Customer Experience Consultant Delta Swan
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Ordinary WOW experiences
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Why ordinary customer experiences can be better than extraordinary experiences

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We hear a lot about the power of "WOW" customer experiences. But could doing something ordinary sometimes be the better option? Michelle Spaul explains the importance of ordinariness and when to be ordinary instead of WOW. 

6th Sep 2021
Customer Experience Consultant Delta Swan
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You know about WOW. You’ve seen heart-warming, inspiring stories showing businesses recover poor experiences with style. You’ve wondered how you can afford to do the same for your customers. Well, good news! You don’t have to. In fact, I believe WOW at the wrong time creates poor customer experience.

This article explores the importance of ordinariness and when to be ordinary instead of aiming for WOW.

In their paper Moving the Customer Experience Field Forward: Introducing the Touchpoints, Context, Qualities (TCQ) Nomenclature (2020), Philip Klaus et al. offer a framework (TCQ) to define customer experiences. Their definition offers a universal description of customer experience which we can use to build CX strategy and test CX reality. They name the spectrum of experience from ordinary to extraordinary (AKA WOW) ‘ordinariness’.

In business, we risk seeing our customers in one dimension, i.e. purely as our customers. We also assume they value our interactions because they value our products and services. But our customers’ lives are far bigger than the experience we deliver.

When a WOW experience detracts from their lives away from their experience with us, they won’t reward us with loyalty. Designing WOW when customers value ordinary ignores both their needs and the principles of good customer experience. Let’s consider how ordinariness helps us deliver better customer experiences.

The rich world of the ordinary 

You might assume ‘ordinariness’ is merely another name for ‘customer effort’. While effort plays a role, ordinary experiences display other characteristics. They must be safe, deliver customer value and be emotionally satisfying without being stimulating.

Ordinary experiences should be unremarkable and comfortable. When ordinary experiences satisfy, they encourage loyalty. Celebrating ordinary contradicts the notion every experience should wow and brings forward the true potential of customer experience management.

Ordinary experiences evoke emotions 

We know emotions sell and build loyalty, so we design products, services and touchpoints to elicit emotional responses. The thing is that we drive for extremes – joy, delight and amazement.

The ordinariness scale gives us permission to seek feelings akin to contentment or satisfaction. Let’s see ordinary in practice.

How does a successful supermarket shopper want to feel? 

Our customer is a busy mother who has no bread and 30 minutes before her daughter’s hungry friends arrive from football practice. When dashing home from the supermarket, she needs to feel the following:

  • Productive – I got what I came for. I could park near the shop entrance and didn’t need to queue to check out.
  • Welcomed – The shop was clean, well laid out and at the right temperature.
  • Understood – My daughter’s favourite bread was in stock and well priced.
  • Loyal – I’ll come back because I got home quickly and could enjoy time with my daughter.

Ordinary doesn’t mean vanilla 

We mustn’t mistake ordinary for one size fits all. Personalisation enhances ordinary experiences.

For example, loyalty cards offer deals on regular purchases. Stores use data to keep their shelves full of the stuff we want. Customer insights encourage business model changes, such as faster check out, home delivery and even the speedy delivery of essentials. Supermarket touchpoints recede, leaving an island of value: getting bread to feed my child.

When should experiences be ordinary? 

Klaus et al. describe ordinary experiences as ‘common, normal and frequent’. I feel ordinary experiences also focus closely on the value sought by the customer.

When we design services and customer journeys, we use empathy to understand what customers value:

  1. Value can be direct (jobs to be done) – ‘I am making sandwiches and need bread.
  2. Sometimes value comes from pains and gains – ‘I need to buy it quickly; it must be fresh and a good price.
  3. Desired value may lie outside the experience we deliver – ‘I want bread to appear magically in the bread bin.’
  4. Value differs between customers: some want choice (‘I spent ages admiring the focaccia’), while others want to ‘grab what I normally buy and get out’.

The third point is the key to ordinariness.

When our customer’s desired value lies outside our experience, we need to step out of their way. We must deliver an ordinary experience. Delivering wow when customers want bread won’t win loyalty. Supermarkets don’t offer valet parking, no-one greets the customers and brass bands don’t announce special offers for a reason.

If customers wanted wow, if the extraordinary made them buy more, supermarkets would invest in such touchpoints.

When should experiences WOW? 

Of course, we need to elevate some experiences to wow our customers. Experiences that take us from our routines must WOW. Because that’s their purpose. We buy holidays, experience days (their name gives a clue), special occasions and big-tag items to indulge our psychological and self-fulfilment needs. We want WOW from beginning to end.

Theme parks understand this. They start the experience in the car park. We see images and videos of laughing, screaming people and information to plan our day. As a result, both our excitement and the wow build. Even experiences that should be ordinary in another setting are special, such as visiting the bathroom and meeting a princess.

How can you judge the right level of ordinariness? 

Now we've seen ordinary and wow are appropriate in different situations, we need to choose the right level of ordinariness for our experiences. Here's how:

Ask the following for the experience as a whole:

  • Is the experience common, normal and frequent? Yes = Ordinary
  • Does the experience address basic needs (physiological or safety)? Yes = Ordinary
  • Is the customer seeking novelty, surprise or to break the daily grind? Yes = WOW
  • Is the customer seeking our products or services for a special event or occasion? Yes = WOW

Ask the following for touchpoints:

Who needs this touchpoint? Customer = WOW; Business = Ordinary

Ordinary vs WOW in practice

Let's talk through two examples to see how this works in practice.

Selling wedding dresses is all about making the bride feel special, so the buying experience must wow. However, certain touchpoints (paying, for example) need to be unobtrusive – in other words, ordinary.

wow customer experience

Nights away from home lie on the same spectrum. Youth hostels offer proximity to the surrounding area and are, for the most part, ordinary. Conversely, boutique hotels themselves are the destination and must deliver wow moments.

Wow customer journey

It’s clear Everyone deserves wow from time to time. But when WOW is inappropriate, it detracts from the value customers seek, then we must embrace the ordinary to grow customer loyalty and rescue customer experience.

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