Episode #39: Creating Unexpected “Wow” Moments in Your Customer Experiences

The best customer experiences delight and surprise. They give you something you didn’t expect. In this third (and final) episode of my TWA Hotel trilogy, I talk about the plethora of “wow” moments that turned me into a permanent fanboy. How are you wowing your customers?

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The CXM Experience. And today we are doing the exciting conclusion of our three-part series on the TWA Hotel, which I think was one of the great experiences that’s been created in the last few years.

And so we’ve had a chance to talk about how I discovered the hotel, had a chance to talk a little bit about what it was like to explore the hotel and see what it was like to be inside. We mentioned that flight crews use it so the hotel is constantly full of people in uniform strolling through, which is really exciting. It’s brought back to its original 1962 glory, including five cent payphones. I was actually watching The Thin Man, which is a great movie from the early 30s featuring Myrna Loy and William Powell, and phones back in the 30s were also a nickel so they maintained that nickel standard all the way through the 60s. We talked a little bit about Eero Saarinen who was the architect of the TWA Hotel. Saarinen, famous for the tulip table, famous for the womb chair. Also famous for the arch in St. Louis. Also designed Dulles Airport, which is another one of my favorite airports. Eero Saarinen died, unfortunately quite young, but was able to create some incredible architecture over the course of his lifetime. And many of his chairs and furniture remain iconic today.

So what else is there to talk about? Well, there’s a couple of things. One is if you’ve got an airport terminal, you’ve built two hotel towers to house 512 rooms connected to that. You’re connected to the terminal five so you can get to it really easily. What else would you want to do? What else would you want to do?

You probably should have an airplane. Right? Probably should have an airplane. And what better airplane to have then the airplane that really made TWA famous. The airplane that really put TWA on the map, which is the Lockheed Constellation. Really interesting airplane overall… it was the first pressurized plane. So as a pressurized plane it was able to fly much higher than planes had been able to fly before. It did preceed the jet age, so it was late 1950s. 1958 it came out. And it was propeller driven, so it was four propellers. But it was very fast. It was able to get across the country faster than any other plane had ever been able to do before. Served for a while as Air Force One as the model. And is in museums around the world. It has a very famous three fin tail. You’ve probably seen a very famous TWA poster which says visit San Francisco, there’s a Connie in the back. And the Constellation, not that many left. Few that are flown here and there. A few that are in collector’s editions and collector’s collections. But one of them got used as an Alaskan bush plane for a while shuttling supplies, and then ended up in South America as a drop plane for marijuana dealers. The Constellation is a great plane for transporting marijuana because it’s propeller driven, it can fly quite low and stay below the radar, and they used it for many years.

So this plane, despite the odds, despite being produced many years before, maintained itself in circulation. And then in the late 80s it was purchased by a regional airline in Maine, was taken to the Auburn Lewiston airport and then basically sat there for 30 years. And as they were building the TWA Hotel, they ran across this plane that was essentially sitting there and they decided to refit it, they decided to reupholster it to classic 1960s glory. It’s amazing inside, and they turned it into a bar. But the plane can still fly. It’s still got its engines, it’s still got its wings, it’s still an operational plane, but inside has been rejiggered into a bar type format. And then they transported the plane from Maine, through Manhattan to the TWA Hotel,. Actually closed the streets, they had to remove the wings, obviously to transport it. Created all sorts of traffic jams and excitement as was moved across the cities and highways to its final resting site.

And they’ve created a tarmac and a runway for it. And what’s really, really cool is when you’re inside the TWA Hotel and you look outside, you see the Constellation there lit up. You can walk outside very easily, go underneath one of the tubes, go into the plane, have a drink. Super fun. Seats like an actual airplane seats. There are some stools you can sit on as well. Then you go back out and go back and the Connie’s always there. They also have parties out there, they’ll put tables under the wings. So if there’s a reception, you can be inside the airplane or you can be outside under a wing, sheltered from the elements. They also have now a skating rink out in the back, part of their winter theme. And they’ve created a ski lodge on the roof. So they’re constantly branding it and creating party spaces. And the Connie is the center of a lot of this stuff.

So no visit to the TWA Hotel is complete without a visit to the Lockheed Constellation sitting in the back. It’s a truly marvelous way of creating deep detail. The cost of bringing that plane there and they had to crane it in from the street to its spot behind the hotel, must have been extraordinary. But it really makes the experience special because you feel like you’re having an authentic experience. You feel like you’re traveling back in time. Not just inside the hotel, not just inside the terminal, but actually inside a plane that you would have boarded at the time. So if you get a chance to check it out, try it out. Tell me what you think.

It’s kind of cool inside. They also have a few stores. Shinola, which is a great brand from Detroit. A watchmaker. They have a store kind of got a retro bead to what they’re doing. They’ve got a store there, there’s a twister store. So just a big giant game of Twister laid out in the store format. So you can go in there and play Twister with your friends. And of course, they’ve got a TWA shop where you can buy memorabilia and all sorts of great dressing gowns and robes and slippers and bags and all sorts of TWA badges, etc, to make your visit complete. It really is an incredible experience.

And what’s most impressive about it is the immersive quality of it. It makes you feel like you’re having something that goes far beyond just staying in a hotel. And a fun story… I told you the story about how I discovered it. It was kind of a bit of a bummer. But then it ended up being a great evening. That evening once I got to the hotel and checked in, I had a drink and a bit of bite to eat in the Jean Georges restaurant, Paris. Went back to my room had a great night, great sleep, very quiet. It’s amazing. I don’t know what kind of insulation they’ve used in the hotel, but you can’t hear anything.

