Chip Bell is one of my all-time favorite business authors. His specialty is customer service and no matter how many books I read on that topic, Chip's always stand out from the crowd. His new book, Sprinkles, is no exception. So I asked him to share his thoughts and observations on the latest hot trends in customer service.
BJG: One of the things I've always loved about your work is that you teach with stories ... you're a great storyteller. In your new book, "Sprinkles," you share some terrific customer service stories. Do these stories make a common point, or does each make a different point?
Chip Bell: Thanks, BJ. I come from a long line of avid storytellers. I think it was German philosopher Hannah Arendt who said, "Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it." Stories let the reader fill in the blanks and that is what makes it a magical media. Your work does that as well. My stories seek to make different points, but all around a common theme. In the case of Sprinkles, they are about creating a uniquely enchanting experience that builds long-term customer loyalty.
BJ: Do you have a favorite story in the book? If you could pick only one story to make the point of your book, which story would it be?
Chip: That's hard; a bit like asking which of your children is your favorite! The one that puts a lump in my through every time I re-read it is the story about gem mining with my granddaughters. The story of the gem mine lady (as we now call her) is poignant on so many levels. It captures the essence of personalized service delivered with authentic generosity and yet with innocent ingenuity. It is a true story that is pure, like innovative service should always be.
Which companies or organizations today are doing the best job of creating awesome experiences through innovative service? If I had asked you this question two years ago, would your list have been different? Have any companies really dropped the ball in a major way with regard to their customer service practices?
Chip: That's easy. I would have to say the Kimpton Hotels. They have sixty-four boutique properties in 30 cities. I was honored the CEO wrote a cover endorsement. My favorite is their Hotel Monaco. They took a pretty good medium priced hotel experience and gave it charm and intrigue. As a road warrior, all the traditional hotels seem alike -- good, but not memorable. But, the Hotel Monaco gives me a yoga mat and a leopard print bathroom (not boring white). A goldfish in a basketball sized glass bowl adorns my desk! I could go on and on! The focus is on creating an enchanting experience that yields a story to tell.
My list two years ago would be the same. I think those that drop the ball are those that take the customer for granted and assume what delighted customers five years ago has remained the same. Customers' standards are constantly changed by their experiences.
What the latest hot trend in blowing customers' socks off?
Chip: I think you are seeing more companies paying attention to the power of multi-sensory stimulation -- I called it scenography in the book. Even Internet-based companies are recognizing that digital channels need decoration to be special. Remember the old sales line, "I can get it for you fast, good or cheap...pick two" ...? Customers today want all three of those, and they want it unique. "Sprinkles" is about creating a value-unique experience, not just a value-added one. When I walk in a hotel and they have thought about the aroma of the lobby, the volume and choice of the music, the thread count of the sheets, the eye candy of the room, it telegraphs a strong desire to deliver an experience that is enriched - not just one that is efficient and effortless.
One of my favorite books of yours is "Wired and Dangerous." Customers today have much more power to make or break a company's reputation because of on-line rating services like Yelp! How can companies use the Internet to create "Sprinkles" for their customers?
Chip: I think a growing number. They recognize one snarky tweet or YouTube video gone viral can tank a company almost overnight. Adding Sprinkles to an online experience makes it hard for customers to turn surly. Look at the Zappos' experience. It is mostly online, but their cultural value of "add fun and a little weirdness" comes through. Corley Heating Electric and Air and Greenville, South Carolina, sends customers an email that shows the photo of both the technician who is on the way as well as the dispatcher. Click on the photo and you learn the background of both. That's using the Internet in ways that create an experience customers are eager to share face to face, ear-to-ear, and click-to-click.
Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
Chip: When entrepreneur Candace Nelson introduced a 24-hour sprinkles cupcake ATM that delivers customers a personalized cupcake in ten seconds, it was more than a successful novelty. It was a metaphor for today's customer. There are a finite number of ways for generous addition; but there are unlimited ways for unexpected ingenuity. Customers like good service; they love service with Sprinkles!
For more about Chip Bell and "Sprinkles" visit: www.chipbell.com