Leverage Awe in Customer Experience

Amazing is a feeling, the emotional reaction that runs through your body and fosters a sense of delight. Rooted deep within us, this feeling is craveable and we repeatedly seek it out. But how exactly does it impact us? Why is amazing so important?

There is a lot to the sense that something is amazing, whether a quick moment of delight in your otherwise dull day or an electrifying experience that gives you goosebumps and palpitations for awhile after. The reaction can range from gratitude to admiration to wonder, and even to love. Most associate this sense of wonder and awe with rare transcendental or extraordinary events––seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time or visiting Disney World as a child. But even in the ubiquity of everyday life, experiences of awe are found, and planted, more often than we may realize. In fact, on average, people find themselves in the presence of something that is inspiring or amazing every third day notes Psychologist Aimee Gordon .

Psychologists have identified five triggers that elicit “awe” in subjects, which is as close to amazing as scientists like to get. This emerging area of study is incredibly useful for marketers to learn from and deploy. Understanding this creates the opportunity to punctuate your brand’s story, experiences, and interactions ranging from the grandeur of a big memorable moment to the subtle empathy of a well-served gesture.

Let’s look at the five awe-inspiring triggers in action:

  • Threat/suspense. Moments of anticipation build excited suspense that, when culminating in a happy surprise (the “threat”), leave people feeling joy and euphoria. It is that feeling as a rollercoaster makes its slow and deliberate ascent, cranking the intensity up and allowing a sudden release on the way down. Like the emotional arc of a rollercoaster ride, customer experiences need to know when to hold back to build anticipation, when to punctuate the suspense with an emotional climax, and when to pull back and let the subject relax. A dinner reservation confirmation call is less about re-confirming and more about creating suspenseful excitement for your impending arrival. A personalized note waiting at your hotel links a human touch to the delight of reaching your destination, a peak after which you relax. Storytelling is an essential part of building memorable experiences, so making sure your brand’s experience has a definitive arc including suspense and “threat” (climax) is key.
  • Beauty. The power of beauty can be traced throughout history, but far too often function leads form. Why can’t we have both? The simplest idea, executed flawlessly, can be profound. From the most pedestrian products to the highest echelons of luxury, beauty dramatically affects how we feel, react, and even make selections. Yet today, beauty is highly democratized and goes far beyond the classic definition of good design. Creating beauty is in the thoughtful consideration of the senses -– how something looks, smells sounds like and makes you feel. For beauty to execute its power it blends form and function while being disruptive, paradigm-shifting or unexpected.
  • Ability. When it comes to experiences, ability is all about being intuitive and going far beyond expectations. We’ve all been amazed acts of the right thing at the right time: a bottle of water waiting in a rental car, a concierge genuinely remembering you’re a regular guest and posting so other employees can acknowledge you and your preferences, or a rep logging relevant details each time you call customer service for support so the next agent can service you accordingly. Intuitive ability is often achieved utilizing platforms a brand already has in place or ones that are easy to set up. And sometimes the ‘old school’ techniques like simply listening and observing can leave your guests feeling like their needs are truly being met without having to ask.
  • Virtue. Products, brands, experiences and those ‘behind the curtain’ must be sincere, transparent and virtuous. In the age of authenticity, who you are and how you act is as important as what you do or what you sell. This must also play out in your experiences and activations. So often brands speak about their integrity, commitment, and passion for guests/customers. This is often just lip service, reaffirming table-stakes that don’t pan out in the actual experience. Establishing guiding principles that are true and authentic to your brand and what you can reasonably deliver provides the litmus test against which you can evaluate the whole experience. Through this pervasive authenticity that plays out in actions and personality, an experience can achieve amazement.
  • Supernatural phenomena (aka “magic”). Supernatural elements are relatively commonplace today with the onslaught of new technologies that can, for example, digitally resurrect our beloved musicians and performers from the grave. Experiences today seemingly have no boundaries thanks to the rise of VR, augmented reality, and AI. We now have so many more dimensions to shape, craft, and deliver experiences that awe us. But for a sleight of hand to have a magical effect, it needs to be meaningful and useful. Without utility, it’s merely a gimmick that cannot change behaviors or raise expectations. For brands, real magic happens when those in charge of delivering, supporting, and maintaining the experience are given the tools to be more attuned, better informed and more facility to deliver. We expect machines to wow us, but when humans defy the expected and deliver the extraordinary, it is instantly emotional and memorable.

These triggers are not discrete levers but rather all essential to fashioning the experiences that connect with us. It is a brand’s unique orchestration that makes it their own. Amazing experiences are always retold through emotions, not their descriptions.  It is these feelings such as “blown away,” “awed,” “relieved,” or “delighted” that imprint the experience into our memories. For that reason, it is important that we tell our story, craft our experience, and look as much at the feelings we evoke as the actions we encourage.

Make amazing!
– Randall

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