Why Signature Moments Are Not Enough

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In customer experience (CX) design, ‘signature moments’ are particular features that are built to typify a brand – to shine out as something distinctive, memorable, iconic even. Some designers call these ‘WOW moments’.
Yet this article will argue that these much-vaunted signatures can too often substitute a higher goal – that of serving a customer’s individual needs with appropriately branded behaviour.

Since 1984 when Jan Carlzon, then CEO of Scandinavian airline SAS coined the term ‘moments of truth’, businesses have been seeking out an X factor for their customer experience. The logic runs that you first identify the critical points in the customer journey – perhaps a moment when customers expect a possible problem or delay, or a first impression that lives in the memory. Then the business creates a ‘signature’ or ‘WOW’ moment at that point, aiming to surpass customer expectation, and encourage positive word of mouth and future loyalty.

An often-quoted example of a ‘signature moment’ is from the Westin Hotel chain, notably their Heavenly Bed, built to be so comfortable, it exemplifies the brand goal of an experience that leaves guests feeling better than when they arrived.

The problem with this approach is that:

  1. It assumes that customers stay ‘wowed’ each time they repeat the experience.
  2. It assumes that competitors can’t copy the signature moment.
  3. It assumes that the market stays static, and is not impacted by new trends, economic conditions or legal requirements.

The reality is that these assumptions are optimistic at best, and naive at worst.

Customers can quickly absorb wow moments into their everyday expectation. For example, a restaurant’s complimentary petit fours experienced for the first time can become ‘not as good as we remembered’ on subsequent visits.
Westin Hotels themselves realised that, whilst the Heavenly Bed had become a well loved fixture in the room, it no longer stood alone in the industry. Indeed, The Four Seasons Hotel claim that the Perfect Sleep from their own ‘legendary’ beds was so valued by its guests that they were asked to retail them (which they duly obliged). Westin were forced to find other moments to keep their experience differential, such as tailored fitness workout programs and superfood menus to reinforce the sense of wellbeing from a stay.

Even Jan Carlzon himself found that his carefully crafted SAS airline experience went from award winning and profitable to loss-making and run of the mill within just a few years.

The reality is that signature moments are eye catching and noteworthy for a while perhaps, but are ultimately unsustainable on their own. Like a star player in a football team, no single individual can carry the squad forever.

Instead, great customer experiences succeed by getting a broader range of detailed delivery right – making it familiar, comfortable and consistent every time….and in tune with the brand.
Firms have to balance signature moments with natural and instinctive brand behaviour.  Customers invariably respond best to companies who understand them – staff adapting to their individual needs, which may not always fit with a carefully staged brand event. In other words, a signature moment that only reflects the handwriting of the brand but ignores the customer’s own personality can feel showy, cliched, even self indulgent.

In contrast, we advise designing ‘Experience Pillars’ rather than moments i.e. principles to guide your customer experience whatever the environment or sales channel. With these instilled into every employee, staff can deliver both instinctive one-off responses and signature moments seamlessly, as befitting the customer’s needs.

Most of all, it’s critical to constantly review your wow experience, no matter how iconic, and keep asking yourself whether it’s still as relevant and valuable to the customer as ever? Look at the headstones of brands like Polaroid and Green Shield Stamps to find signatures that were so caught up in what they’d created, they lost track of what and who they built it for….

1 COMMENT

  1. One of the problems is thinking that it is the thing or process (e.g., the super soft bed, the ten minute oil change, etc.) that creates the “Wow!” and therefore engagement rather than how it is delivered. In a customer service business the important thing is the engagement of the team member who discovers what the customer’s individual “Wow!” is.

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