How many businesses have their customers saying 'wow'?

The 'now' factor is all the rage in business, but it may be missing the point.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

By many accounts, Blackberry has had a tough year, even with the recent launch of its Q10 model, which ostensibly had the cleanest and fastest input capabilities of any mobile device. The problem? Perhaps it's because Blackberry lost the "wow" factor in a market flooded with similar devices.

The trendy talk in business these days is to talk about the power of "now" -- delivering services and information at real-time speeds, to meet the up-to-the-minute needs of customers.   

All good stuff, of course, but it's missing the vital point. It's not just about "now," it's about "wow."

Throughout many of his works, Tom Peters, management guru extraordinaire, talks about the power of "wow." Namely, if you're not achieving the "wow" factor among your customers, you aren't going to go as far as you would like in your business. If your next innovation isn't something that dazzles customers and exceed their expectations, than you shouldn't be wasting your time and money on it.

How does an enterprise rise above all the mediocrity and noise and deliver the "wow" factor? This can happen in many different ways. It doesn't necessarily require massive new investments in technology and design. It can actually be very, very cheap and easy. And -- very importantly -- has nothing to do with the contrived "wows" hyped by PR or marketing departments.

Here are four examples that come to mind:

A "wow" in customer service: Service delivered well past customers' expectations will keep them coming back. This means service that genuinely shows that the company cares about its customers, and isn't just trying to squeeze more money from their wallets.  Consider a very inexpensive "wow" that has consistently been delivered by Lufthansa Airlines for a number of years now. The airline hands out warm washcloths to all its passengers (That's everyone, not just first or business class). Competitors likely have tallied the cost of buying, washing and replacing the cloths and decided they don't want to part with that extra five cents per customer. But when you ride on Lufthansa, this tiny little gesture of warmth, even after all these years, makes you sit up and say "wow."

Another "wow" in customer service (and another airline): Southwest Airlines is legendary for its ability to streamline operations for cost efficiency as well as keep customer service at extraordinary high levels. And we're not talking about flight attendants smiling as they pass you a bag of pretzels. The Southwest corporate culture is one that encourages fun and active engagement for travelers. Consider this video that surfaced a couple of years back, in which an attendant rapped the flight safety instructions. You just know instinctively that this is a great place to work -- and it shows in customer service.

A "wow" in new service innovation: Most service providers in the travel industry regard last-minute bookers or rebookers to be disruptive, and punish them accordingly with premium fees and prices. However, one travel company not only encourage last-minute changes, but actually makes it easy for them to do so. TUI offers mobile messaging that offers customers the opportunity to extend their travel. "If a guest clicks 'yes' to an extension, then we extend the hotel reservation, cancel the Friday return flight, and reserve a flight for Sunday," says the CEO, quoted in The Digital Enterprise.

A "wow" in corporate partnering and social responsibility: Liferay, a portal software provider, believes the economic vitality of both its customers and communities is just as important as its own. To that end, it purposely picks distressed communities to set up new offices. CEO Brian Cheung emphasizes, however, that these efforts are not "charity." Rather, "these are dynamic economic environments where there are also business reasons for us, as well as engaged employees." In addition, the company keeps its software open source, meaning that customers can download as many copies as they want, and make any modifications they see fit.

Again, getting customers to say "wow" is about doing things differently than the rest of the market -- and often, by going above and beyond with big and little things, becoming the sole leader ahead of the pack.

(Thumbnail photo: NASA)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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