​Surprise Me​​

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When was the last time you surprised an auditee/client/customer? I don't mean the "Gotcha" surprise. I don't mean the "Your Director just took off to the Bahamas with all your net worth" surprise. I mean the "Wow, I didn't expect that, are you sure you're from auditing?" surprise. And a number of you, in response to this question, will raise your own questions. You've got to be kidding? Aren't we supposed to be in charge of keeping surprises from happening, not causing them? Don't you think I've got enough to do without trying to "surprise" people? And thanks for the ideas, now why don't you take your happy-peppy little self away so I can get some real work done? 

​Allow me to elaborate. (Face it; you knew I was going to anyway.)

Convergence of ideas is an amazing thing. It happened for me last week with a couple of sites I visit daily (ones I've referred to your attention before). And they reminded me how important it is that we include surprise in our work. We talk about value add, we talk about providing customer service, we talk about being a partner with the business, and we forget that an important part of all these is giving the customer more than they expect, providing that "Wow" moment, providing surprises.   (And, before the pickers out there start going for nits, I mean good surprises, not bad ones. Should have gone without saying. Should have been implied in the opening paragraph. But I felt it better that I ensure we're all coming from the same happy place.)

The first site is a fairly new one titled Theme Park University. It talks about the topic of theme park design generally and, in some instances, Disney theme parks specifically. (Somehow you knew Disney was going to come up somewhere, didn't you?) On Friday, the author posted an analysis of a new Disney attraction, performing that analysis based on the five elements of successful themed entertainment. The fourth element is "Surprise me". (The others are worth exploring, but we won't do that here.) You can deliver a lot of things to your customers, but until you surprise them, you have not provided the memorable experience that means they see you as valuable.

The second site is Seth Godin's. Also on Friday, he posted a discussion on how the raising of customers' expectations means it becomes harder and harder to surprise them. If there is a litany of bad experiences, one good one is a surprise. As more good experiences occur, then it begins to take a great one to elicit surprise. Then, if the customer sees great experience after great experience, such experiences become the expectation, and it becomes very hard to provide any surprises (It reminds me of the Daffy Duck cartoon where he is trying to get a talent agent to take him on. Finally he resorts to an act where he swallows numerous poisonous and combustible liquids, swallows a lit match, and disappears in a huge explosion. The talent agent tells him he will sign him; that it is a fantastic act. Daffy, floating to heaven with harp in hand, says, "Yeah, but the problem is I can only do it once.")

This synergistic moment in blogdom points out two challenges every audit department should take to heart. (And I should note that these challenges are predicated on your acceptance of the premise that surprise – surprise as it has been defined here – is a good thing. If you have not, then, well, go back to reading your audit reports, and trying to stay awake.)

First, are you looking for those opportunities where you can surprise your customers – opportunities to give them more than they expected? They do not fall in your lap. They do not spring, unwatered, from the ground. They do not rush up, shake your hand, and say "Here I am...surprise!" You have to invest in the constant pursuit of added value, "Wow", and "Can you believe..." Then you will find and provide the surprises that can help ensure your success. 

Second, if you have committed to the positive influence of providing surprise to the customer, are you constantly searching for a better customer event, better customer satisfaction, or better customer surprises? Once is not enough. The thirst for something new and better is voracious. Once you provide a minor slack to that thirst, you cannot let up. (And you don't want to.)

And, building on these are the following challenges:  Do you foster an environment that pushes for surprises? Do you reward individuals/the team/yourself for providing surprise moments? Do you even allow surprise moments to come to life when they are first seen as a gleam in the auditor's eye?   

We are not immune from the need to provide excellent customer service by excelling beyond their expectations. "Value add" is starting to be thrown around like we're a pulp fiction writer being paid by the word. But until such time as you are willing to truly commit to surprises – surprises which enhance the audit customer's experience – value add will be just another step in our inability to tweak our way to success.

By the way, I know some of you noticed I slipped the word entertain in there. And you may be wondering "What's he on about this time?" Well, I've more than run out of room today. We'll talk about that next Monday. 

Until then, anyone got any good surprises you'd like to share out there?

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