How Surprising Service Makes You Happy

I’m proofing a book for a friend and the book is amazing. It’s on culture. I told you before about the Agile Culture Conference and how Agile is a Culture Hack.  In the book, there is a story about really bad service. It’s this story about trying to get a deposit made at a bank by using an ATM that does not work. When I read this frustrating tale of woe, it hit me: no sense of control. No sense of progress.

Now I am telling you straight about why bad service makes you unhappy: it is because bad service associates with a low sense of control and low sense of progress. When your feelings of  ‘no control’ and ‘no progress’ hit a certain level, you completely disengage! It’s like hitting the [OFF] button on a human being when control=0 and progress=0. This is a critical lesson for Agile teams. Agile teams do well when sponsors and Product Owners are feeling a strong sense of control and progress.

Anyone who has examined the DELIVERING HAPPINESS book from Tony Hsieh of Zappos knows about his 4-part Happiness Framework found in the Appendix. I’ve already explained it to you in the post on Gaming Happiness At Work.

This table sums up why bad service makes you unhappy:

Type of Service Sense of Control Sense of Progress
BAD SERVICE… Little or None Little or None
GOOD SERVICE… A comfortable and expected sense of control Comfortable and expected feelings of progress
WOW SERVICE ! A surprising sense of being honored A surprising sense of leaping forward (leveling up) very quickly


Remember, we expect a certain level of service. Expecting something comes from experience. When you expect something, it matches your model of reality. When you are surprised, it doesn’t.

Ok, why do you care? How does expecting something, and sense of control and sense of progress play out in business? Simple:

GOOD SERVICE is the expectation! No one gets a gold star for merely good service. Good service delivers the expected sense of control and progress.

WOW service makes you feel good by OVER-DELIVERING on a sense of control and a sense of progress.

BAD SERVICE is irritating precisely because it delivers a sense of control and progress that is far less than expected.

MORAL OF STORY: Under-promising is a good idea. Do it. It allows you to over-deliver and that makes people happy.

MORAL #2: If others in your market space are always over-delivering, the definition for ‘good service’ goes up. If you do not notice this, you have been checkmated. Your customers automatically disengage and do not tell you why. They just LEAVE.

MORAL #3: If you make over-delivering (WOW) your standard, you change the game for your competitors. They have to constantly “level-up” to compete, and they are always chasing your (re)definition of what is expected!


Great service makes customers happy by delivering a strong sense of control and sense of progress. That makes customers feel good. When they feel good about your product or service, they feel good about you.