What Can The Wonka Experience Teach Us About Customer Experience?

From overpromising and under delivering to an unconsidered employee experience – where it all went wrong for the infamous Glasgow Wonka Experience.

Wonka graphic on a cinema screen
Voice of the CustomerInsights

Published: March 6, 2024

Rhys Fisher

A Willy Wonka inspired children’s event went viral last week after outraged parents called the police to complain about the ineptitude of the experience.

Described as an opportunity to “indulge in a chocolate fantasy like never before”, the event – based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book and the recent blockbuster starring Timothée Chalamet – failed to live up to expectations.

After paying up to £35 a ticket, attendees were promised an “enchanted garden”, an “imagination lab”, and a “twilight tunnel”.

Unfortunately, the reality was a small bouncy castle and a handful of plastic props scattered around a mostly bare warehouse in a Glasgow industrial estate, with the only thing approaching a “chocolate fantasy” being some jellybeans and lemonade.

With customers understandably upset and angry, the police were called, and organizers closed down the event after only being open for a few hours.

Common CX Pitfalls in an Uncommon Setting

While the entire series of events has proven to be a source of amusement across social media, the failures of Willy’s Chocolate Experience outline some of the common shortcomings that many customer experience teams struggle with – albeit in an exaggerated, and almost fantastical, fashion.

So, where did it all go wrong for the Wonka Experience? And how can CX teams ensure they don’t make similar mistakes?

Overpromising and Underdelivering

Let’s start with the obvious. The reason that the Wonka event was such a disaster and has gained such notoriety, is the fact that it failed to provide customers with the experience that it had advertised.

Although most CX teams won’t need to concern themselves with the amount of chocolate they have in stock, or whether they have hired an adequate number of Oompa-Loompas – the point remains the same: if you promise a customer something, you need to deliver it.

In their book, ‘Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience: How to Quickly Build and Maintain a CX Juggernaut’, Steve and Conner Stauning describe overpromising as the “most avoidable driver of bad customer experiences.”

By overpromising, even in a small or apparently harmless way like assuring a customer of a delivery date that can’t be guaranteed, agents are creating misaligned expectations, which are almost certain to lead to poor CX.

For Steve and Conner, one of the key drivers of overpromising is a desire for agents to please the customer, at the expense of being 100% truthful:

Whether the employee believes that’s what the customer wants to hear, they have a desire to be liked or accepted, they think this solves everything (for now), or all the above, breaking your frontline employees out of this habit is critical.

While being upfront with your customers may involve having to deliver bad news and cause some initial CX discomfort, managing expectations and building a reputation as being trustworthy will strengthen the long-term health of your customer experience program.

The importance of customer trust was recently outlined in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index January 2024 report.

The findings revealed a direct correlation between trust and customer satisfaction – with 82.5% of customers who reported a high level of customer satisfaction with a company, also reporting high levels of trust.

The report emphasized how trust can also be a powerful tool in proving the ROI of a CX team:

“Customers with strong levels of trust in an organization are likely to be more receptive to new products and services.”

Over-Reliance on AI

As the Wonka Experience story began to unravel, one of the more interesting aspects was the creator’s use of artificial intelligence.

The AI images that are present across the event’s website depict a fantastical sweet-filled woodland, with lollipop trees, enormous caches of sweet treats, and a cascading waterfall filled with giant jellybeans.

While the parents and children who attended the event would not have been expecting anything as elaborate as the AI scene, it was still clearly not remotely representative of the sparsely decorated warehouse that they visited.

The written content on the Willy’s Chocolate Experience site also appears to have been created by AI, with the overly descriptive, unnatural sounding language used being a hallmark of unedited ChatGPT copy.

Moreover, the actors who played characters such as Willy Wonka and Oompa-Loompas have reported being given AI-generated “gibberish” scripts.

While AI is undeniably a useful tool that can save time and help cut costs, the creator of the Wonka Experience appears to have fallen into the same trap as many customer service and CX teams, in becoming over-reliant on artificial intelligence.

Automation and chatbots have been a CX stalwart for some time, but the explosion in popularity of GenAI has placed the spotlight on the use of artificial intelligence in the customer service sector like never before.

While a CX team would be foolish to completely eschew the use of AI, in order to provide a truly exceptional customer experience, companies must avoid a scattergun approach and only deploy it where it can be most beneficial for both agents and customers.

For example, a recent Gartner report advocated for AI to primarily be used to support human agents rather than replacing them – stating that “it is too risky, expensive, and difficult to replace customer service reps with a generative-AI-powered chatbot.”

Another argument against the overuse of AI in CX is its impact on personalization and customer interactions.

Although its ability to access and interpret immense quantities of customer data makes AI a very useful personalization tool, many customers still crave the human touch.

The human element often involves empathy, tone, and a thorough understanding of complex challenges – the more intangible aspects of customer interaction.

In discussing the importance of the human touch within CX, Tom MartinCEO at guided customer experience solutions provider, Glance, commented:

It’s crucial not to overlook the significance of human interaction in delivering an outstanding customer experience. In short, there are moments when a more personal – and literally human – approach is needed.

Don’t Forget About the Oompa-Loompas

Alongside the underwhelming props and location of Willy’s Chocolate Experience, the event did also include actors playing famous characters from the book/films, including Willy Wonka, Oompa-Loompas, and a newly created villain called, The Unknown.

While images and clips of these characters have gone viral – with one video of The Unknown appearing from behind a video having garnered millions of views – some of the actors have come forward to discuss how poorly they were treated by the organizers.

Felicia, a 16-year-old actor who played The Unknown, reported that there hadn’t been any rehearsals, and the overall organization of the event was almost non-existent:

We were all saying it was a mess and there hadn’t been any organization, but we were just hoping that together it wouldn’t be that bad. But it was.

Although the organizers of the Wonka Experience clearly let down the attendees, they are also guilty of another common CX mistake in overlooking the importance of the employee experience.

Away from the moral obligation to provide support and guidance to your staff, creating excellent employee experiences can actually lead to better customer interactions.

Studies have shown that happier employees result in higher customer satisfaction scores, lower customer turnover rates, and increased profits.

A Gallup report even suggests that motivated workers can improve profitability by up to 23%.

Despite its current popularity, it is likely that the Wonka Experience will be another flash-in-the-pan viral sensation that the world will quickly move on from.

However, while the precise events are odd bordering on ludicrous, the CX shortcomings that they represent are important, evergreen issues that every serious customer experience department should be examining.

Artificial IntelligenceChatGPTCRMEventGenerative AIUser Experience

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