And then I’m leaving the next morning and I’m on my regular weekly phone call with Luca Lazzarone who’s my amazing world class, quota-beating CRO. And Luca and I kind of talking all the time. And I was on my way to the plane to get on my plane and I’m doing my one-on-one. Dragging my bag. And I sort of clue Luca into what was going on, because I was probably moving a bit and you know, running between things. And you can always hear when someone’s on the go. And I said to him, you know, if we ever have a need to do a small conference — because they have a conference center below which can seat a few 100 people — we should think about this TWA Hotel. Because it’s right in the middle of JFK. Whenever we have conferences, we’re flying people in from all around the world. And it could be a really great place for a small sales conference. And like I said, really cool. And I explained some of the experience elements. And he said that sounds amazing and  we just kind of… whatever. And we finished our call and I hung up and I got on my plane and flew to wherever I was going to.

And so I got off my flight, let’s say 12 hours later. And what had happened in the ensuing 12 hours is that we had actually been planning on doing a sales conference in Orlando. But one of the large hurricanes was heading that way. And many of the hotels including the one we’re staying at, decided to close and not be open during the hurricane season. So suddenly, our sales conference that had been scheduled for the next week was canceled. And so Luca having just had the conversation with me about the TWA Hotel, called someone on his team. He said, Hey, listen, I talked to Grad. Grad, you can’t reach Grad right now cuz he’s on a plane. But he said there’s this TWA Hotel that sounded really cool. The team called. The TWA Hotel is not officially open yet, but they’re like, yeah, we’ll try a conference. So we were their first conference. And we had an amazing conference and an amazing time. Sales leaders came in from all around the world. Flew into JFK, did their time in the hotel, flew back out. And everyone had an amazing time, because they’re having an unusual time, a unique time, a really special time. But it’s highly productive because you’re just in the hotel, in the airport and right back out again. And it was really quite a magical experience.

And so the TWA Hotel, if you’re thinking about it for special events, I would consider it as being one of your top destinations. And if I think about what they’ve done on their website, if I think about the way they’re communicating from a demand standpoint, I think they’re doing a pretty awesome job. The site again, extends that level of authenticity, and they’ve got a really neat tech element to the way they’re doing it. For example, when you check in, you can check in automatically, there’s touchless check in, you don’t really need to talk to anybody. You can go into the rooms. All the rooms use the latest ID technology, and get into the room really easily. And while you’re using a rotary phone to call the front desk, all the other things in the room are sort of modern and convenient and put together well.

And I do think that there’s a lot to be said for what else they can do to recreate that experience. And I do think there’s probably a really interesting opportunity for the TWA Hotel to create an immersive VR experience, or some kind of augmented reality experience. I think that AR can be particularly cool, which you know, be able to walk through the terminal and be able to overlay the flights that were going on certain days, be able to travel back and forth in time, be able to overlay the costumes and the flight uniforms of different personnel, be able to look at what different destinations look like, what travel stickers look like, and really enable true time travel through the devices that we carry. So I don’t know if they’ve got a plan for this or not. But if they do, consider me a beta tester. I’d be happy to be part of something like that, because I do think bringing that electronic component into it allows it to update, stay really current in terms of the experience, but also bring even more the experience to life. Because what everybody says when they go there is it’s so nice to visit the 60s, even if just for a few minutes.

And that’s really what at the end of the day experience is about. Experiences is about giving me something that I didn’t expect. Give me something beyond what I might have expected. Give me something that’s fresh and new. Give me something that makes me want to come back, makes you want to tell other people about it, that delights me. And this concept of delight I heard expressed the other day in a really interesting way. A technology executive said that what they’re trying to get their teams to think about, is to think about, what is the Wow, in whatever they’re doing for customers. So deliver, you got to deliver functionality. You’ve got to deliver the mail on things working, you’ve got to deliver core expectations. But then what’s the Wow? And how do you measure your Wow? And what’s the last tech experience you had where you went Wow! You know the wow is something that we’re always looking for, and trying to find the wow is something that we’re going to spend a lot more time in the CXM Experience talking about.

I think the TWA Hotel might be one of the best wow moments I’ve had in a long time. I got a new Apple Watch recently. There was a bunch of wows in there. Which is really neat. My dad called me today on my watch. And just like Dick Tracy, I was able to answer and quickly respond to my dad on my watch. It was a quick conversation. So I was able to handle it really quickly. Perfect. It was a bit of a wow moment.

And so what are the wow moments that you’re doing for your customers? And the wow is layered on top of all the existing functionality that you have to deliver. What’s also interesting is if you’re not delivering the base functionality, people aren’t going to pay attention to the Wow. So for example, if my Apple Watch didn’t tell time, it tells time perfectly. But if it didn’t tell time, it wouldn’t be that exciting for my dad to call me because I’d be like, well it’s nice that my dad’s calling me on my watch but it would really be nice if you can actually function as a watch. Sort of the same thing with iPhone sometimes, you know, when you can’t make voice calls. It’s like… really nice if I had a phone that could actually be a phone. And when it’s a phone and it does other stuff, then you have a Wow moment. So we’re going to be looking at finding the wow and talking about that as we go through experience.

So that’s it for today. That’s it for the TWA Hotel. I won’t be talking about it again for a little while, but expect to hear something from me about it in about a year and a half. And for the CXM Experience. This is Grad Conn and I’ll see you next time.