Common sense suggests that there is a hierarchy to positive emotions towards a product or a service. At the lower end is dissatisfaction; before achieving satisfaction; and then ultimately delight with the brand. However, is this correct? Can you be both dissatisfied with the service and yet delighted with the brand at the same time? Perhaps.

To share a recent story, I flew from Singapore to London with, hmm, let’s just say a national airline, and it wasn’t the best trip. As we took our seats an air stewardess informed us that the in-flight entertainment was broken for the trip, not the best news to hear before a 13-hour flight. Suffice to say I was dissatisfied.

Now, that could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Over the next 13 hours the cabin crew did everything they could to try and remedy the situation, short of fixing the entertainment itself. We were constantly offered refreshment and refills; when the meals were served we were served first ahead of the normal start-at-the-front-and-work-down routine; but most important in my eyes, they helped us complain.

When first informed of the fault, the air stewardess clearly explained the problem, gave us her name; and told us to remember our seat and flight number. Later a steward came around and offered us complaint forms to fill in with our relevant details and then collected them at the end of the flight. All this helping to vent our frustration, rather than cover it over with platitudes.

So, at the end of the flight I had mixed feelings. Clearly I was left dissatisfied – having been robbed of the opportunity to see Batman vs. Superman without the humiliation of actually having to pay – and yet delighted by the response of the airline in the face of this dissatisfaction.

Maybe they exist on different planes. One is about the basic fulfillment of needs – satisfaction. The other is more intangible, having a stronger emotional context to it.

Perhaps, then, it is possible to be both dissatisfied and delighted. Maybe they exist on different planes. One is about the basic fulfillment of needs – satisfaction. The other is more intangible, having a stronger emotional context to it. In this way, they can be seen as mutually exclusive; delight and satisfaction able to occur irrespective of the presence of the other.

And yet, as with System 1 and System 2 thinking in our brains, the emotional side informs and guides the rational – delight affects satisfaction. If the response from the airline hadn’t been so positive and strong, I’m sure that my dissatisfaction would have been higher. And so rather than focusing on the negative of my entertainment not working, the stories I told when I landed were how the airline employees responded to the problem.

Satisfaction and delight are connected then, but not as a linear or hierarchical join, rather as curious spheres of influence, where one affects the other. Delight, it would appear, is a potent element, if it can temper dissatisfaction so strongly. A magic customer service elixir brands would be desperate to have. How then do you create delight?

What’s clear is that it isn’t satisfaction. Satisfaction is the product of things going smoothly; the standard procedure going ahead. If I want my in-flight entertainment to work and it does then, well, I’m satisfied. No more, no less. Delighted, I’m not. Similarly, satisfaction is something you can plan, and organize and train for. It is the delivery of the expectation.

Delight, however, is none of these things. Rather then being expected, it’s unexpected and random and a surprise. I was delighted by my flight experience because it was so very unexpected for an airline to behave that way. So not only was the response unexpected, so was the stimulus. If my in-flight entertainment had been working properly, the cabin crew would never have had the opportunity to delight.

Delight then is serendipity. It’s seizing the moment to find a chance to make someone’s day in a real, honest and human way; not by purely reciting the company handbook, which can only lead to satisfaction. Satisfaction is delivered by the brand delivering on its promise. Delight is achieved by the employees feeling empowered and engaged enough to care.
Can you be delighted but left dissatisfied? Yes.

I was dissatisfied with the airline itself because of my flight experience. But that very same experience left me delighted with the staff who tried their utmost to rectify the situation. In other words, delight is the emotional connection you have with the brand through its employees; make them ambassadors for your brand and everyone will leave delighted no matter the level of satisfaction.