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From satisfaction to delight:

a model for the hotel industry
Edwin N. Torres and Sheryl Kline


Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Purdue University,

West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
Purpose This article seeks to develop a managerial model that will aid in the effective management
of customer relations. This study explains in detail the concepts of satisfaction and delight; their
antecedents and potential outcomes.
Design/methodology/approach An extensive review of existing customer delight literature
reveals the key concepts necessary for customer delight to occur.
Findings Customer delight is a better measure of customer relationship management than
customer satisfaction. Delight is likely to generate positive business results such as word-of-mouth
communications, loyalty and increased profitability. Using existing literature a model is developed.
Practical implications The proposed model can be used by managers to achieve customer delight
in their organizations. It can also be used to gain a better understanding of the process of managing
customer relations.
Originality/value In the last few years the concept of customer delight has been taking precedence
over the concept of satisfaction. Despite such emphasis, there are few published articles relating to this
topic in the hotel industry. The study uses customer delight literature from various industries and
attempts to apply such knowledge to the hospitality industry.
Keywords Customer satisfaction, Customer relations, Hotels, Human resource management,
Customer service management
Paper type Conceptual paper

International Journal of
Contemporary Hospitality
Vol. 18 No. 4, 2006
pp. 290-301
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09596110610665302

Everyday managers must face the challenge of establishing and maintaining positive
customer relationships. The task is increasingly difficult as consumers have greater
access to information and a wide array of choices. Price-cutting and intense
promotional campaigns make the task even more complex. Therefore, many have
gained greater interest in customer satisfaction and monitor such variables on a
continuous basis. Others have proposed that satisfying the customer is not enough and
firms should aim to delight their customers.
Customer satisfaction is defined as the individuals perception of the performance
of the product or service in relation to his or her expectations (Schiffman and Kanuk,
2004). However it is noteworthy to state that the perceptions of service quality might
differ among service recipients and service providers (Nightingale, 1985).
Expectations relate to the perceived level of service that consumers hope to obtain
from a hotel. When the purchasing customer is at the evaluation phase of the purchase
decision process, he or she compares the level of service obtained with the level
expected. From this analysis the customer will emerge satisfied or dissatisfied. It is
thereafter necessary to understand customer expectations and deliver accordingly in
order to satisfy customers.
Recent literature suggests that firms should move from satisfaction to delight in an
effort to obtain loyal customers and profitable operations. According to Patterson

(1997) customer delight involves going beyond satisfaction to delivering what can be
best described as a pleasurable experience for the client. Delight therefore entails a
stronger emotion and a different physiological state than satisfaction. Traditionally
delight has been thought of a blend of joy and surprise (Kumar et al., 2001). However a
recent study suggests that customers can be delighted without being surprised (Kumar
et al., 2001). Although joy remains an important element of delight, the study suggests
that a greater number of people are exhilarated, thrilled and to a lesser extent
exuberant (Kumar et al., 2001).
Whereas customer satisfaction entails delivering according to customer
expectations, customer delight requires exceeding the expectations. Keinningham
et al. (1999) propose that customers have a range of satisfaction referred to as the zone
of tolerance and that going beyond the upper thresholds of such zone will produce
customer delight.
Satisfied customers are not necessarily exited with a firm; they are merely at ease.
Delighted customers on the other hand have greater appreciation for the firm and its
services. Paul (2000) states that:
Unfortunately, people dont talk about adequate service. Instead, they tell anyone who will
listen about really bad or really delightful services.

Paul concludes that delight is more likely to generate a positive word-of-mouth. Being
satisfied with a firms product or services is not necessarily an expression of
preference, nor rejection; it is simply an expression of acceptance. Delighting
customers, therefore is about providing a service that is exceptional and stimulates
customer preference towards a firm.
Customer delight and loyalty
In recent years, marketers have grown in their concern to retain customers. It is widely
believed that retaining customers is a more cost-effective than attracting new ones.
Recent marketing literature proposes the examination of a customers lifetime value.
According to Kotler and Amstrong (2001):
Companies are also realizing that loosing a customer means loosing more than a single sale: it
means loosing the entire stream of purchases that the customer would have made over a
lifetime of purchase.

