The Fundamental 4s: Secrets to Designing Extraordinary Customer Experiences

October 10, 2016

No sane person wakes up in the morning thinking: Today, I want to be a poorer version of myself than I was yesterday! Whether we’re considering a baby taking its first steps, a student acing a test, or a person winning a championship, getting a promotion, or losing a few pounds, human beings are hardwired to aspire and improve. In all aspects of life, we are extremely motivated—consciously or unconsciously—to become better versions of ourselves. Each of us is motivated to become the better me.

Think about what you’re doing at this very moment. Reading this article could demonstrate the value you place on being an educated person—your desire to BE better. Perhaps you are reading this to learn something, so you can give a better presentation at work this week—DO better. You might be reading because you want to LOOK better and get recognition of your refined knowledge from your colleagues. Or maybe you are just lounging around the house, reading to relax, clear your mind, and enjoy yourself—in which case, your strongest motivation is to FEEL better.

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It turns out that these motivations to BE, DO, FEEL, and LOOK better are exactly what drive our customers’ behaviors as well. The model that we use to summarize these customer motivations is something we call The Fundamental 4s, and it is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1—The Fundamental 4s
The Fundamental 4s

The Fundamental 4s have resulted from the many years we’ve spent following all kinds of customers around, talking to them, and analyzing what we’ve learned. What we found out is that there are four motivations that are always present—no matter what experience is in question:

  1. BE better—When you honor your customers’ values and moral landscape, you help them feel like better people.
  2. DO better—You can help customers to enhance their performance, skills, competencies, and results.
  3. FEEL better—Triggering your customers’ senses can leave them in a better emotional state.
  4. LOOK better—Improving customers’ social status creates appreciation and recognition for them.

Knowing the motivations behind your customers’ choices is paramount to running a successful company. As a business, the better you are at honoring your customers’ Fundamental 4s, the more positive impact you will have on them, and the better chance you have of succeeding in a fast-moving, exponentially evolving world.

Now, let’s explore what each of these motivations really means and how you can use them to design extraordinary experiences for your customers.

BE Better

The motivation to BE better, depicted in Figure 2, is about honoring each of your customer’s personal values and moral landscape. In other words, it is about helping them do what they believe is the right thing. Human values are interesting because they change relatively slowly. It is very helpful to know your customers’ deepest values. Knowing your customers’ values lets you design your offerings to adhere to those values, and you can be relatively sure they won’t change anytime soon.

Figure 2—Motivation to BE better
Motivation to BE better

We are seeing more and more examples of brands that strive toward honoring the motivation to BE better as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition and increasing their relevance to consumers. This motivation is consistent with the megatrend of moving from purpose or profit to purpose and profit.

For example, the Danish telecommunications company Call Me has gained momentum in a chronically ill-reputed business category by using the BE better motivation to create an experience-based, movement-oriented campaign that roughly translates as “Watch your mouth.” The idea of urging people to speak nicely to each other has sparked a nationwide debate on verbal abuse that has reached every corner of Denmark. Plus, this movement went viral on social media, with thousands of people taking the online pledge to watch their mouth when talking to loved ones and strangers alike. As a result of this clever campaign, camps and workshops were launched for school children, the ministry of education decided to use this slogan in school exams, and a rock band formed to further spread the message.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the “Watch your mouth” campaign is that it cost nothing to run, but ended up with a PR value of 15 million DKK. It increased buyers’ preference by 260% and customer loyalty by 24%. Employee loyalty was also higher than ever. Call Me’s former CEO Hanne Lindblad, who initiated the campaign, told us: “We’re a company that empowers communication, and we believe that we can make a difference for people and actually inspire them to be better people by spending our marketing money in a different way. It also makes my job more than a job—it becomes a purpose!”

Call Me combined seeking profit with seeking purpose. In doing so, they’ve differentiated themselves from their competitors by helping their customers to BE better through choosing their offerings. A great side effect of this campaign is that it has also made people want to work for Call Me. From Millennials to Generation Xers, they all want to invest their skills and pursue a career in something that matters. Employees also want to BE better!

