Wow. That single syllable, above all else, is what sells homes in the Goldbergs’ neighborhood in Potomac, Maryland.

Daniel McGinn, House Lust: America’s Obsession With Our Homes

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things…I am tempted to think…there are no little things.

Bruce Barton

Several years ago, I was playing in a company golf tournament at the Four Seasons in Dallas. The cart guys cleaned my clubs after I finished, which is common at a nice course.

As mentioned, this was in Texas, so it was 99°F outside. Another guy walked up, reached into a wicker basket, and handed me an ice-cold wet towel, for my face and neck.

Me: Oh this is perfect, thank you. (I pause, sniffing the air) Is…that…mango?”

Him: Yes, sir.

Mango-scented, ice-cold, wet towels.


This experience is my mental model for perfect service and I frequently use this story to make the point.

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “The Four Seasons better give me a mango-scented wet towel after my round of golf, or my day is going to be ruined!” At least maybe until you’ve tried it. #hedonictreadmill

In evolutionary biology, this is called costly signaling. The resort not only executed on the basics, then exceeded them. They went on to do something that no one was explicitly asking for, nor paying for directly, to facilitate an experience unavailable at many other hotels and resorts.

If you wanted to draw a lesson from it, the first thing you might say is, “Okay, exceed expectations.”

Sure, but like all the clichés, you have to be mindful of them consistently, not just when they are conversationally convenient and readily available.

What you want to do is anticipate desired emotions and facilitate an experience that leads to them.

There are some brute force examples, like roller coasters. Simulate falling to death = adrenaline! But, many of the best are nuanced and thoughtfully designed.

Like the quote above from House Lust, the goal is to get someone emotionally moved, so that the natural reaction is “Wow.”

This idea is equally applicable to customers in business as it is to significant others in relationships.

You would never ask a girl what you need to do to make her like you. She wants YOU to facilitate an experience that makes her like you. If she has to tell you how to do it, she might as well go to a restaurant and offer to help the chef design the menu.

If you pay attention and observe, you can figure out what emotions she wants to feel.

It’s like Henry Ford ignoring his customers. If he took their stated desires literally, he would have given them a faster horse. Instead, he read between-the-lines. What they were really saying is, “We want to get places faster and more comfortably.”

He took the idea and drove with it.

If you want to be the best, you must do something unexpected and better than what would generally be expected from competitors.

Here are the questions we should keep in mind:

  • What experience or outcome am I trying to facilitate?
  • What is my version of a mango-scented towel? What do I give that is unexpected and better?

Now, some of you might know what I’m going to say next…the Red Queen Effect.

Once everyone starts giving us mango-scented wet towels to cool down, it will become ordinary and no longer lead to the same emotions.

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Alice in Wonderland

So, the equally critical part is knowing that this game never ends.

Jeff Bezos knows this better than most. As soon as we got those delightful cardboard boxes showing up at our houses in two days, he started working on getting them to us in one day. What’s next…will the boxes be mango-scented?

Now, that would be Wow.

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