Hotel Online  Special Report

The Why, What and How of WOW


by Richard K. Hendrie, March 2005
“The customer sets the pace, you capture the moments. You are in charge. Your charge is to help customers feel well. Your ultimate responsibility is that each guest feels well when the leave because of how you enhanced their life in the moment that you had to serve them.” 
Horst Schultze, former President & COO for Ritz Carlton quoted
from Harvard Business School Case Study revised 7/02
We want WOW. When we find it we run in droves to indulge in its magnificent, silky perfection and spend a premium for the privilege. We don’t believe we’ll get it, because so much of our commercial relationships are rife with lies, disappointments and broken promises. But, that doesn’t stop us from wishing. Oh, the allure of WOW.

WOW is a Full-fledged, 5-Sense Stimulating Experience in which the Guest is personally acknowledged for their patronage and the transaction is based on the premise of an on-going retail relationship. It creates an emotional bond between guest and proprietor that transcends great product or service (but must include it) and becomes that most elusive of hoped for results; an enduring, wildly profitable brand.

Why WOW & Why Now? The Service Economy is Finished

  • More choices than ever for the guest to spend their disposable income
  • More and interesting choices for consumers to spend their leisure time
  • Satisfaction does not guarantee loyalty.
  • Expectations for good service are so low that “exceeding” them means little.
We’ve left the Service Economy and entered into the Experience Era, where guest satisfaction does not translate into repeat business. Frederick Reichheld said that between 60-80 % of all consumers who were surveyed and said to be satisfied or very satisfied with their purchase, went out and bought a competitive product the next time out.

We’re saturated with information. According to Sam Hill, only 9% of consumers tested were able to identify the name of a product whose TV commercial they had just seen.  We’re not a nation of demographics but of impassioned tribes, unfettered by physical barriers, connected 24/7, who listen for the language of WOW as it is spoken in their native tongue. 

What Is WOW?

WOW is almost never about what it purports to sell, to whit: Lexus’ cars are about living the elegant, good life, Nike’s shoes represent the possibility of Olympian achievement, Disney’s theme parks conjure eras of comfort, fun and love that never actually existed, Kimpton’s Hotel bedrooms are about bliss and Harley’s bikes about freedom and brother (or sister) hood. WOW is a state of emotional being that brings the consumer to a deeper state of pleasure, satisfaction and comfort. It is never logical, even if some of its components ‘make perfect, rational sense’.
At your local Starbucks WOW is not coffee. They says it’s

“.. an experience.
.. a treat.
.. a daily necessity.
.. a happy place.
.. homey.
.. a Fortress of Solitude.
…what you want it to be.”
In the case of Marriott, it’s the recognition, in the words of Michel Jannini, EVP of Marriott’s lodging brand management, that, ‘The cookie cutter is dead’.* *Boston Globe 3/6/05 , Building a Better Hotel Room by Keith Reid

WOW is interactive, involving, seducing the guest into investing psychic and physical energy into the interaction so they have a vested interest in the outcome.

WOW is soulful

It speaks to the power of a brand to look at Krispy Kreme. A pariah now on Wall Street for its multiple strategic blunders, it still can elicit rhapsodic quotes from people like Roy Blount Jr. “When Krispy Kremes are hot, they are to other donuts what angels are to people.” ** The Wall Street Journal, September 3rd

WOW is sensory

 “…Call it a better for you food bazaar on organic steroids, or the grocery equivalent of Disney World for food Junkies…could help to transform grocery shopping into interactive theater… For Whole Foods, WOW is “shopping as Showtime…” *from an article on Whole Foods in the front page of the Money Section of USA Today March 9th, by Bruce Horowitz

WOW can even be modest. Jim Riddick, proprietor of The Cypress Inn, offers a small Four Diamond Award Bed & Breakfast Inn whose purpose is to “nourish the body and soul”. Located in the little town of Conway, South Carolina, he has achieved national recognition, without hype or notoriety.

What is the How of WOW? It is Theater

The How of WOW needs an acting troupe of wow’ers, the people who actually ‘perform the play’. These actors aren’t called that because it makes good copy. The best WOW environments recognize the contrived nature of the interaction in which the promise of a brand is either ‘put across’ or broken by an associate who is untrained, uncaring or in the wrong ‘role’. As the noted PhD Social Anthropologist Erving Goffman observed, “It is the act of acting that, in the end, differentiates memorable experiences from ordinary human activity” Erving Goffman, celebrated PhD and social anthropologist

WOW requires personal connection between guest and associate, often the worst paid and least appreciated employee. Brands aren’t just clever ads and creatively scripted personas. Business people wonder where WOW goes wrong, most often it’s here. “To win brand loyalty companies need to establish strong emotional bonds with their guests, ‘one transaction at a time, involving face-to-face contacts. A brand…has a face…” says John Fleming of the Gallup Organization New York Times 12/7/04 Sanda Blakeslee ‘Say the Right Name and They Light up’

Stick your sword in the ‘Brand Sand” and stand for something, a value for which you have passion. Anyone who has decided to up the bar and ‘stand for something’ more than just a product and/or service has gotten one of the most important parts of the How of WOW. 

Create a Story

  • It's the branded narrative of the ideal shopping experience with your brand.
  • It incorporates the mission, position and value proposition within the detail.
  • It reinforces what the customer already feels and likes about your brand.
Orchestrate the components: The 10 ‘P’s” in a Play
  1. The Place: location and building
  2. The People: guests, actors, vendors and you
  3. The Props: What the actors use
  4. The Play: Your branded story
  5. The Production Elements: The atmosphere, elements  of hospitality, food
  6. The Promise: Your key value enacted throughout  every  element of your business
  7. he Price: What you’re worth and how your guest  values the experience. Charge admission.
  8. The Promotion: The communication of the brand  story  in all its forms
  9. The Press: The buzz, scripted or not
  10. The Performance Reviews & Prizes: Pre-shift and post  shift meetings, rewards as a regular ‘rite’
So there is a method to the Method. The theatrical model is not just a glib metaphor, but a means to transform the merely tangible to the transcendent. If a brand is greater than the sum of its service, products and ambiance, where else but the theater can you find a way to take those elements and elevate them into an indelible memory, one impervious to the onslaught of commercials, connectivity and competition? WOW is Remarkable. WOW is ShowTime, Baby.
Rick Hendrie
Chief Experience Officer
Also See: Creating Customer Loyalty: Beyond Food and Bed, A Good Relationship Is Your Best Marketing / Richard K. Hendrie / March 2005
Ask What Makes You Great; Questions for Hospitality to Ask Itself / Richard K. Hendrie / February 2005
Great Service Grows From Great Praise / Richard K. Hendrie / February 2005
Is it ROI, Return On Investment or ROL, Return on Loyalty / Richard K. Hendrie / January 2005
Brand Enhancement: Invite Surprise and Delight Into Your Operation / Rick Hendrie / November 2004
Your Experience Is The Brand; Good Hospitality, Food and Service Are Merely Entry Points into Being Competitive / Rick Hendrie / November 2004

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