Delight can impact on a firms financial statements by supplying a steady stream of

cash-flows associated with repeat customers.
Loyalty can be defined as:
A deeply held commitment to re-buy or patronize a preferred product or service consistently
in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand-set purchasing, despite situational
influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behavior (Skogland
and Siguaw, 2004).

A loyal customer will not be prone to switch brands or patronize a competitor. By

emphasizing customer delight, a firm will seek to create more loyal customers.
For many years it has been thought that satisfied customers are loyal customers,
however a recent study challenges the veracity of such assertion. According to
Skogland and Siguaw (2004):

satisfaction to



Guest satisfaction does not appear to have the substantive and sweeping effect on guest
loyalty that has previously been assumed.

Thus, the condition of being satisfied therefore is not strong enough to retain
customers in a highly competitive environment.
It has also been proposed that as the level of satisfaction increases, so does customer
These studies found that customers who where completely satisfied were more likely to be
loyal than customers who said they where satisfied (quoted in Kumar et al., 2001).

Also, delivering higher levels of satisfaction might be associated with an even smaller
number of firms, and thus customers will have a narrower selection of choices capable
of delivering a superior level of service.
Despite all of these findings, it must be said that being satisfied or being very
satisfied does not imply being delighted. Delight is yet a stronger state of customer
engagement. According to Patterson:
Customer delight is arguably the most effective way to increase your retention ratio
(Patterson, 1997).

Thus, the real way to increase loyalty and improve retention is not to satisfy
customers, but to delight them.
Frequently dissatisfied customers leave firms that fail to perform up to their
expectations. The feeling of risk or danger associated with switching brands is almost
none, because the customer has nothing to loose; the hotel in question has failed to
satisfy them.
When the customer is satisfied; the risk or danger is somewhat greater, since the
competitor must be able to deliver a comparable experience. When the customer is
delighted, the risk or danger associated with switching brands is very high, since they
will expect the new property to meet and exceed their expectations. Thus the customer
will have greater uncertainty whether the new choice will be able to deliver at this
level; this will make the customer hesitate when faced with other choices.
The financial impact of customer delight
For many years customer satisfaction has been used as an indicator of organizational
health. Most recently it has been argued that in order to succeed in todays competitive
environment it is necessary to do more than just satisfy the customer; it is necessary to
delight them. Delighting customers may be a noble ideal, but what impact does it have
in the company? Does greater satisfaction lead to increased profitability and good
financial health?
Although there is little research on how customer delight influences hotel
profitability, studies have been conducted by firms in other industries:
When Roche Diagnostic began its customer service focus, most customers would have rated
themselves as satisfied with the service from Roche. The divisions new management
quickly learned, however, that having satisfied customers was not generating the expected
profits. The management realized that satisfaction was not enough-customers had to be
delighted with Roche for the division to succeed (Keinningham et al., 1999).

The inability to retain customers can lead to negative financial consequences:

Customer-defection rates are high for businesses today. US corporations routinely loose half
of their customers over a span of five years resulting in 25 to 50 percent reduction in
performance (Skogland and Siguaw, 2004).

Relationship marketing contends that establishing long-term relationships with

customers is the real source of profitability for a business. According to this notion
customer retention leads to decreased marketing expenditures associated with
attracting new customers. Delighting customers is a very effective mechanism to retain
customers and can lead to higher profitability.
Customer delight can also be a differentiating element for which consumers will be
willing to pay a premium. If a hotel in a certain segment is able to differentiate itself on
the basis of superior service without incurring greater costs, it will be able to yield a
greater profit. According to Patterson, 1997:
Recent studies show that companies with large groups of loyal core clients often succeed with
prices up to 7 percent higher than those of the competition (Patterson, 1997).

In this scenario consumers are less price sensitive and thus demand somewhat is less
elastic (up to a certain point) than comparable properties without the service delight
Delighted customers can prove to be more profitable for a firm. According to
Keinningham et al. (1999):
It was dramatically evident that merely satisfied customers were far less likely to buy again
or give referrals to their colleagues than their delighted counterparts.

