Lasting Impressions


Lasting Impressions

NASE Members Know How To Wow Customers
By Jan Norman

When Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone, even electronics pros were wowed by the easy-to-use touch screen and tens of thousands of applications that made the smart phone more useful.

First-time visitors to Disneyland and Disney World are wowed by the cleanliness compared with run-of-the-mill amusement parks.

Nordstrom department stores continue to wow customers with a level of personalized service, knowledge of their needs and attention to detail.

Think about your favorite store or service provider. You can probably name something each one does that separates it from the crowd. They may even have made you say wow from time to time.

Now think of your own micro-business. How do you give your customers a fantastic experience that makes them
say wow?

The answer is important, because many times, it’s the wow factor that creates customer loyalty, leads to word-of-mouth marketing and builds your brand.

What Is The Wow Factor?
“The wow factor, definitely an intangible element, is unique to every particular business,” says Hilary Kaye, president of HKA Inc. Public Relations in Tustin, Calif.

“It is something that sets it way apart from its competitors and makes customers want to tell others all about it. I find myself saying wow when a company does something completely unexpected in a good way.”

NASE Member Mike Samson is co-founder of crowdSPRING, an Internet marketplace for graphic design based in Chicago, Ill. He describes the wow factor in terms of things or actions that differentiate a business from competitors.

“What makes a company, its offering or service significantly different that opens my eyes wide and makes my mouth form an O? It’s pretty rare,” he says.

“I have an iPhone; that’s a wow product because no one had done anything like it.”

NASE Member Deena Galanti, owner of Fresh Start consignment store in Kennebunk, Maine, identified one more element of the wow factor: “To me, it is anything that causes a positive reaction and leaves an impression of ‘I want more.’”

Identify Your Wow Factor
As Samson said, he thinks the wow factor is rare. But marketing expert Kaye thinks it’s much more common and attainable for businesses of all sizes.

“Not every company has an absolute wow factor,” Kaye says, “but every company does have something that is more wow than anything else about it.”

If you have trouble spotting your own wow factor, you’re not alone. Many micro-businesses have little understanding about why they are special or they misidentify their wow factor, Kaye says.

“I’m so surprised that they don’t recognize the cool things they are doing. They are so close to their company and sometimes have been doing it for so long that they do not recognize the things they do differently.”

Some of her clients insist they are just like every other business in their industry and are surprised when Kaye uncovers a wow. On the other hand, some say they have wow factors that make them unique, but in reality, the factor is more mundane than special.

“The most common mistaken wow factor I hear is ‘We have excellent customer service.’ Every other company in their sector says the same thing, whether it’s true or not,” Kaye explains. “Companies need to look for features that are not claimed by everyone else because part of being wow is being different.”

Another marketing expert, Betty Otte, is a volunteer business counselor with the nonprofit group SCORE. She gives Nordstrom department stores as an example of a retailer that has managed to brand itself for excellent service. The sales associates at Nordstrom’s are taught to perform many little extra service tactics, and those extras convey to customers that they’re special.

“Nordstrom initiated walking around the counter to hand the package to the customers, and now all the department stores do it,” Otte says. “To counter that imitation, Nordstrom clerks have a special ‘thank-you close’ that goes with the hand over of the merchandise following the sale. This has not been picked up yet by the competition.”

But it probably will be. So, like Nordstrom, your micro-business should continually polish, refine and refresh your wow factor to keep customers surprised and impressed.

How NASE Members Wow Their Customers

NASE Member Galanti says her consignment store’s wow is the way she sets out merchandise and creates window displays.

“I strive to make them Saks 5th Avenue-worthy,” she explains. “Every day people stop in to comment on how great they look. From my displays, no one would guess I’m a second-time-around shop. I change the window displays often. I incorporate seasons and holidays.

“I arrange and display my shop like it’s an upscale boutique: coordinated wall displays, color-coordinated racks, every item pressed, comfy rockers for impatient husbands, well-lit dressing rooms, flower bouquets by the register, great music, paper rather than plastic bags, and my shop smells good,” she adds.

