curricula. I suppose it looks good to the bean counters and shareholders, but only in the short term. Eventually, delivering less will earn you less.

Godin’s closing remarks, suggesting that companies try to “radically over-deliver,” reminded me of the “Pyramid of Expectation” described to me by Savvy friend Scott Gould. Scott teaches businesses to take advantage of what he calls the “Experience Economy” and he defines the Pyramid of Expectation as follows:

  • At the bottom you have Customer Sacrifice – The customer’s expectations are not met. Many businesses operate on this level – trading in customer sacrifice instead of customer service.
  • Next up: Customer Satisfaction – You deliver on what you say you’ll do. Many companies consider this to be a huge accomplishment, when – in truth – this is just how it should be.
  • Things get interesting with Customer Surprise – You do more than what your customer was expecting. This is the classic “under-promise & over-deliver” technique.
  • At the pinnacle of the pyramid is Customer Suspense – When your customer is so excited about the surprises you’ve delivered, they begin to experience your brand even before a transaction takes place. For example, every time Apple announces a new product launch, the fans start frothing at the mouth before they’ve even seen the thing. This type of suspense generates conversation which, we all know, is the most important currency on the social Web.

… which reminds us that even when you’re trafficking in the lofty gold of Customer Suspense, you still have to maintain your ability to deliver both Customer Satisfaction and Customer Surprise. Pace yourself. Make sure that your product or service lives up to the hype. Keep a little something in your back pocket so you can surprise your customers with an extra value or feature.

Where do you think your company sits on the Pyramid of Expectation? Are there things you could do to climb a little higher? What’s keeping you from reaching the pinnacle?