The Art of Wow

The Art of Wow

I just got back from an amazing five day visit to Denver, Colorado. I came to Denver for two reasons, to participate in a conference with Janus Capital in Cherry Creek for my day job and to photograph the city as part of my project of photographing the 100 largest American cities.

I’ll have much more to say about the specifics of Denver and about the places I photographed and the wonderful people I met in other posts, but I wanted to do a quick write up on something I learned this weekend called the “Art of Wow.”

John Evans is the Executive Director of Janus Labs and gave a talk on customer service. In his talk he encouraged us to think about the business that we are in and to try and create “Wow” moments for clients. He mentioned the Ritz Carlton as being one of the premier service institutions in the world today and cited examples of them going above and beyond to create indelible important distinctive Wow moments for their guests and visitors.

In his talk, John told us about a specific visit to a Ritz Carlton Hotel after his daughter had won a recent sporting event. In the elevator up to the room they were excited about her win. The astute bellman overheard this conversation and later on that night when they came back from dinner, there was a little cake in their room with a congratulatory note for his daughter. John has told this story now thousands of times to people all over the world — and here I am now blogging it here as well. The cost of the cake for the Ritz Carlton was inconsequential — yet they have garnered an incredible and far more valuable amount of positive word of mouth PR.

On Sunday I was hanging out with my Denver friends Ryan Dearth, Jeff Wilson, Stan Sholwalter and Corbin Elliott and his wonderful family. The evening before as our One Year Anniversary Google+ Photo Walk wined down late in the night (more on that later), we made plans for breakfast the next day. I asked my friends where the absolute *best* place in Denver was for breakfast. I always like to try to find great and unique food when I visit a city. Several names were mentioned and we decided on Snooze, which Ryan especially was enthusiastic about. We agreed to meet early there because Snooze was popular and there would be a line.

We arrived at Snooze at about 8am and there was already a wait. We didn’t mind because we walked around the neighborhood shooting while we were waiting. Snooze also had free coffee and ice water for people while they wait which was great. Eventually we piled in with all our camera gear and were seated and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. The eggs benedict were some of the best I’ve ever had.

On one visit from our waiter, I think it was Stan who inquired about if our waiter knew how we could get on a roof where there was a neon sign that I’d wanted to shoot near there. The waiter said he didn’t know but in a few minutes brought Jon Schlegel over who is the owner of Snooze. Jon didn’t know about the other building either but he did offer to get us on the roof of the building next to the one we were asking about. They were newly constructed high end condos and someone who worked at Snooze lived there and he offered to get us up. Now, Snooze was super busy. This is one of the most popular restaurants in Denver, and yet after our meal the owner *himself* walked us around the block to let us into the condo and got us to the top of the building. Wow!

See, Jon had just created a wow moment for us as customers.

The Art of Wow

In the elevator I complimented Jon on the food and great decor of Snooze. We chatted about how he designed it based on Googie architecture and it was no surprise to me when he mentioned they would soon be opening their 7th location. The restaurant has been a huge success. Some would call Jon’s extraordinary action to a group of photographers karma, and I’m sure it is, but it was also a warm, personal, gesture from a successful businessman and restauranteur who understands the value of creating wow moments for his customers. There was even an old vintage neon sign in the condos which was a huge treat for me as well.

The Art of Wow

The Art of Wow

A bit later on in the day we stopped by the Ritz Carlton to photograph the Dale Chihuly chandelier that they have in the lobby there. While some hotels might chase a group of pesky photographers out, we were greeted instead by Dewiet Miller, the food and beverage manager. Dewiet talked with us about our photography and then offered to take us up to the Ritz Carlton Club lounge to get some photos from up there as well. We were not even paying guests, but Dewiet extended an extraordinary amount of hospitality towards us. Interestingly enough while up in the lounge I mentioned our wonderful breakfast earlier at Snooze, and Dewiet told me that he in fact knew the owner Jon and had even given a talk to his employees on, yes, you guessed it, customer service.

After leaving the Ritz Carlton, Corbin received a phone call on his cell phone. He had traded business cards with Dewiet. Dewiet had called Corbin to let him know that I’d left a lens up in the Club lounge at the Ritz. He said he’d have it for me at the concierge’s desk.


The Art of Wow

Whether or not you are a professional photographer, a waiter, a doctor, a lawyer, a software engineer, or even someone who is retired, I think all of us are capable of creating wow moments for the people around us — for our customers and clients and even our family, friends and acquaintances. These meaningful authentic moments make the world a kinder and better place. They are also how businesses like Janus Capital, the Ritz Carlton and Snooze Restaurant in Denver Colorado are thriving based on providing wow moments in a world where customer service more generally feels like it’s getting worse and worse. I hope this post encourages you to think about how you too might be able to provide wow moments — oh, and thanks Stan Showalter for creating your own wow moment in driving me back to the Denver aiport yesterday afternoon (and alot of other folks too for the amazing hospitality extended to me this past weekend)!

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  1. Thomas,
    You do know you’ve created “wow” moments for so many of us photographers, don’t you? Not just with your amazing art, but with your ongoing support of the photography community. How many famous photographers take time to support and encourage others the way you do? I know I speak for many others beside myself when I say I’m amazed, grateful, and wow-ed by you every day. You have a generous, and genuinely kind spirit – you’re a great role model for others. I’m honored to have you as a friend.

  2. Whitney Lake says:

    …that’s a great story about the value of entertaining relationships with individuals instead of seeing them purely as ‘paying customers’….the icing on the cake is not just that the BEST customers are generally referrals, but lasting and real friendships are built this way. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mike P says:

    I’m the father of one of Snoozes’ assistant GM’s. I can tell you that the “WOW” moments happen to the emplyoees as well. Jon and Adam have created an amazing atomosphere and they treat their employees as well as their customers. That’s why it trickles down to their guests. Great article. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  4. RDOwens says:


    Great piece, Thomas. It reminds me of when I was a waiter 30 years ago. There was this lady customer who was absolutely amazed at the spaghetti squash that accompanied her high-priced dish. She had never even heard of it let alone tasted it before. She just raved and raved.

    I was pleased to make her Wow moment. I purchased one from the kitchen and presented it after the bill had been paid. She was just floored that a waiter would do something like that. It more than paid off from my end with the gratuity she left, but even more so: I still have the story and I bet she does too. 😉

    It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. I’m happy to hear you had such a good time. Did I miss it? Where’s the neon sign?

  5. Dearth says:

    Thanks for hanging out TH – had a great time with you. Hope to run into you again in Denver, SF, or any other city for that matter.


  6. Alex says:

    What an absolutely BRILLIANT blog post! Seriously, I’m obsessed with this customer service stuff. The way you treat people, not only as a business but as a human being, is SO IMPORTANT! Thanks for such a beautiful reminder.

  7. Jose says:

    I like!!

  8. Awesome blog post and very inspiring! I can’t wait to get out there and wow my clients, and friends.