What a 16 year old magician can teach you about exceeding expectations

Imagine seeing an ad about a restaurant that makes fish tacos. Now imagine seeing a comment on Facebook from a friend about a restaurant he is at that not only sells fish tacos, but also poetically entertains you. And, next to that text is a picture of a hand written poem by the waiter that serviced him.

Which one makes you more curious?


It is funny to me how this always works. But when businesses ask me about how to satisfy their customers, they are surprised by the ideas I throw at them. One such idea is the one at the beginning of this post. That was my original pitch to this particular client!

This client’s name was Pulpo Enamorado, or in English, In Love Octopus.

They tasked us with creating the complete brand experience. So, we came up with this very challenging idea that was born out of the question: how might we make “love” central to the experience the customer has with us?

With this challenge in mind, we challenged some core assumptions about how that love should be demonstrated. Again, we asked ourselves some questions: what are the activities that bring that name to life?

For us, those activities didn’t just include superficial things such as menus that were, in terms of how they read, poetic. It also included bartenders and waiters who were poets. That’s right. We proposed hiring poets and turning them into waiters, and bartenders.

This idea was quite extreme for the owners. These were the types of businessmen that believed that simply changing ones logo results in differentiation. For them, exceeding customer expectation is simply an expression, not an action.

Magicians break a pattern and gain our curiosity

One of the skills magicians have is the ability to shatter our expectations. We all know that their routine is part of an elaborate illusion. But, even with that fact in mind, we’re still captivated by how they trick us into believing that the impossible can be achieved.

They are the supreme schema breakers because they use the element of surprise to gain our attention, and keep it. And, although this may seem like they do have magic powers, you don’t have to be a magician to know how to use the element of surprise.

It is very simple: expectations.

If you understand what the expectations a customer/prospect has about what they are going to receive, you have a target on where to focus your creative energy. Taking our restaurant example further, expectations are set by a person’s understanding of what to expect about a particular product, service or situation.

In our case, we all have a good idea about what to expect when going out for dinner at a restaurant. We expect to see a building, waiters, plates, chairs, tables, menus, napkins, potential wait time, order taking, trays, people conversing with each other, among other things. Together, these objects and routines form the schema of what we understand to be a restaurant.

Change any of these objects or routines, and people will take notice. Change them to deliver a different and better kind of value, and you’ll end up with something captivating.

For a magician, the expectations are that the other person doesn’t know what to expect.

This past weekend, at Startup Weekend Tijuana 4, we had a 16 year old entrepreneur and magician. He’s been doing illusions since he was 10 years old, and it showed. In the video below, you’ll see how he transformed a whole deck of card right in front of us. His showmanship changed the dynamic of the whole weekend:

After that, I had to take a picture with him 🙂

Bottom line: The element of surprise is the ultimate equalizer. And, the best way to delight a customer is to exceed and/or break their expectations. But, exceeding customer’s expectations requires constant effort. Yet, no one has a monopoly on the element of surprise. It is an option that is always open for you to use, no matter the situation. You don’t have to be a magician, to take advantage of it.

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