“Most of these cost little, but leave a big impression when comparing my shop to other local second-hand shops.”

Samson of crowdSPRING says that his Web site’s wow factor is the vast choice provided to customers compared to the traditional way of hiring graphic designers’ services.

“Let’s say you want a logo. You do your best to pick a good designer who gives you three to five concepts from which to choose. In our model, you’re not picking a designer; you’re picking an actual design. You post your request at crowdSPRING and typically receive 100 bids.”

CrowdSPRING works with customers to write a creative description of the work they want and a catchy title so they attract more attention from the designers. On the other side, the site works with the more than 44,000 graphic designers who have signed up to participate with crowdSPRING. The company works with them so they learn how to improve their businesses and their bidding to get more jobs.

“We tell the businesses that are seeking design work that giving feedback to designers will get them more responses,” Samson says. “We are running a 95 percent success rate.”

Create A Wow Factor
A wow factor isn’t always the product or service itself, Kaye says. Sometimes it how a company goes about its business or the workplace culture it creates.

One of her clients was in financial difficulty and brought in a new chief executive to turn the company around. He took the management team skydiving to test their courage and command their respect, she says.

“I saw a photo on the wall and I think I actually said under my breath, ‘wow!’ and felt relieved I wasn’t on
his team.”

Notice that most of these examples show how the business stands out in comparison to its competitors.

The wow factor isn’t achieved in isolation or for no reason. It differentiates the business.

Otte says that when she works with a business on its wow factor, she forces the owner to study competitors carefully to identify their perceived uniqueness.

“From that comes the question ‘What can you do that is better and what services can you add to the competitor’s list?’” she says. “If they say their unique sales approach is good service, I ask which of their competitors advertises poor service so that their own good service stands out. They need to promote new benefits that answer the customer’s question, ‘What can you do for me?’”

Marketing expert Kaye agrees.

“A tech company could claim customer service as a wow if it provides a customer service line staffed 24/7 by native English-speaking, domestically-based personnel at no cost. But only if every other company made customers deal with offshore tech support that was difficult to understand, hard to access and costly.”

Identify pitfalls and address them, Otte adds.

She gives the example of a Southern California plumbing company that advertises its workers will show up on time
or the service is free.

“Obviously, the perception is that plumbers are always late,” Otte says. “Whether they really do is not as important as getting over the perception to the client that this plumber is professional.”

Public relations specialist Kaye asks probing questions to draw out products, services or other factors that make a client company unique in its industry.

And it may help your micro-business to work with someone outside of your company. As a business owner, you may not be able to see ways in which your company is special or unique. Relatively few micro-business owners have the time and expertise to delve deeply into the way competitors do business. But that’s what it takes to spot ways to take service or operations to the next level so you can make customers say wow.

The Benefits Of Wowing Customers
The payoff for all this effort to impress clients is fundamental to a business’ success: It attracts customers and brings them back, thereby cementing brand loyalty. And it can lead to invaluable marketing and publicity.

“We work in a crowded marketplace,” says Samson of crowdSPRING. “The Internet has tens of millions of companies trying to get their message out. The most effective marketing we do is word of mouth. If you’re satisfied—or wowed—you will tell others.”

Consignment store owner Galanti says that her wow factor not only makes a sale in the first place, but it also brings customers back again and prompts them to be advocates for the shop.

“By putting together complete outfits on a display—with matching jewelry, scarves, bags and shoes—it is a great selling tool. Customers want to leave with a complete outfit themselves. In return, when someone compliments my customer, I receive free advertising and publicity.”

And the publicity generated by your wow factor can even go further than customer-to-customer, says public relations specialist Kaye.

News reporters and feature writers are always looking for the unusual as the basis for articles. Remember that skydiving executive and his management team? They not only made Kaye say wow. They also caught the attention
of Forbes magazine, which ran a two-page story about the company’s turnaround effort.

Writer Jan Norman has interviewed thousands of small-business owners during the past 21 years to find out how they wow customers. Visit her blog at

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