WOW: Way Over wRated

I recently wrote that I’d rather know what my customers expected from me than know if they’d refer me to friends and family. Denise Wymore commented:

Loyalty economics is not the study of “satisfying” my needs. That’s been the problem with banking. Our goal has been to satisfy. We’re running an errand. What are my expectations? Get in. Get out. Nobody gets hurt. I would say my bank meets those. Ken Blanchard said it best in his book Raving Fans: “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low, and because nobody else is doing any better.” If you WOW me I will recommend you to my friends. That’s the ONLY marketing that works today. Period. If you meet my expectations I probably won’t say anything bad (or good) about you.”

My take: While WOW is an admirable goal, not only is it NOT the “only marketing that works”, it’s not marketing at all.
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Here’s why:

WOW doesn’t scale. The problem with a lot of the great customer service stories floating around the blogosphere is that they’re isolated examples. They’re stories of “heroic” experiences, not “institutionalized” experiences. They don’t scale. I can only imagine that marketers will read your comment, Denise, and ask “how do I build ‘wow’ into my direct mail and email campaigns?” or “how can I wow someone on every Web site visit?” The answer: They can’t.

WOW isn’t measurable. One man’s WOW is another man’s yawn. To institutionalize WOW, you have to know what wows people. But can you imagine asking customers “what wows you?” I can’t. The flip side to this is measuring a firm’s ability to provide WOW. If cycle time, error rate, and throughput measures don’t capture WOW, then what does? The answer: Nothing does.

Marketing is (or strives to be) a management discipline that is built on scalable, measurable, and repeatable processes and concepts. WOW is a bromide. It makes for great stories, helps Blanchard and Peters sell books, but is far from being a platform around which a firm builds its marketing programs.

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When I talk about customers’ expectations, I’m referring to their expectations about the kind of relationship they want to have with the bank or credit union — not simply their expectations about individual transactions or interactions.

This is what’s missing in many financial firms’ marketing approach. Customers don’t just differ in their product needs, buying behaviors, and psychographic dimensions. Different customers want different kinds of relationships.

I often wonder if my bank thinks it’s “wowing” me when my designated account manager calls me every three months to ask “how’s it going?” The bank might think that wows me because no other bank in the area does that.

But it doesn’t WOW me — in fact, it ticks me off. It’s a waste of my time.

The bank doesn’t understand that I don’t want to grow my relationship with it. Why? It’s made too many transactional errors in the past — and therefore, I won’t trust it with the big bucks. Operational excellence is what I expect (and value), and it’s a necessary condition for growing the relationship. Other customers want (expect, value) different things, like unbiased guidance and advice regarding their financial decisions. That’s the precondition they have to growing their relationship with their bank.

If you don’t understand these “expectations” — and how they differ across customers — then you can NOT be a successful marketer.

If my bank wants to grow its relationship with me, it has to start with an understanding of these expectations. It has to either better deliver on the things I value or get me to change what I value that’s aligned with what the bank does well. Simply calling me every quarter and asking me how it’s going won’t change that. Nor will misguided attempts to WOW me.

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But will I tell my bank that I’ll refer them to my friends and family? Sure. Because if I say no, somebody’s bound to call me and waste my time trying to find out why not.

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UPDATE: For a further discussion of this, please visit this post on Jim Novo’s Marketing Productivity Blog.

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