December 12, 2022
powerful ways to boost customer retention

Customer retention is critical to building a sustainable business. Why? Because loyal customers are your best investment.

According to a 2022 study on brand loyalty by Yotpo, about 80% of ecommerce shoppers tend to buy from a brand they are loyal to, and 47% will recommend it through word of mouth.

However, brand loyalty can be fleeting. With information at their fingertips and easy access to options, even loyal customers can switch brands on a whim.

You must do more than deliver a great customer experience if you want to raise brand awareness and improve retention rates. You also need to surprise and delight customers.

Today’s customers have seen it all. So, how do you make them sit up and take notice?

The solution lies in surprise and delight marketing.

In this guide, you’ll learn what it is and which customer segments you should target with this marketing strategy. You’ll also learn five effective ways to surprise and delight your customers.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is surprise and delight marketing?

Surprise and delight is a marketing approach that uses unexpected rewards and experiences to nurture customers, boost brand loyalty, and reduce churn.

Surprise and delight marketing campaigns can take the form of an unexpected gift, a discount, a thank-you note, or any random kind gesture. The goal is to exceed customers’ expectations and sweep them off their feet.

To better understand surprise and delight marketing, it helps to know the difference between customer satisfaction and customer delight.

If customer satisfaction is about meeting customers’ expectations, customer delight is about exceeding those expectations. However, surprise is a significant component of how you go beyond customers’ expectations with this marketing strategy.

Why is surprise and delight important to your retention strategy?

Surprise and delight marketing is crucial to your retention strategy because it instills brand loyalty. Put another way, it makes your customers fall in love with your brand again.

A Dunkin Donut customer jumps for joy after receiving a gift.

So what about surprise and delight marketing creates this change or shift in customers’ perception of your brand?

Tania Luna, co-author of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, explained how surprise creates that shift in an interview with The Takeaway:

“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.”

Notice how the quote above mentions the word “relationship.” Surprise doesn’t only change someone’s perspective. Done right, a pleasant surprise can change the entire dynamic of a relationship.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder Merkle’s 2021 report on brand loyalty shows that surprise and convenience go hand in hand in boosting emotional connections between brands and customers.

Who should you target with surprise and delight marketing?

Not all customers are a good target for surprise and delight marketing.

Generally, you shouldn’t surprise and delight existing customers when they’re not particularly pleased with your brand.


Because they expect grand gestures and some form of compensation when they feel you did them wrong. Your gesture doesn’t count because it kills the surprise.

Customer service and experienced keynote speaker Shep Hyken said as much on his website:

“The time to surprise is when you have the chance to make a good situation even better. It adds to the experience versus making up for a bad one … The customer should never say, ‘I was surprised that I had a good experience with them.’ On the contrary, the customer should say, ‘It’s always a delight to do business with them.’”

Put another way, surprise and delight marketing is an important component of ensuring a great post-purchase experience to enhance customer retention.

Customer segments you should target with surprise and delight marketing include loyal customers, active customers, and lapsed customers.

  • Loyal customers — Making your loyal customers feel valued and appreciated can go a long way toward turning them into brand advocates. Give them exclusive rewards, and they won’t stop talking about your brand.
  • Active customers — These customers actively use your products and services — they just don’t have a strong emotional connection with your brand … yet. Exceeding their expectations in a way that catches them off-guard is a terrific way to earn their loyalty. Offering them a special personalized gift will most likely do it.
  • Inactive customers — Inactive or lapsed customers aren’t a lost cause. Providing these customers with surprise gifts or an anniversary card will re-engage them and get them buying again.

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How to surprise and delight customers

  1. Send personal handwritten snail mail.
  2. Make it personal.
  3. Use timing to your advantage.
  4. Deliver value with no strings attached.
  5. Be human.

How can you surprise and delight your customers in ways they won’t expect?

Here are five surprise and delight tactics you can implement in your marketing campaigns.

1. Send personal handwritten snail mail

Personalization is the first step in creating a successful surprise and delight experience for a customer. And in a digital era where email communication is standard practice, what could be more personal and unexpected than receiving handwritten snail mail?

Online pet retailer Chewy takes customer appreciation to an entirely new level by sending handwritten notes of appreciation to customers.

Surprise and delight campaign: A customer thanks pet retailer Chewy after receiving a handwritten note.

It’s a simple gesture, but it packs an incredibly thoughtful punch. Buy a roll of stamps, start practicing your cursive handwriting, and put your customer data to good use! There are plenty of ways to say thank-you via a handwritten note or email.

2. Make it personal

If you’ve ever been a regular at a coffee shop or restaurant, you know the delight of walking up to a counter and the staff member saying, “Good morning! Will you be having your usual today?”

Customers take comfort in knowing someone has taken the time to remember their preferences. In fact, a 2022 report by Segment shows that 62% of customers expect personalization, saying they will leave a brand that doesn’t provide them with personalized experiences.

So, if you want your customers to keep buying, put your customer data to good use and offer gifts and giveaways that will resonate with them.

Consider the beauty brand Birchbox. Every month, the company sends its customers a box of sample-size beauty products to test, with the option to purchase the full-size version if they find something they like.

Birchbox invites prospects to receive a monthly delivery of customized product samples.

Birchbox has turned this concept into a subscription box empire. The brand drives customer loyalty with personalized discounts on products a customer has loved and purchased repeatedly.

Delivering personalized experiences shows customers you’re not only paying attention but also taking the time to understand their likes, preferences, and needs.

3. Use timing to your advantage

Give extra rewards and perks on special milestones and occasions — like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays — to help your surprise and delight initiatives connect with customers.

Times of celebration make customers recall fond memories — even those that trace back to their childhood. You can recreate those strong emotions by surprising and delighting customers during these times of the year. Doing so fosters positive associations with your brand.

These gestures may be small, but your customers will remember the extra effort you put in to make them feel valued and appreciated on these special days.

Penguin Random House offers a special discount to birthday celebrants.

4. Deliver value with no strings attached

For brands to succeed today, they must create meaningful connections with their customers.

The term “meaningful connection” is becoming more popular as brands recognize that it's not just about creating a great product or service. It's also about creating an experience that resonates with customers.

To pull that off, you need to deliver value with no strings attached. You create a genuine connection that instills loyalty in your brand when you delight customers without expecting something in return.

How do you show customers that you’re looking out for their best interests? Here are a few ways to pull it off:

  • Give gifts before a purchase, rather than after.
  • Offer free shipping codes with no expiration date.
  • Give gifts without requiring customers to do anything.

Here’s an example from Sephora, a beauty retail brand that generated a lot of buzz for sending free birthday gifts to its most loyal customers:

Sephora gives away free gifts to loyal customers during their birthday month.

5. Be human

Businesses are trying to do more with less — finding new ways to improve productivity, reducing costs, and making products that customers love.

Yet the best brands don't just get better at what they do. They go beyond that by being human and interacting with their customers in ways that make them feel their voice matters.

Customers want to know that a company is made up of people just like them. It's why they buy products from brands they know and trust — because those companies have shown themselves to be authentic in one way or another.

When you take this approach, your marketing efforts will be much more successful because you’ll have found a way to engage with people on a personal level.

You’ll be able to connect with them in ways that feel authentic and meaningful. And those connections will create lasting relationships with customers who become loyal advocates of your brand.

For Karissa Bodnar, CEO and founder of cosmetics startup Thrive Causemetics, daily interaction with customers has become a personal mission.

In addition to a fully staffed customer service team, you can find Bodnar interacting daily with the brand’s more than 670,000 Facebook followers in real time — via her personal Facebook account.

Thrive Causemetics CEO and founder Karissa Bodnar interacts with customers on social media.

Surprise and delight the people who are taking the time out of their day to interact with your brand and business by engaging with them on social media, email, phone, or even face-to-face.

Try to reach out promptly, engage in dialogue, and lead with empathy when providing solutions to customer issues.

Final thoughts: 5 surprise and delight tactics to boost customer retention

You can turn the customers into lifelong fans of your brand by delivering more than great products and services. Inject some surprise and delight marketing strategy into your loyalty program and reap the benefits.

Give customers priceless surprises. They will thank you by purchasing more and spreading the word about your brand.

Want to create scalable brand experiences built to surprise and delight? Sign up for managed WooCommerce hosting to reduce query loads by up to 95% and increase your store speed.

This blog was originally published in July 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Maddy Osman
Maddy Osman

Maddy Osman is a WordPress expert, WordCamp US speaker, bestselling author, and the Founder and SEO Content Strategist at The Blogsmith. She has a B.A. in Marketing from the University of Iowa and is a WordCamp Denver organizer while also operating The Blogsmith, an SEO content agency for B2B tech companies that works with clients like HubSpot, Automattic, and Sprout Social. Learn more about The Blogsmith's process and get in touch to talk content strategy:

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