Wowing customers – really?

In the customer experience world, there are varying options about the principle of ‘wowing customers’. As you might expect from the name, wowing customers is all about exceeding their expectations. At first glance this would seem like a ‘no-brainer’; however there are a number of things that need to be considered before going down this route.

Wowing customers or not?

The first thing to consider is exactly what we mean by ‘exceeding expectations’. As a customer of First Direct bank for 18 years, I would have to say that I have never actually been ‘wowed’ by their service; however remain a very strong advocate and, on balance, do feel that my expectations have been exceeded. The reasons are simple…

  1. They have rarely let me down – two times in 18 years and both of these instances happened really near the beginning of my relationship with them. There have been no mistakes for at least 16 years
  2. I can do what I want, when and where I want – either over the phone (rarely) or online (mostly) via  very simple and intuitive interfaces

And that’s that. The secret is simplicity and consistency. Maybe I’m setting the benchmark a little low because I’m comparing it to other services that, despite having 23 years to play catch-up (First Direct launched in 1989), are still falling behind. I’m so impressed with First Direct that I have many of my financial services products with them (banking, mortgage, savings) and have just transferred my business banking over to their sister service (HSBC Business). It was the only business banking service I could find in the UK that could do everything I needed it to. However I digress…

Maybe First Direct and the banking industry is a one-off; or maybe an unfair example. Maybe there are more competitive industries out there that require a company to go ‘above-and-beyond’ in order to for the customer to feel amazed. However the question is just how far beyond a customer’s expectations you have to go in order to ‘wow’ them. Indeed, is there an argument to say that you could go too far beyond their expectations?

There are some people that advocate the principle of ‘going the extra inch’; which basically means going slightly beyond the customer’s expectations. There are a number of justifications for this approach. Firstly, you can minimise any potential over-expenditure that might be required to make the ‘wow’ happen. Secondly, by only slightly exceeding the expectation, you give yourself plenty of opportunity to improve with any future interactions with the customer. However this approach may not work in all instances.

Some people advocate going to the opposite extreme and really pushing the boat out – almost over-wowing the customer at every single conceivable touch-point. There are, however, also dangers with following this approach. It can potentially lead to poor cost control and could lead you with very little opportunity to further improve moving forward. If you really wow the customer the first time round, you could end up really disappointing them if the improvement made the second time round is only marginal. One such example of this is the iPhone 5; which is undoubtedly an improvement on the iPhone 4; however has been greeted with muted enthusiasm by a market that had had its expectations set so high by the iPhone 4.

There is also an argument for selective wowing. Some people advocate the idea that you need to understand the touch-points of greatest importance to a customer and then wow them there. The complication with this approach is that different customers may have different touch-points of importance to them, so a great deal of information and cost could be involved in making this approach work. This approach can, however, work in certain industries where you can identify common wow points for all customers. Hiscox Insurance have used this approach in the UK by creating an exceptional claims management experience; which they understand is always of great importance to insurance customers.

So the easy answer is… there is no easy answer! There is no one-size-fits-all approach to wowing customers and each business needs to consider the potential merits and pitfalls of their chosen approach depending on their strategy, their industry and their customers’ requirements.