As demonstrated in this case, delighted customers are more profitable than simply
satisfied customers.
Delighting customers however, can imply marginal costs for organizations.
According to Rust and Oliver (2000):
Research reviewed here strongly suggests that delight cannot be achieved without
surprisingly positive levels of performance, which as noted previously, require additional
effort on the part of the firm or its agents.

Therefore, the delight-profit relationship, might be more complex than commonly

assumed. When considering the implementation of a delight program, the firm should not
only look at the incremental benefits; they should also estimate their incremental costs.
Rust and Oliver (2000) have proposed three possibilities for delight: assimilated,
reenacted and transitory. They view delight as existing on a continuum that can be
encoded permanently as a raised expectation. The ability to remember a delighted
experience is also on a continuum and it can be selectively retrieved as a remembrance
or forgotten entirely. In each one of these scenarios delighting the customer can vary in
attractiveness. Furthermore, the effect of other factors such as competition must be
evaluated. In their mathematical model for customer delight, Rust and Oliver (2000)
state that delight is more desirable under the following circumstances:
1. Satisfaction has a strong influence on behavior; 2. future profits receive significant weight;
3. the satisfaction of competitor customers has a strong impact on retention and other
behaviors; and 4. the firm is able to capitalize on dissatisfied customers of competitors by
converting them into its customers.

satisfaction to



This study demonstrates that customer delight can become an important source of
competitive advantage and profitability, provided that the service differentiation is not
easy to imitate, nor costly to implement. There are many things that can easily be
imitated by competitors. Facilities can be improved by remodeling, prices can be
dropped to stimulate demand and technology can be updated to meet the latest trends.
These strategies of differentiation have one shortcoming: they are easy to mimic. All
they require is a capital investment. Delightful service cannot be so easily replicated.
A culture of exceeding expectations cannot be easily transferred to a competitor.
Since culture takes great effort to change it is not easily mimicked. Hotels that hire and
train employees committed to delighting customers create a resource that is also
difficult to transfer to competitors. Therefore, it is necessary to master the very essence
of customer service in order to deliver a delightful experience that is cost-effective and
difficult to imitate. Indeed, customer delight can be a competitive advantage for
companies that hold to superior service as their distinctive competence.
Service recovery and delight
The way that service recovery is managed can influence a customers feelings of
satisfaction, dissatisfaction and delight. Although the most optimistic expectation of a
service recovery effort might be to reduce dissatisfaction and neutralize adverse
emotionality, some argue that one might achieve delight by properly managing such
efforts. According to Bell (1994):
How the front line responds can very often turn disappointment into customer satisfaction
sometimes even into delight.

Many firms experience service failures, however their responses might vary. By
having proper policies and well-trained employees in place, one can convert mistakes
into opportunities to delight.
Research tells us that a customer who has a problem elegantly corrected ends up more loyal
than a customer who has never had a problem (Bell, 1994).

Indeed, effective service recovery can have a significant impact in the customers
perception of the firm.
Schneider and Bowen (1999) propose a need-based model to customer delight. Their
research focuses on delight and outrage. This work may lead to a better understanding
of the dynamics of customer emotions and their effect on customer behavior and
loyalty. They argue that satisfaction is a more ambivalent feeling than delight or
outrage. As proposed earlier, feelings of satisfaction are not likely to generate
significant word-of-mouth communications. Only memorable (both positively and
negatively) experiences yield such consumer behavior.
It has been proposed that consumers seek to fulfill basic human needs by
purchasing products or services. According to Schneider and Bowen (1999):
Customer delight and outrage in the service business originates with the handling of three
basic customer needs security, justice and self-esteem.

They also argue that satisfying security and justice needs is necessary to prevent
outrage, whereas fulfilling esteem needs generates customer delight (Schneider and
Bowen, 1999). In light of such findings it is necessary to focus not only on core products

and services, but also on the more complex task of fulfilling customer needs. Selling a
product or service, regardless of whether a need is satisfied, is relatively easy. However
fulfilling the customers needs and innermost desires is a path that few business
enterprises dare to choose. For those willing to take such a road; customer delight is on
the horizon.

satisfaction to

Implementing customer delight

Customer delight can seem to be a good concept and an adequate philosophy. Yet,
some are critical to this concept arguing that it is not more than a buzzword or the
latest management fashion. And indeed for many firms, customer delight might not be
more than that. The difference might therefore lie in the implementation process.
Zemke (1997) notes that although some organizations have very high intentions and
communicate those intentions loudly they still fail to deliver on high quality customer
service. According to Zemke (1997):


