Customer delight: it’s one of the major differentiators that have placed Zappos, Starbucks and Apple on a customer service and earnings pedestal. But for most organizations, providing customer satisfaction is the goal; providing customer delight is an above and beyond extra effort that can’t be done consistently or duplicated en masse without some kind of dedicated investment. Or can it?….

In a recent Forbes article by Steve Denning, Is Customer Delight Just Hype?, Denning makes the case that customer delight shouldn’t just be a happy accident or something that only the biggest companies can do; it should be a business imperative, and it will pay for itself. “Delighting the customer is not just profitable. It’s hugely profitable. That’s ultimately why it has to become a business imperative.

“Its conquest of the business world is inevitable, not because the people doing the work are happier or because it extends the life expectancy of a firm, generates jobs and fuels the growth of the economy. It does all those things, but the real driver of its inevitability is that it makes more money for companies that accomplish it.”

Beyond the almighty dollar, customer delight also serves a second higher purpose. It makes an impressive human connection. “To me, says Denning is his Forbes article, “the most persuasive argument is that delighting customers reflects a proper philosophy of life.

“The fact that money changes hands doesn’t make it any less worthwhile, if true delight is there. Delighting others requires a kind of mindfulness of the impact of what one does has on the lives of others. It is one of the things that makes life worthwhile.”

Think it costs big bucks to delight customers? Sometimes it just takes a small change in the status quo. Take for instance the customer delight derived from a few words handwritten on a Starbucks cup. There’s no major investment in time or money for a magic marker and a hand-drawn smiley face. But oh, the impact! Says Jeannie Walters, founder of 360Connext, about the small yet meaningful effort of some handwriting on a customer’s cup, “This is a perfect example of how a small thing, a microinteraction, can have a much bigger affect. Customers are people. As people, we each like to be treated as an individual. This small act of interaction recognized you as a unique person, plus it created a relationship when there was no requirement to go beyond the transaction.”

It’s the stuff of which brand advocates, loyal customers and legends are made. Customer delight doesn’t have to cost big bucks; it just takes small change.