Boom! Wow, Wow, Wow, BOOM!! Does Your Customer Experience Have A Dramatic Arc?

Think about your favorite action movie. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The Matrix. Any James Bond flick. What do they have in common? A storyline that goes something like this: In the first few minutes, you’re drawn into a short chase or adventure — something that immediately gets your heart pounding. It builds up quickly and then resolves with a big boom! You’re hooked. And at that point, the main narrative begins. Over the course of the next 90 minutes or so, the storyline twists and turns as the main characters fight off bands of aliens, spies, mummies, and the like. The action crescendos with a series of increasingly exciting events that make you say, “Wow . . . wow. . . WOW!” as you scoot to the edge of your seat. Finally the action-packed finale delivers one last thrilling and explosive BOOM!! As a movie-goer, you’re left breathless.

You’ve no doubt experienced this type of storytelling countless times. And if you paid attention in literature or drama class, you might recognize this narrative structure as a classic dramatic arc dating back to Aristotle. But I bet you haven’t thought about it in the context of your company’s customer experience. Or, at least I hadn’t — not until I attended the Service Design Network conference last fall and attended a workshop led by Adam Lawrence of Work•Play•Experience, a design firm that helps companies design customer experiences using theatrical methods.

In customer experience land, we talk about our customers going on journeys. We discuss the steps that they go through as they discover, evaluate, buy, use, and get support for a company’s products or services. We evaluate whether or not customers are getting their needs met at each step and how they feel at specific moments of truth.

But rarely do we talk about the customer journey in terms of it having a storyline. We hardly ever discuss the specific sequencing and interplay of high and low points. And we don’t actively design the timing of these interactions. In short — we ignore the journey’s dramatic arc. That’s a real shame, given how effective narrative structures (like those used in our favorite movies) are at stirring emotions and creating real engagement — two things we strive for when developing customer experiences.

Consider the customer life cycle, the longest and most holistic customer journey. The boom-wow-wow-wow-boom framework introduced by Adam in his workshop provides a perfect blueprint for this relationship: Impress customers right off the bat, build the relationship by meeting or exceeding their needs through specific interactions (perhaps over many years), and then completely knock their socks off as the relationship nears its end (and, we hope, renews). The dramatic arc works equally well for customer journeys that last just days or weeks — like buying a car or renewing a contract — and for even the shortest customer interactions — like purchasing a shirt online or calling customer service.

“Every business needs to figure out what their booms are and what their wows are,” says Adam. “For an undertaker, listening to stories about the customer’s lost loved one might be a boom. At Disneyland, it’s fireworks.”

That’s where the customer experience disciplines of customer understanding and design come in. In order to create the right dramatic arc for your customers, you’ve got to understand both their rational and emotional needs — and then design a specific cadence of interactions that will draw them to the edge of their seats and leave them breathless.

What’s your boom?


Thanks! And a little on "chick flicks".

Kerry, thanks! This is one of the best descriptions of the concept that I have read. Intelligent, insightful, and easy to follow. :)

Beyond action movies, your readers might enjoy discovering this and other dramatic arcs in all kinds of places. In music, for example, where we often see hook, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, finale.

Or what about a quieter movie? A romance, for example, might start with the book of our two lovebirds meeting - and hating each other. Then there are the trials and tribulations of the growing romance, and the final boom where he looks at her, she looks at him, the orchestra stops and...... (choose your own happy or sad ending).

That's a cool thing to think about, because the "booms" at the ends of the action flick and the tearjerker are so different. One is explosions, bullets, noise; one is silence and just a look - but it gets us right in the heart because it is relevant to our own experience. And that's the question for customer experience work. Does my customer want bangs and explosions, or a moment of perfect contact. And, of course, how do I make that?

Thanks again for the write-up!


PS If people are looking for the English version of our page (we work worldwide), they can click the red, white and blue on our homepage, or simply go here:

Ah, yes, chick flicks...

hi Adam,
Thanks for your great comments and for the reminder that there are lots of dramatic arcs that we can draw from. (Where would we be without Titanic and Love Actually to balance out all that action??) I'm looking forward to digging into this more in my upcoming research!

Thanks Kerry. In his comment,

Thanks Kerry. In his comment, Trevor gives a link to a site with great examples of the Monomyth which you will find again and again in your research. And I'm working on an article about some other common arcs. Alongside James Bond, we will see Miss Marple, Frodo Baggins and Desperate Housewives. :)

Dramatic Arc

Dramatic arc is a loop, not linear:


We talk about customer journeys as being loops as well, so that makes sense to me.


Hi Trevor,

That's a useful link, thanks.

While the events or sequences in a story may contain loops, the arc itself is linear. It must be, if there is a time axis. Every experience we have is linear - even if we visit the same gas station every day, and our exchange with our favourite cashier becomes ritualised, we still experience the visits sequentially.

Here's a showbiz example: in "Groundhog Day", the Bill Murray character (and the viewer) experiences the same day over and over again - but the story forms one dramatic arc, takes place on one strip of film.

Thanks for commenting,


Overwhelming Emails


I enjoyed this post, particularly because it is immediately actionable. It also helps a company avoid one of the biggest plagues of the customer experience - adding "just one more" email to entice customers to purchase more.

By mapping out the entire experience end-to-end, with a notion of the big beginning and finish, and smaller arcs in the middle, it helps you to think more about "What role does this email play in that overall experience?" It also provides some insights into the customer surveys. Presumably, satisfaction/loyalty/engagement will be higher at the beginning and end of the arc, when people are most engaged with that experience.

I found this arc definitely at play when we looked at health care financial products (FSAs and HSAs). Consumers had high engagement when they first received their product, then saw a significant drop in satisfaction, before returning towards the end of the year. This was unfortunate - but by understanding and planning for it, a company can craft the customer experience to take advantage of this natural lull, targeting information and activity once that engagement was at the highest.

Great stuff!

Jim Tincher

Dealing with natural lulls

hi Jim,

Your story sounds familiar... I'm working on a case study for a utility company that I can't name just quite yet, but the gist is that there was about a 6-week lull between when a customer signed up for a service and actually started to use it. Customer satisfaction dropped steadily during that time, but the company was able to make customers happier just by increasing their cadence of communication during that time period. Sounds like you took another approach, waiting for a naturally happier time to deliver the boom.

Glad you enjoyed the post!