You can’t get to WOW from here

I’m pretty much sick and tired of rhetoric from gurus telling companies they need to be WOWing their customers. The fact is most struggle just to satisfy them and until you can do that, WOWing them may as well be Mars.


To my mind, there aren’t many more dangerous concepts floating around right now than this fantasy of WOWing your customers.

In fact, I don’t care if you ever WOW one or even two customers. What I DO care about is if you can consistently deliver what you say you will. That means every customer. Every time.

Yes, there are some companies that can do WOW sometimes, even at a push most of the time: Ritz Carlton, Zappos, Nordstroms, to name some of the very few. But they are the exceptions, the outliers and, here is the critical distinction, they have specifically built a culture and rigorously hired service-oriented people so they can do it. It is their reason for being. Zappos famously claims to be “a customer service company that sells shoes”!

Does your company have WOW in its DNA? Chances are you are great at something, but maybe not service. And guess what? That’s okay, because not everyone has to be great at service. You can be good at service, even mediocre at service and still be the biggest, most successful technology company in the world (hello Apple).

And beyond the fact that hardly anyone can consistently WOW with service, there’s a dirty little secret that the proponents of WOW forget to mention…

You can only WOW me once (with the same thing). Then what was WOW becomes what you expect…

When I was living in the US, from time-to-time I used to go to a restaurant called The Capital Grille. When you went there for a meal, your waiter would ask for a business card and, a day or so later, you’d get a nice note from them thanking you for your patronage and hoping you had enjoyed your meal of whatever you’d had.

WOW did that make you feel good. The first time. The second time it was nice, but the thrill was gone. By the third time it had become my expectation and when I didn’t get a note I was disappointed. Had I slipped off their note list? Was I no longer noteworthy?

The fact is most companies aren’t close to being able to WOW anyone. Baby steps are needed here. You can talk to me about WOW when you’re batting a hundred at satisfied. And contrary to what some seem to think; satisfied customers aren’t a push over and they aren’t to be sneezed at.

We all know what it takes to make a satisfied customer. The basics – be helpful, smile like you mean it, make sure your products and service live up to their hype, don’t make yourself hard to buy from, say your sorry if you screw up, etc. Beyond that, set expectations and meet them. Clearly and consistently.

Sure, satisfied customers might not write a blog about how you rocked their world, but in these days of perpetual disappointment they will probably come back again and again and they will probably recommend you to others.

And when lots of satisfied customers are all coming back again and all are telling others about you, then you’ve got something the occasional WOW can never give you – a resilient and sustainable business that people can count on.

WOW indeed.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan 


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