The ‘myth of wow’ revisted

The 'myth of wow' revisted

I’ve written a few times over the recent years about the myth that you have to delight your customers. And a couple of conversations last week reminded me yet again how entrenched this thinking is.

So here we go (again). It started with a conversation (as so many of my blogs do)…

Me: “You don’t need to exceed expectations, just do what you say.”

Them: “Under-promise and over-deliver.”

Me: “No, set expectations and meet them – that’s it…”

I recommended they read the HBR article “Stop Delighting Your Customers” (purchase required), and while it used to be heresy, other studies have since backed up its premise – the way to satisfied loyal customers is by meeting expectations. There is little to no return on going beyond that.

Yep, that’s right. If you are trying to be the hero and exceed your customers’ expectations they might be grateful, but they aren’t MORE satisfied or MORE loyal than they would have otherwise been if you’d just done exactly what you promised.

I can hear the objections now. “That can’t be right.” “Our customers love it when we go above and beyond.” “Why would we want to just be average?” “That might be true for others but not for our customers, we’re different…”

A couple of years ago I wrote “you can’t get to wow from here” where I debunked the whole myth of wow thing in more detail, it’s still relevant so I encourage you to take a read.

Instead of covering that old ground, today I want to spend some time on the expectations part of the puzzle because this is where it most often goes so totally awry – at the meeting expectations end of the proceedings.

If you don’t set expectations for what you will and won’t, can and can’t do, there is little to zero chance that you will be able to meet them. Because in the absence of you setting expectations, customers (or employees because this is just as much about internal as external) will bring their own to the party.

And here is the ‘you lose every time’ part – you won’t know what they are until you fail to meet them. Even if you ask them. Even if you ask them again. They still won’t be able to tell you. And even if they do then chances are they will be different tomorrow. It’s a game you have no chance of winning but for reasons beyond any rational understanding businesses keep trying to play.


My guess is because setting expectations that you can and will stick to every single time is hard. Really hard. Pull your hair out and dig down hard into the day-to-day nitty gritty of your business.

It means you have to make choices. It means everyone is not your customer (but they weren’t anyway). It means you have to understand how A connects to B before you tell them you will do C.

Too many businesses work on a fly by the seat of your pants approach to delivering on expectations. And while that might have worked when it was you and a couple of others working together in one room, it’s not scalable or sustainable. As your business grows you will die trying to keep it up.

So try this instead. Set expectations, whatever they are, that you can faithfully repeat day in, day out – this is not a call to drop your standards, but please do be realistic. Meet them. Meet them again. And again.

Once you’re doing that across the board 99% of the time, then we’ll talk about the whole WOW thing. But I suspect you won’t want to because you’ll have extremely satisfied and loyal customers lining up out the door.

See you next week with “Slow Brand”.

Michel is an independent brand analyst 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.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments