A Wake-up Call for Bored Customers

Quak Quak!A large brokerage company added a twist to their toll-free telephone cue – “…punch 6 if you’d like to hear a duck quack!” Word of the playful feature spread and soon millions of people were weekly calling just to hear the duck. The company had to remove the unique feature because it overloaded their phone system and ran up a huge tab! The story communicates just how bored customers have become.

Something else has happened to customers. They’ve been getting way over-stimulated. Television has become both high definition and multi-media. The nightly news now shows the weather report, ball scores, stock market numbers and a crawling headline simultaneously on the TV screen. That steady stream of sensory arousal risks making a trip to your unit or organization seem humdrum and plain vanilla.

What’s an organization to do? Imaginative service! Want a small taste? The service techs at Sewell Lexus in Dallas program in the radio stations for a new car buyer from their trade-in and let customers discover it. Miller Bros. Ltd in Atlanta, an upscale men’s clothing store, has a large colorful gumball machine in its entrance. Beside it is a large bowl of shiny pennies. Guess where junior gets to go while daddy is trying on trousers? An insurance agent abandoned the age-old practice of sending key customers a birthday card. He secured the enthusiastic service of his young daughter to call his very best customers and sing happy birthday to them. Pretty creative, huh?

Customers like extras. They enjoy service with a cherry on top. In fact, the features of a service have become more titillating than its function; extras more valued than the core offering.  But, two things have happened to extras that have robbed them of their power as a retention strategy.

First, they have gotten a lot more expensive. That free snack on a flight is now eight dollars and service charges are standard fare on most bills. Pursuing extras can also send a mixed message. What do employees think when told to “wow” customers in the morning and informed of staff cutbacks and expense reductions in the afternoon?

However, imaginative service is different. Ask customers what actions would be value added and they will focus on taking the expected experience to a higher-level … meaning “they gave me more than I anticipated.” But, imaginative service is not about addition, it’s about creation. When service people are asked to give more, they think to themselves, “I am already doing the best I can.” But, if asked to pleasantly surprise more customers, they feel less like worker bees and more like fireflies. If employees are requested to create a big customer smile instead of just working harder, they feel a part of an adventure. And, when employees get to create, not just perform, they feel prized. Just ask a Southwest, Disney, Zappos.com, or Lexus dealership employee.

At a time when value-added service has gotten way too pricey maybe it is time try value-unique – imaginative service. Customers recall, return, and refer others to those experiences that engage them emotionally and leave them with a positive memory. Creating a place of joy can help your unit or organization become the customer’s “oasis of choice.” And, imaginative service can take their breath away.

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away:  How Imaginative Service Creates Customer Devotion.  They can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: Newsbie Pix

2 Responses to “A Wake-up Call for Bored Customers”

  1. Call Center Blogger said:

    Oct 14, 09 at 6:26 am

    Awesome post and I loved reading it! This is exactly what is lacking in customer service in our part of the world. Many call centers have left to focus on numbers rather than creativity. 🙂

  2. Bob said:

    Jun 04, 11 at 5:01 pm

    Actually, it was option seven, not six.