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?