The Long Wow

by Brandon Schauer

Originally published in Adaptive Path's book, Subject To Change.

The Long Wow is a means to achieving long-term customer loyalty through systematically impressing your customers again and again. Going a step beyond just measuring loyalty, the Long Wow is an experience-centric approach to fostering and creating it.

First, a Little Context

Businesses have begun to realize that the lofty goal of customer satisfaction might in fact be a red herring. A satisfied customer isn’t necessarily a loyal customer, today’s satisfied customer might find even more satisfaction in your competitor’s offerings tomorrow.

And so we’ve started to see the rapid diffusion of tools like the Net Promoter Score which try to quantify loyalty. Such measures are popular because they track behaviors that create economic value: a customer recommending your brand to a friend, or a customer returning to buy from you again. But measuring loyalty doesn’t create loyalty.

Loyalty Can’t Be Manufactured

It’s no surprise that the MBA-knee jerk reaction to a loyalty problem is to create a loyalty program , but you can’t manufacture loyal customers by issuing them bronze, gold, and platinum ID cards. Such shallow solutions don’t resonate deeply with customers. Instead, these artificial attempts at loyalty create extra overhead in the customer relationship, they deliver pseudo-benefits the customer never needed, and they may even create barriers, resentment, or revolt.

At Adaptive Path, we’ve observed this superficial nature of loyalty programs first hand. When talking to customers of a well-known financial institution who were enrolled in a loyalty program. We found multi-millionaire, “platinum-level” customers that didn’t know (and didn’t care!) about their special status and benefits, even though the company considered that program an essential advantage and an attractor. The customers simply wanted the good products and services they were paying for in the first place.

In the children’s book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the antagonist-turned-protagonist Grinch realized, “that Christmas isn’t something you buy from a store, but that Christmas, perhaps, means little bit more.” Like Christmas, customer loyalty can’t be bought or bottled. It’s not something you can capture in an ID card. Loyalty is a sense that grows within people based on the series of notable interactions they have with products, services, and companies.

True loyalty grows within people based on a series of notable interactions they have, over time, with a company’s products and services. No card-carrying programs are necessary: Apple doesn’t have a traditional loyalty program; neither does Nike or Harley-Davidson. These companies impress, please, and stand out in the minds of their customers through repeated, notably great experiences.

“Wow” Engenders Loyalty

Notably great experiences are punctuated by a moment of “wow,” when the product or service delights, anticipates the needs of, or pleasantly surprises a customer. OXO’s Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup triggers such a moment of wow. A set of angled markings on the OXO cup lets you quickly measure liquids for recipes without having to stop cooking and bend over. Suddenly a little part of your life is easier, because OXO thought carefully about the way you cook. This delightful surprise resonates because it feels tailored to your needs.

OXO was driven by empathy for their customer. Designers learn empathy by spending time in the lives and environments of real customers, then simulating the experiences that people will have with new offerings through prototyping.

Deep customer insights and empathetic design pave the pathway to wow moments. By diving deep into a customer’s life and closely observing their behaviors, you can wow your customer by addressing needs that they’d never be able to articulate. By immersing yourself in the customer’s wider world of emotion and culture, you can wow them by attuning the offering to practical needs and dimensions of delight that normally go unfulfilled.

When a company uses empathetic design methods to create moments of wow over and over again, it bonds with customers at a level far beyond the realm of gold-colored plastic cards. OXO introduced over 50 products every year, wowing customers with purposeful improvements through the re-imagination of common culinary tools.

Few companies consistently translate rich insights from their customers’ lives into new and better offerings. The few that do can achieve a Long Wow, continuously delivering wow moments and building a true, deep loyalty that transcends traditional loyalty programs.

Four Steps to Your Long Wow

The art of the Long Wow is finding and managing a system for repeatedly impressing your customers and fostering a deeper relationship. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Know your platform for delivery. Recognize the palette of touchpoints that you can combine to deliver wow experiences. Select a small set of touchpoints across channels than can (a) be coordinated to demonstrate your capability to meet a customer’s needs and (b) be remixed to deliver new solutions to customers as you define them.

    The Nike + iPod Sports Kit combines a pedometer, iPod, and website to deliver an entirely new running experience that includes spoken feedback on your run, one-button access to “power songs,” and the ability to visualize recent runs. You can easily imagine the delivery of future wow experiences with this set of touchpoints, such as the selection of songs based on your running pace.

  2. Tackle a wide area of unmet customer needs. Find an area of the customer experience that has long been overlooked and is teeming with potential for new insights. This should be an area of the customer experience that your organization is passionate about, that your organization has a competitive advantage in understanding or delivering on, and that you can return to repeatedly for fresh insights. This is an opportunity to identify some new green space or to re-invent an old space long neglected by everyone else.

    OXO wasn’t scared away from kitchen tools just because these items looked and functioned the same way for decades. Instead, they passionately believed that kitchen tools should work for everyone—including the founder’s wife whose arthritis originally inspired the venture. Therefore OXO focuses on universal design, or “the concept of designing products that are easy to use for the largest possible spectrum of users.”

  3. Create and evolve your repeatable process. Discover the organization’s approach to delivering wow moments regularly. Start with the process strengths the organization already has—which could be in competencies such as cost/benefit analysis, quality management, or market testing—and blend them with methods of research and prototyping that focus on the experience. At Adaptive Path, we like to use video prototyping to focus on the impact of experience, rather than the usability of the interface. These methods demonstrate how the experience potentially brings something compelling to the life of the customer and where the wow happens.

    Blending two seemingly disparate processes can be quite powerful. The Mayo Clinic’s SPARC program mixes the rigor of medical experimental testing with the speed of designing through prototypes to transform the way healthcare services are delivered to patients. Relying on existing process strengths like randomized controlled trials brings to bear the repeatability and certainty of qualitative methods for re-imagining patient experiences.

  4. Plan and stage the wow experiences. Developing all your ideas at once is a risky undertaking. Instead, organize a pipeline of wow moments that can be introduced through your platform of touchpoints over the long haul. As you learn more about your customers and how they perceive the wow moments you can better organize your pipeline of ideas for development. Outline where and when additional wow experiences will emerge in the future, unfolding in a coordinated network of experiences.

    Introducing the right experience at the right place at the right time can delightfully surprise customers. WeightWatchers coordinated a platform of meetings, plans, books, and Web-based tools to support weight loss. However, WeightWatchers participants probably aren’t eating at meetings or in front of computers where they can access the website. So WeightWatchers released an On-The-Go application for mobile devices. It helps plan and track your diet wherever you go, then synchronizes with your diet plan and the web application.

Long Wow Diagram

Who Knew?

These four components of the Long Wow are no secret. The business consultancy Bain & Company recently surveyed hundreds of companies that felt they delivered superior customer experiences. But in reality, only 8% of those companies’ customers agreed that the experience was superior.

What did these 8% of companies have in common? Again and again these companies discovered and delivered on deep customer insights in a way that differentiated their offerings and considered the total customer experience.

About the Author

Brandon Schauer is an experience design director for Adaptive Path. He speaks, writes, trains, and practices experience design as a differentiator for business strategy.

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