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Just Surprise Me!

Written by Kayla Brehm | Oct 8, 2014 12:00:27 PM

Guest blog by Chip R. Bell:

How would you like receiving a birthday present without any wrapping or colorful bow...just a Post-it note on the present with handwritten: “Happy Birthday?”  What would an Easter egg hunt be like if the location of all the eggs were clearly marked with a red flag?  How exciting would a treasure hunt be if some else did if for you and just brought you the bounty?

Customers today live in an over-stimulated, highly entertained world and love surprise. Unfortunately, we have so automated, programmed and managed surprise that it is now assumed when it was once upon a time enchanting.  Remember a time when a front desk clerk, rental car agent, airline gate attendant, merchant or waiter enchanted us with an unanticipated value-added something.  It had a neighborly, old-fashioned feeling when we got an extra.  The mechanic fixed something broken while servicing our vehicle and wrote “no charge” on the invoice.  We heard words like, “It’s on the house” or “we’ll comp it!”

Then, the world of unexpected extras pretty much came to an end.  Easily blamed on the tough economy, the shift was more subtle.  Extras were not actually taken away, they were managed away.  The extremes of a “no variance” philosophy from TQM and Six Sigma got pushed way beyond its rank and pay grade requiring the frontline to hand over their spontaneous generosity to the computer.  Now, the computer, not the gate agent, decides if you get that first class seat upgrade based on your frequent flyer status and seat availability.  Getting upgraded to the concierge level at a hotel is a  computer-driven decision based solely on availability and affinity program status and not the judgment call of the desk clerk.

And, the customer, robbed of that Jack-in-the-box feeling of surprise, has simply built the expectation of an extra into their criteria for satisfaction much like the cleanliness of a hospital or the security of a bank.  Value-added has become value-assumed and no longer a loyalty-creating value at all.  Proof that it has become a given not an extra is how easily the customer is disappointed when he or she fails to get what was once presented as a true surprise.

It is time to bring back the trust and authority the frontline needs to be both generous and ingenious.  If the Ritz-Carlton can trust a housekeeper to responsibly spend up to $2000 to make sure a guest leaves happy, the waiter can be trusted with the decision to comp a dessert for a loyal customer. Employees who can successfully manage a family budget, juggle soccer, tutoring and baseball practice schedules, and shop for groceries can figure out ways to surprise customers without jeopardizing the unit standards or the bottom line. 

Turning ho-hum service into a compelling story customers are eager to share requires bringing back a setting lined in trust; a place filled with joyful innovation.  It takes leaders who are as courageous as they want their employees to be creative. It calls for leaders in search of invention, not obedience.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service.  (www.simpletruths.com).  He can reached at www.chipbell.com.