The Trouble with “Wow”

customer-service-cartoon-thumbThere’s been a lot of chatter recently about “Wow” experiences. This has been held up as the holy grail of customer satisfaction, an experience so amazing it makes the consumer stop in their tracks, jaws dropping and heart a flutter. But there’s a nasty little surprise awaiting any company aiming for impossibly high bar of “Wow.”

“Wow” is a moving target. “Wow” never stays in one place for long.

There’s a pretty simple equation that defines “Wow” for us:

Experience – Expectation = Reaction

So, Wow depends on our expectations going in. It’s only a Wow if it exceeds expectations. And our expectations are constantly changing.

Let me give you an example. is one of the poster children for Wow. CEO Tony Hsieh has tried to consistently deliver Wow to his customers. He gives one example. The Zappos Head Office is located a stone’s throw from the UPS distribution centre in Las Vegas. The reason is that Zappos works hard to get orders shipped as quickly as possible. Rather than waiting for a batch of orders to come in and be filled from the warehouse, which is more efficient, Zappos fills the orders immediately. The goal is to get the order into UPS’s hands as quickly as possible. So, theoretically, a person could order from Zappo’s at 10 pm and find the parcel on their door the next morning. One would hope that would elicit a “Wow!”

But once it happens, our expectations get reset. The standard expectation for Wow is now overnight delivery. If Zappos does it again, it’s not a Wow, it’s simply meeting expectations. And, if the planets aren’t perfectly aligned and the parcel isn’t delivered in 8 hours, suddenly the outcome is disappointment. In the equation of “Wow”, the higher the expectation, the more chance you’ll end up with a negative result.

I’m not downplaying the importance of a good customer experience. I’m simply letting you know that always aiming for “Wow” can lead to a never ending escalation of customer expectations. There are, however, some very interesting things at play here that I would like to explore further in the next several posts. I’m fascinated by how customer psychology has shifted now that technology has transformed the marketplace. For example, Tony Hsieh found that for Zappos, the secret of keeping “Wow” scalable lies in something pretty elemental – how you treat people. But that’s a topic for tomorrow.

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