DO Better

The motivation to DO better, shown in Figure 3, has driven people since the dawn of time. It is the reason we’ve invented life-optimizing things like the wheel, the car, the dishwasher, and the smartphone. Customer experiences that help your customers DO better are about enhancing their performance, competencies, and results. This requires making products easier to use or situations easier to cope with.

Figure 3—Motivation to DO better
Motivation to DO better

The Fortune-500 company and home-improvement store Lowe’s is using technology to help their customers DO exponentially better. They have developed in-store robots, called Oshbots, that greet customers when they enter the store and help them find anything they need. They come up to you, say hello, and ask you what you’re looking for, in one of five different languages. They can save you a whole lot of time and hassle. Instead of roaming the aisles, trying to find an exact match for the screw you need, the Oshbots can just scan the one you’ve brought with you, identify it precisely, and lead you directly to its location in aisle six. (It also simultaneously scans the entire store, keeping track of inventory, so stocking managers will know exactly which shelves to fill up later that night.)

These super-helpful Oshbots are not the only DO-better technology Lowe’s Innovation Lab has developed. They’ve also created the HoloRoom, a 3D-visualization tool that enables customers to design their dream kitchen or bath in a few minutes, then, using virtual-reality glasses, step virtually into their very own creation to see how it would look. And thanks to a recently announced partnership with Microsoft, Lowe’s customers will soon be able to design their kitchens using an augmented-reality headset, the HoloLens, so they can see what their renovated kitchen would look like before the work has even started.

There is a lot we can learn from DO-better companies such as Lowe’s. First, we’ve learned that convenience is a powerful DO-better tool. Oshbots help you find what you’re looking for faster, while HoloRoom and HoloLens make it easier to understand how objects would fit into a room. This helps you to avoid the tedious, time-wasting process of returning things—or, even worse, wasting money on items you’ll be unhappy with.

Lowe’s DO-better technology enhances the customer experience while also letting you extract valuable business insights. Oshbots collect data about their clients at every encounter. In this way, Lowe’s can DO better as a company by analyzing data to further improve the customer experience. At the same time, digitization enables individualization of services. Oshbots understand and respond to multiple languages. Imagine how useful this technology is in serving our increasingly multicultural society. This service recognizes our customers’ individual differences and makes them feel more appreciated.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the Oshbots are not replacing Lowe’s human employees. They are assisting them. The robots are great for routine tasks, but cannot assist shoppers in complex decision making. By using robots for routine tasks, the human employees’ time is freed up to engage more deeply with customers. Consider how you could create the right mix of man-machine cooperation to enhance your customer experience.

FEEL Better

The motivation to FEEL better, shown in Figure 4, is all about triggering your customers’ senses and emotions to put them into a better, happier state. This happens because of ambiance, decor, lighting, smells, and the person greeting you with a smile that, in turn, puts a smile on your face.

Figure 4—Motivation to FEEL better
Motivation to FEEL better

An increasing number of companies are appealing to their customers’ senses to make them FEEL better and, thereby, motivating customers to choose their brand over another. Sensory branding, for example, is a great tool for engaging customers and increasing sales. Research reveals that customers are likely to spend 20% more money in a nice-smelling store because the aromas trigger their senses and emotions and put them in a better emotional state. Customers simply FEEL better and, therefore, are willing to buy more.

The University of Leicester in the UK conducted an experiment in which they played either French or German music in a wine store over a two-week period. Which music was playing in the background significantly impacted customers’ subconscious minds and, thereby, their wine choices. When French music was playing, the store sold 77% more French wine. It’s interesting that a small choice like background music can have such a big impact on sales.

