WOW: Way Over wRated

I recently wrote that I’d rather know what my customers expected from me than know if they’d refer me to friends and family. Denise Wymore commented:

Loyalty economics is not the study of “satisfying” my needs. That’s been the problem with banking. Our goal has been to satisfy. We’re running an errand. What are my expectations? Get in. Get out. Nobody gets hurt. I would say my bank meets those. Ken Blanchard said it best in his book Raving Fans: “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low, and because nobody else is doing any better.” If you WOW me I will recommend you to my friends. That’s the ONLY marketing that works today. Period. If you meet my expectations I probably won’t say anything bad (or good) about you.”

My take: While WOW is an admirable goal, not only is it NOT the “only marketing that works”, it’s not marketing at all.

Here’s why:

WOW doesn’t scale. The problem with a lot of the great customer service stories floating around the blogosphere is that they’re isolated examples. They’re stories of “heroic” experiences, not “institutionalized” experiences. They don’t scale. I can only imagine that marketers will read your comment, Denise, and ask “how do I build ‘wow’ into my direct mail and email campaigns?” or “how can I wow someone on every Web site visit?” The answer: They can’t.

WOW isn’t measurable. One man’s WOW is another man’s yawn. To institutionalize WOW, you have to know what wows people. But can you imagine asking customers “what wows you?” I can’t. The flip side to this is measuring a firm’s ability to provide WOW. If cycle time, error rate, and throughput measures don’t capture WOW, then what does? The answer: Nothing does.

Marketing is (or strives to be) a management discipline that is built on scalable, measurable, and repeatable processes and concepts. WOW is a bromide. It makes for great stories, helps Blanchard and Peters sell books, but is far from being a platform around which a firm builds its marketing programs.


When I talk about customers’ expectations, I’m referring to their expectations about the kind of relationship they want to have with the bank or credit union — not simply their expectations about individual transactions or interactions.

This is what’s missing in many financial firms’ marketing approach. Customers don’t just differ in their product needs, buying behaviors, and psychographic dimensions. Different customers want different kinds of relationships.

I often wonder if my bank thinks it’s “wowing” me when my designated account manager calls me every three months to ask “how’s it going?” The bank might think that wows me because no other bank in the area does that.

But it doesn’t WOW me — in fact, it ticks me off. It’s a waste of my time.

The bank doesn’t understand that I don’t want to grow my relationship with it. Why? It’s made too many transactional errors in the past — and therefore, I won’t trust it with the big bucks. Operational excellence is what I expect (and value), and it’s a necessary condition for growing the relationship. Other customers want (expect, value) different things, like unbiased guidance and advice regarding their financial decisions. That’s the precondition they have to growing their relationship with their bank.

If you don’t understand these “expectations” — and how they differ across customers — then you can NOT be a successful marketer.

If my bank wants to grow its relationship with me, it has to start with an understanding of these expectations. It has to either better deliver on the things I value or get me to change what I value that’s aligned with what the bank does well. Simply calling me every quarter and asking me how it’s going won’t change that. Nor will misguided attempts to WOW me.


But will I tell my bank that I’ll refer them to my friends and family? Sure. Because if I say no, somebody’s bound to call me and waste my time trying to find out why not.


UPDATE: For a further discussion of this, please visit this post on Jim Novo’s Marketing Productivity Blog.

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6 thoughts on “WOW: Way Over wRated

  1. There are some portions of a service which must be universally required – these are the ones which brands can’t affort to ignore surely – the bed which can be slept on in a hotel, the bank which can add up numbers etc. Beyond that, low cost airlines (Southwest & Ryanair) have shown that WOW is an optional extra which people understand they can pay for but may not need.

    If only someone had told Microsoft this for the launch of Vista…

  2. Ron,

    Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. The “survey” is not the point. People lie and discard those every day.

    The REAL power in wowing me is in repeat business. Who cares if I fill out the survey – am I recommending you to my friends?

    You wrote about JetBlue (as did I and a ton of other bloggers) Why? Not because of a winter storm. Been there. Done that. But because JetBlue has a reputation for wowing their customers. Not just flying them from Point A to Point B.

    If United Airlines had stranded passengers for up to 10 1/2 hours how would bloggers have reacted? Probably wouldn’t even give it a mention. Because you EXPECT that from most airlines.

    JetBlue’s reputation of service is now known far and wide because of word-of-mouth — NOT marketing.

  3. Howdy Ron,

    I think there’s a good kind of Wow and a bad kind of Wow.

    The bad kind of Wow is grounded in short bursts of novelty. Like your example of your bank’s sporadic calls.

    The good kind of Wow is wrapped up in consistent consumer experience, product development, and ongoing business practices. Good Wow extends beyond marketing. “Blue Ocean” business models (ding! 10 buzz word points) and successful disruptive technologies fall under good Wow. It lives in the product and experience itself.

    Good Wow isn’t your bank pursuing a lovey dovey relationship with you, it’s your bank understanding the type of relationship you want and using that to add the most value.

    Wowie wow wow wow.

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  5. I think Brent is heading in the right direction. Random acts of “wow” won’t keep customers coming back because, as you stated Ron, it isn’t easily scaled and repeated. In order to create the consistent customer experience, it needs to be proactively planned out as well as consistently executed.

    The experience itself should be different for different customers, or as we used to say at the Peppers and Rogers Group, “treat different customers differently”. Perhaps just meeting expectations is right for some customers. For your best customers, you may need to exceed expectations. Whatever the strategy, we need to determine what kind of relationship (if any) the customer wants with us, understand how we can meet their needs (at the very least), then go above and beyond expectations in a planned fashion.

    Hope that is some food for thought!

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