A number of companies are unwilling to commit to service improvement results. They try one
thing that sounds good; then something else comes along that sounds good [and] then they
try that. They havent committed to a specific, tangible plan for service quality in the long

Many companies speak of their desire to please customers, yet few of them attain this
goal. Management must go beyond using the latest buzzword or trend and develop
strategies to improve service quality.
Satisfaction as an antecedent to delight
In both satisfaction and delight literature there seems to be differing views as to the
role of satisfaction and delight. Some believe that they are independent of each other,
Academicians have entertained the possibility that high positive emotions such as delight
might supplement the satisfaction concept (Oliver and Rust, 1997).

If one views delight as a function of expectations, then satisfying the customer will be
the logical antecedent to delighting them. If however, one takes a needs based model
such as the one presented by Schneider and Bowen (1999), then one might associate
satisfaction with the fulfillment of certain needs (i.e. security) whereas delight would be
more associated with the fulfillment of higher order needs (i.e. esteem). Research
undertaken by Oliver and Rust (1997) suggest the following:
Delight and satisfaction, as it is more commonly interpreted, may be separate, albeit
correlated concepts in that they are structurally unrelated in both studies.

Their study sheds light on the delight satisfaction relationship. Although they are
separate concepts, they appear to be associated. Satisfaction and delight entail different
emotional states as discussed earlier; however they both address the question of
customer satisfaction and service quality.
The human resource implications of customer delight
It is generally believed that happy employees make for happy guests. Although it
seems like a simple concept, it is a great challenge in todays business environment. In



the hospitality industry, we face high turnover rates and increasing demands from our
guests. Customer delight cannot be achieved without exceptional service and thus it is
important to have exceptional employees. Henkoff (1994) highlights the importance of
frontline employees in delivering service, since they are in direct contact with the
customer. Frontline employees are the face of the company to its customers. Their
success or failure at delivering service will trigger feelings of dissatisfaction,
satisfaction and delight. The quality of a hotels services largely depends on the quality
of the workforce.
Empowerment is one way that the firm can move towards customer delight;
however employees must be capable and willing to assume these new demands and
responsibilities. As the demands for workers increase, employment practices need to be
more effective at retaining the employees capable of successfully performing such
tasks. It has been proposed in human resource literature that task enrichment, or
making employees more responsible for decision-making can be a job motivator. More
responsibilities imply the capability of handling them and thus training and
development efforts must be consistent with this goal. According to Henkoff (1994):
What you need in an era of flattened hierarchies and heightened expectations, is people who
are resilient and resourceful, empathetic and enterprising, competent and creative a set of
skills, in short that where once demanded of managers.

Many employees today are not only looking for a job, they are looking for a fulfilling
labor experience. Accordingly a job should be interesting, exciting, and challenging.
According to Keiningham and Vavra (2001):
Delivering delight consistently demands long-term relations with customers, which demands
long term relations with employees. Research however, has been unable to conclusively
demonstrate a direct relationship between employee satisfaction and business outcomes.

Lower turnover rates can justify a greater investment in training and development
efforts. It can also lead employees to attain a greater knowledge of the business and its
customers. In order to delight, it will be necessary not only to have satisfied employees,
but rather satisfied employees who are committed to delighting customers
(Keiningham and Vavra, 2001).
Cook et al. (2002) quoting Bowen and Lawler (1992) state that:
Motivated, empowered employees who have a clear vision of service quality to the firm will
provide superior service.

Indeed, employee motivation can have a meaningful impact in customer service.

Motivation, however has been explained in different forms by various theorists.
Current literature has failed to provide a definition of employee delight. Thus, we
will assume employee delight to be similar in definition and degree of emotional
arousal as customer delight. According to Griffin (2000):
Motivation is a set of forces that cause people to behave in certain ways.

