An Interview with Chip Bell, Author of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles
We recently had the opportunity to talk to author Chip R. Bell about his most recent book, Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles. The book explores the nature and value of innovative service. Mr. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Managers as Mentors, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service, and Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.
S & S: What sparked your interest in helping businesses improve their customer service?
CB: It all started years ago with reading a book (Marketing For Business Growth by Ted Levitt). “No one buys a product, they buy an expectation of benefits and a solution to a problem. We don’t buy a ¼ inch drill bit to frame and hang on our living room wall; we want a ¼ inch hole.” I was the director of organization development and training for a large bank. I asked to be a part of a small task force to help craft the long-range retail strategy for the bank. I was hooked on how organizations could create a more wholesome work environment while adding value to customers through providing a better service experience. The number one impact on customer relations is employee relations.
S & S: This is your third book on Innovative Service. How does this book take the concept forward?
CB: Innovative service – what I call value-unique as opposed to value-added – can give birth to whimsy and cute. There is nothing wrong with adding clever flourishes to a customer’s experience. But, what if the goal was to have a more profound impact on the customer. What creates the experiences customers remember for the rest of their lives, not just until the end of the week? My book, Kaleidoscope, is more about the character of innovative service.
It is about seriously sparkly service that is remarkable. Seriously has a double meaning. It can mean “super sparkly” that makes customers go “wow—that was delightful.” It can also mean “profoundly sparkly” that makes customers go “whoa—that was unexpected.” Disney World makes you go “wow”; Cirque du Soleil makes you go “whoa.” Remarkable means service so impactful customers remark about it—a story they are eager to share. This book is about “whoa” more than about “wow!”
S & S: Your book is an extended metaphor comparing a kaleidoscope with innovative customer service. What prompted the comparison?
CB: There are two aspects about a kaleidoscope that make it a fitting metaphor for the content of this new book. Kaleidoscopes engage the viewer in collectively creating visual charm; innovative service engages customers to collectively (customer with service provider) create great experiences. The other aspect is that the gems or glass pieces (my granddaughters call them “jewels”) inside the business end of the kaleidoscope never change. We do not open up the kaleidoscope and change the jewels. The jewels are the core (call it the character) of the kaleidoscope that, when reflected in the three mirrors inside the cylinder,create the magic. Innovative service is grounded in a core set of values—like enchantment, trust, grace, alliance, etc. I chose nine core jewels of innovative service to make up the nine chapters of the book.
S & S: You mention the ever-shifting patterns seen in a kaleidoscope are equivalent to value-unique service. What is the benefit of value-unique service over value-added service?
CB: Great question. Value-added service is taking what customers expect and adding more. It is the airline upgrading a frequent flyer to first class. It is comping a dessert if the meal at a restaurant is not perfect. There are two challenges with value-added. First, it can elevate the expectations of customers. “Last time you upgraded me to the concierge level of the hotel, can I get an upgrade again?” Second, continually one-upping the last experience can get pricey…ultimately you run out of room.
Value-unique is not adding more, it is creating unique, simple unexpected experiences. While there is an obvious limit to generosity, there is no limit to ingenuity. The key is to provide frontline employees with the support and trust to break old patterns and find new ways to deliver unique. Customers love service surprise, just like the free prize inside the Cracker Jack box that was financially worthless but emotionally priceless. Simple, unexpected yet appropriate is the key to creating customer advocates who are eager to tell or tweet their great story to friends and colleagues.
S & S: What is the most innovative, kaleidoscopic, customer experience you’ve ever enjoyed?
CB: I will give you three! Since I travel every week, many of my experiences are related to events on the road. The Hotel Monaco puts a goldfish in my room. The housekeeper takes care of it. Their only request is that I give my goldfish a name. So, when I return to the hotel for another stay, the front desk clerk asks me “Would you like Trixie to come up and spend the night with you again?” Their bathrobes are not boring white, but rather leopard and zebra print! There is a yoga mat in the closet. Not only are they pet-friendly, they have a concierge dog in the lobby greeting arriving guests. It is this kind of innovative thinking that makes their hotel experience unique.
After a scrumptious meal at the Restaurant R’Evolution in the Royal Sonesta hotel in New Orleans, you might be too stuffed for dessert. So, the waiter places a large, colorful Peruvian jewelry box on your table. Inside each drawer or behind each tiny door is a miniature pastry, petit four or delicate sweet. That’s thinking out of the box!The highly contemporary new Pacific Rim Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver puts antique retro-toys on your guest room industrial strength desk (a kaleidoscope, yoyo, slinky). The contrast between super modern and super nostalgic creates an enchanting memory.
S & S: You mention in your book that innovative service has to come from within, from your core beliefs. How can service industry leaders apply these concepts to promote organizational change?
CB: Actually, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with organizations famous for innovative service, not just good customer service. When I examine the traits common to leaders in these organizations, there are amazing similarities. They spend their time with frontline employees, not in meetings all the time. As Bill Marriott said in a meeting I attended, “Being there is not to make employees happier; it is to make leaders smarter.” You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.
Innovative service leaders know their front line is not only the ambassador of the organization; they are vital scouts with real-time insight into what matters to customers. Innovative service leaders are noticeably curious, highly inclusive, and humble. Their default is to trust their employees. Consequently, they are transparent and open. They demonstrate the highest level of integrity and are always eager to “do the right thing.” They are quick to affirm and assume the best in both employees and customers.
S & S: What are the core beliefs that drive value-unique, innovative service?
CB: They include…
- The pursuit of joy, not just the drive to make money
- The willingness to take risks and experiment
- Service to others as a vital cause, not just a necessary task
- A devotion to the customer and the zeal to make every customer feel valued
- Service laced with clear and present integrity and wholesomeness
- A strong alliance-building orientation that treats colleagues as partners
- A focus on a long-term relationship, not a short-term transaction
- A change-driven recognition that today’s fad is tomorrow’s antique
S & S: What’s next from Chip Bell? Any new books in the works?
CB: I am confident when another book shows up, I will write it down. For me, books and articles are gifts that have been entrusted to me. I treasure my role as a transcriber and work to never take that special privilege for granted. My primary work now is promoting the new book. Additionally, I have a new keynote on Kaleidoscope and I’m having fun delivering it to audiences each week! Finally, I deeply appreciate your support of my work.