By Brandon Schauer, Adaptive Path Reprint from Adaptive Path, October
25, 2007

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 a
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.

> 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