On the other hand job satisfaction is defined as the degree to which individuals feel
positively or negatively about their jobs (Schermerhon et al., 2000).
Frederick Hertzberg proposed a two-factor theory for employee motivation.
According to his theory hygiene factors are sources of job dissatisfaction
(Schermerhon et al., 2000). These factors include supervision, working conditions,

interpersonal relations, pay security, and company policies (Griffin, 2000). Having
these factors in place will prevent dissatisfaction, but will not necessarily lead to
employee satisfaction. On the other hand, motivation factors include achievement,
recognition, the work itself, responsibility advancement and growth (Schermerhon
et al., 2000). Motivating factors are the ones that cause satisfaction. In order for
motivating factors to properly operate, it is necessary to have in place hygiene factors.
It can be argued that a similar model can be applied to customer delight. For
instance providing certain hygiene factors such as a clean room and basic amenities
can prevent dissatisfaction and perhaps even lead to a certain level of satisfaction.
However, having some motivating elements such as superior service can lead to
customer delight. Similarly, it is important to recognize that employees have a variety
of needs that range from very simple (i.e. pay, benefits) to the most complex (i.e. need to
leave a legacy in the organization). It is reasonable to propose, in light of available
literature, that helping employees achieve those higher needs or higher goals can lead
to superior employee satisfaction and even delight. It is noteworthy to mention that an
organization must first make sure that the hygiene factors are in place, before
attempting to achieve employee delight. When the proper environment is created,
employees will be capable of fulfilling the guests needs and expectations, which will
lead to customer delight.
Customer delight: a model for the hotel industry
Based on an in-depth literature review this paper proposes a model for customer
delight (Figure 1). At the center of the model, are three components. The left side
represents customer satisfaction and the right side represents customer delight. In
between lies an area called very satisfied. Thus the customer moves from being
satisfied to being very satisfied towards being delighted as the factors in the squares
hold true for each one of them.
On the left side of the customer satisfaction circle, we have the customer, employee
and organizational and environmental influences that lead to customer satisfaction. In
order for customers to be satisfied, their expectations need to be met. If their
expectations are not met, customers will be dissatisfied and possibly at times outraged.
Thus when the firm delivers exactly what the customers want, they will be satisfied.
Satisfaction can also be explained by the fulfillment of certain needs. Schneider and
Bowen (1999) propose a needs-based model to customer delight. According to them the
needs of justice, security and esteem need to be met in order for delight to occur.
However it is the esteem needs that hold the greatest potential to delight. Thus it can be
argued that the needs of justice and security are necessary for satisfaction to occur,
whereas fulfilling esteem needs will yield customer delight.
Employee satisfaction has an impact in customer satisfaction (Cook et al., 2002).
Employees who deliver customer satisfaction will not be dissatisfied. This term follows
Hertzbergs two-factor theory on employee motivation. Using his theory some factors
(hygiene) factors will prevent dissatisfaction and other factors (motivational factors)
will promote employee satisfaction and motivation. Thus it can be argued that in order
for employees to deliver satisfaction, they must at least not be dissatisfied. Employees
must also have the right skills knowledge and abilities necessary to do their jobs
effectively. Thus, they must be capable of carrying their jobs in a competent and
effective manner.

satisfaction to



Figure 1.
A model for hotel
customer delight

There are also some organizational and environmental influences that play a role in
customer satisfaction. First, the hotels facilities are very important in achieving
satisfaction. Without adequate facilities, the customer can easily be dissatisfied. Also,
the existence of an organizational culture that promotes doing things right or achieving
a certain level of competence can also help promote customer satisfaction. Finally, if
the level of service for a particular property is similar to other competitors within the
market segment they serve then satisfaction is likely to occur.
At the center of the model, there is very satisfied. Very satisfied customers have a
higher degree of engagement and satisfaction than satisfied customers. In that regard,
it is necessary for them to posses the qualities described in the left side squares. At the
same time, they are also approaching customer delight and thus some of the elements
(but certainly not all) for delight are present. Customer delight represents yet a higher
level of customer engagement than the quality of being very satisfied.
The right side of the model represents customer delight. Delighted customers are
those whose expectations have been exceeded. The hotel has gone beyond what it
needed to do in order to satisfy them and provided the guest with an experience
pleasurable and distinctive enough to arouse the emotion of delight. When the
self-esteem needs of our customers are satisfied, they make them feel better about
themselves and about their stay at a particular hotel Thus customers will be delighted
as a function of the fulfillment of this high-order need.

Employees who delight are motivated and highly satisfied as opposed to not
dissatisfied are more capable of delivering customer delight. Employees who are
committed to a particular organization are more likely to delight (Keiningham and
Vavra, 2001), since lower turnover can help better train our workforce. Due
consideration, must also be paid to the personality traits of employees. Employees who
delight are likely to exhibit different personality characteristics than those who merely
satisfy. And of course they must be capable and competent as previously shown in the
satisfaction section.
Delivering customer delight requires an examination of the organizational and
environmental influences affecting such condition. A culture that fosters delight can be
an important element. When the organization empowers employees to go after the
customers dreams and achieve the extraordinary, employees will be more likely to try
to achieve customer delight. Whereas a company that satisfies can only delivers
service similar to that of competitors. The firm that delights holds exceptional service
as its competitive advantage and successfully implements the notion of customer
At the bottom of the model, the likely outcomes of satisfaction and delight can be
observed. Whereas satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal (Skogland and
Siguaw, 2004), delighted customers are more likely to display loyalty for a particular
firm. Satisfaction has been described as an almost ambivalent emotional state
(Schneider and Bowen, 1999), whereas delight implies a greater degree of engagement
and emotional arousal on the positive side. Delighted customers are likely to be more
profitable than satisfied customers; however such profitability is also conditioned by
the organizational and environmental influences.
Practical applications
In delighting customers, managers can encounter several challenges. For instance, if
the manager raises the bar of service, expectations will be heightened and customers
will expect a higher level of service. That service needs to be consistent; delighting
customers cannot be achieved with intermittent attempts to delight. Thus it is
important that the firm not only improves service to the level of delight but it also
delights consistently. In addition to level and consistency of service, customer delight
involves a paradigm shift and it carries new implications for management.
Meeting customer expectations is only one aspect of good customer service. Delight
requires firms to have a greater understanding of consumer behavior and the needs of
their guests. It is necessary for managers to look outside of customer expectations and
deliver not only a good, but rather pleasurable experience. Delighting customers could
also have implications in the way that service quality standards are designed.
Delighting guests requires the satisfaction of certain high order needs and thus, it
requires managers to visualize a guests experience as satisfying a need rather than
selling a service.
A hotel that wants to delight customers needs to hire and train employees that are
committed to the goal of satisfying the customer. Employees and in particular
front-line employees convey the service and maintain the product that directly impacts
the guests experience. These employees must be motivated by and focused on
excellent customer service. Employees that delight have certain traits that are intrinsic
to their personality such as empathy, ability to anticipate needs, and the drive and

satisfaction to



desire to please. Therefore managers must select and hire the right employees with
those personalities that are predisposed to delight customers. These service mentality
traits need to be identified and then integrated into the recruiting processes. Once
hired, firms must support their employees and nurture those traits through its training
program and culture.
Employee character traits are only part of the employee component of the
model. Job efficiency and competency are essential aspects of delivering delight.
Therefore, intensive technical training programs are required to deliver service that
is delightful. Training programs that are designed to give employees the skills to
do their job is a minimum requirement. Continuous training and a large
investment in customer service as well as technical training is needed to ensure
consistency of high level service. These factors in combination lead to a firms
ability to delight the customer.
Customer delight can only be achieved by a coordinated organizational effort. The
firms mission and culture foster attention to detail, with a customer focus that could be
called religious. The mantra of meeting and exceeding customer needs permeates a
firms entire organization. The drive to delight the customer would be evident in the
recruiting process, marketing plan, and in all aspects of customer service.
Delighted customers are a competitive advantage. Delighted customers are loyal
and promote those firms that they patronize. Customer delight can have a positive
effect on customer retention and financial results.
This model presents the basic customer, employee, and organizational influences
that lead to customer satisfaction and delight. It also shows some likely outcomes of
delighting customers. Further research must be undertaken in the subject of customer
delight, but hopefully the proposed model will help advance the field of knowledge in
this intriguing area of hospitality. Future research includes empirical testing of this
model within the hotel industry.

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Corresponding author
Sheryl Kline can be contacted at:

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