Both of these experiments show that our senses do affect our behavior whether we realize it or not. And, while you can create a better customer experience by adding just the right scent or the right background music, you should also be thinking about how your designs might make your customers FEEL worse. Just eliminating bad design choices that annoy your customers and make their experience worse can go a long way toward improving the customer experience. (We’re thinking about things like long waiting times, confusing user interfaces, unpleasant workers, and bad instructions.) The bottom line is that, if you make your customers FEEL better, they’ll remember your positive impact on them.

LOOK Better

The fourth and final motivation all human beings share is to LOOK better, as shown in Figure 5. This is about how we think we can improve our social status. You know the feeling. You’re a grounded person, confident in your own identity. You know what you like and what you don’t like. You certainly don’t need someone else’s approval to be content with your decisions. And yet, you cannot help but feel glad when your peers recognize you for a job well done and are pleased and proud when someone asks for your opinion on an important issue.

Figure 5—Motivation to LOOK better
Motivation to LOOK better

Social networks are the best examples of online platforms that help people to LOOK better when they appeal to their network of authorities or the people whose opinions matter most to them. Your numbers of friends, followers, likes, shares, and retweets all serve as ways of measuring your popularity. It’s also the reason people often take posts down if they don’t get a lot of likes. Receiving no acknowledgment does not make us LOOK better.

Disruptive organizations like the educational platform Khan Academy or the software provider for utility companies Opower also know that human beings are social animals that want to fit in with their network of authorities. Thus, they make it possible for customers to compare themselves with other identifiable users or give them credit for their achievements. Khan Academy has educational “badges you can brag about.” Opower provides electricity bills that let you compare your behavior with that of your neighbors and, thus, engage in a little competition with yourself to become the household that best optimizes its energy usage.

While this may not be the most obvious place for you to start, considering how you can help your customers to LOOK better and improve their social status can be an incredible source of motivation and free marketing. For instance, how can you recognize people simply for being your customer? How can you co-create with them, provide the opportunity for them to earn status by engaging with you, and make it easy for them to be your super-promoters? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself if you want to make your customers LOOK better—and, trust us, you do!


You can use the Fundamental 4s model both to analyze your current offerings and as a development tool to explore how you can extend customer value. Perhaps you currently make your customers FEEL and DO better, but have untapped, potential value in also making them BE and LOOK better.

All things being equal, the more fundamental motivations you honor and the more deeply you deliver on each motivation, the better. If you can make your customers BE, DO, FEEL and LOOK better, you will be in a very strong position. This is what some of the best brands in the world are able to do. The more you can help your customers become better versions of themselves, the more positive impact you will have on them, and the more likely you are to be rewarded with your customers’ attention, time, and money—and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments. 

For more food for thought, check out our sweet, short, to-the-point ebook The Fundamental 4s.

Co-Founder and CEO at SingularityU Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Laila PawlakLaila is a leading international expert and speaker on disruption and customer experience. She is a moderator of the Singularity University Executive Program, serves as adjunct faculty, and is one of the founders of SingularityU Copenhagen. Laila has received the prestigious Experience Management Achievement Award, has been recognized as one of the most talented business executives in Denmark by its leading national business magazine, and has been nominated for Female Entrepreneur of the year twice. Together with Kris Østergaard, she runs the innovation agency DARE2, the award-winning startup hub DARE2mansion, and the early-stage accelerator and corporate-incubator program thinkubator.  Read More

Co-Founder and Chief Learning & Innovation Officer at SingularityU Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Kris ØstergaardKris is one of the world’s leading experts on Exponential Organizations, translated Salim Ismail’s best-selling book Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (and What To Do About It) into Danish, and serves as adjunct faculty at Singularity University. He has more than 15 years of research experience, with a primary specialization in corporate innovation, strategy building, the design of extraordinary customer experiences, and affecting human behavior in a positive way. Kris is a sought-after speaker, facilitator, and high-level consultant for corporations looking to innovate at the edges of their organization. Together with Laila Pawlak, he has received the prestigious Experience Management Achievement Award and runs the innovation agency DARE2 and the award-winning startup hub DARE2mansion.  Read More

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