Guest Blog by Chip R. Bell
It started out as a version of trivial pursuit—only it was related to minute facts everyone had collectively experienced at the end of a long weekend getaway. The setting was a gated beach resort; the participants were three couples who had rendezvoused from different locations. The stump-the-other-team trivia question that got the biggest laugh was “What is the speed limit on the streets of this resort?” Everyone at the same time yelled, “24 MPH!”
What made this speed limit sign so effective? A typical speed limit number would have just disappeared into the surroundings without being remembered.
Customers are daily confronted with wallpaper experiences—those unadorned bland types that never get logged into memory. Memory making is vital to customer advocacy. It could be the boring language and graphics of a website, the obvious style and prose of signage, or the hum drum sound of a scripted response from a clerk! And, the main issue with all this sensory blandness? It fails to fit the standards of today’s highly stimulated customer.
Television has become high definition and multi-media. The nightly news has the weather, ball scores, stock markets reports and a crawling headline announcement simultaneously on the screen. Internet servers have become a haven for colorful, compelling ads with streaming video while you try to concentrate on your e-mails. Half-time shows have gone pyrotechnic and hypermedia; over 150 million people have been to a Cirque du Soleil performance. Such steady arousal has made a simple chore like taking the dog to the vet or grocery shopping seem very dull. What are ways to help customers avoid monotonous service blindness?
Spice it Up With Humor
I walked in a retail store with a large toy section. On the wall was a sign that read: “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy!” For a few minutes I watched other customers read the sign and laugh. None of us would have noticed a typical “keep your kids under control” sign.
Humor is a way to turn plain vanilla into Neapolitan with sprinkles! My favorite hotel is the Hotel Monaco. On your first visit they offer to put a goldfish in my room in a basketball sized bowl filled with colorful rocks. The care and feeding is done by the housekeeper. All they ask is that you give the fish a name. The next time you show up to check in, the first question asked by the front desk clerk after processing your credit card is: “Would you like ‘Trixie’ to come up and spend the night with you again?” A simple, routine event like hotel check-in becomes an experience with a giggle as dessert.
Create Sensory Overload
What would it take to make your business a destination location--the store, firm, website, or service everyone was talking about? Betty’s Country Store is the talk of the town in Helen, GA, a quaint Alpine mountain village. The antique farm implements and a 1930’s gasoline pump on the front lawn are the first eye candy that bids you enter the store. The smell of coffee brewing and the sounds of 1960’s country and western songs tell you that you just entered a country store that is part museum, part country fair and part gourmet restaurant. Should there be a child or grandchild along the staff proudly points out the active beehive and honey making operation in the back of the store.
But, there is much more. They have the largest collection of marbles in the region displayed in large barrels—buy ‘em by the pound! Looking for an Orange Crush, RC Cola, Sugar Daddy or Kits? What about canned possum, stone-ground sawmill grits or firewood? The charm of Betty’s is the spirit of sensory adventure and the passion to serve that begins with owner-manager Darlene Broadway. “When I get up in the morning I can't wait to get down here, because every day is different from the next," Darlene says. "I can't imagine ever leaving. As long as I can walk and put the key in the front door.”
Get Customers Up Onstage
When Dottie Coven and Keith Stewart decided to tie the knot they wanted a unique venue for their special day—on a Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Dallas. They contacted Southwest and secured permission to have their wedding vows exchanged at 32,000 feet in front of 30 friends and family members as well as 111 strangers on board the flight. The most exciting part of the ceremony was the involvement of everyone on board. Passengers were asked to “push their flight attendant call button now” if anyone had a reason the adoring couple should not be joined in marriage. But, the part of the ceremony that created the most memorable moment was when flower girl Sydney passed out packages of peanuts to everyone instead of the usual rose petals.
Inclusion involves finding a way to invite customers to put skin in the game. The power lies more in the opportunity to participate than actual involvement. Most passengers on that Southwest flight knew that had they volunteered to be a part of the special ceremony, their services would have been equally welcomed. That means that they participated vicariously and had almost as much fun as the flower girl with the basket of peanuts.
My wife and I broke the bank and bought a 3D television! Our motivation was primarily to provide a unique entertainment for our three granddaughters when they come for a visit. Along with the TV, we ordered a stack of 3D children’s movies—Toy Story, Brave, Frozen, the works. The first time they donned the cool glasses to watch the visual grandeur, they squealed and giggled and grabbed at images that seemed to come out into the living room. A couple of months later they went to Disney World and saw 4D. In addition to the images coming out into the theatre, the seats shook, the wind blew and they got misted with water. Walking out of the 4D theatre they asked, “When are you going to get a 4D TV?” Customers are bored with ho-hum, pretty good service. Today they want service in 4D.
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.