A couple of years ago I traveled to Albany, NY for work and booked an AirBnB room. Once I booked, I got the usual email from the owner of the property with the check-in instructions. But there was something else.
The owner, Adam, asked me if I had any dietary restrictions, offering me a list of 17 (!) cuisine choices for dinner. Mind you, dinner was not even on the listing of this AirBnB, but sure enough not only did I get Adam’s homemade dinner upon my arrival (which was very late at night, by the way), he also made a delicious breakfast and even a sandwich to take with me as I was leaving the next day.
On top of that, Adam was a delightful company, telling me stories of his days as a surgeon in Turkey, gifting me a pair of handmade pair of earrings, and giving me some nutritional tips (one of which included having written Poison on the sugar container – great deterrent, by the way).
I left my scarf in the room, too, and Adam mailed it to my home address the following day.
He did not have to do any of this, yet, all these little extras made the experience so different and special, I still remember it more than two years later.
This is a great example of value-unique customer service.
At #SmallBizCX19 we spoke to Chip Bell, a customer experience expert, about this unique practice that makes businesses stand out in the sea of competition.
Chip is an author of a number of best-selling books, including Take Their Breath Away and Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service and a customer experience enthusiast.
He gave us his insight about value-unique service, its three components, and ways to engage and inspire employees to provide creative customer experiences.
Bonus: we learned how to be a customer that inspires great service, too!
Let’s give them something to talk about: value-unique customer experiences inspire storytelling.
It’s not a secret that stories about brands attract customers.
Be it an online review or a recommendation from a friend, over 80 percent of customers trust fellow consumers’ experiences. (HubSpot)
Chip took the idea of a simple recommendation a bit further:
We found in our research that a story based recommendation versus ‘I’d recommend them’ has a much higher impact on whether or not you can turn a prospect into a customer. But it’s all about creating that kind of culture, [that] kind of experience. And the kind of people who drive that kind of experience is the customers.
In other words, if you get your customers talking about your brand and telling stories about your amazing service, more customers will come your way.
One way to create these stories of astonishment is to provide value-unique service, Chip told us.
Value-unique service differs from value-added service.
The latter has become a common occurrence, Chip explained, as companies give their customers additional products, services, and upgrades, things of monitory value, in attempts to stand out and provide a better experience.
An example of such value-added service would be moving a husband and wife to first-class on an airplane because it’s their honeymoon or giving a mobile customer free Netflix membership.
While generous, value-added service presents two issues, Chip said.
First, a company can run out of things to give.
Second, it creates certain expectations for the company from the customer for future interactions.
Value-unique service, Chip explained, adds an element of special care that takes the customer experience to a higher level:
Value unique is doing something unusually different, kind of ingenious or creative and totally unexpected. It’s creating a sense of surprise. So it’s less about generosity and more about ingenuity.
Because value-unique service is so uniquely personal, it makes the customers feel very special. Because of that, they are more likely to talk about the brand and provide story-based recommendations to more potential clients. And that recommendation, as we discussed above, is the more effective of all.
Sometimes value-unique service experiences go beyond a simple recommendation and go viral.
We all love the popular grocery chain Trader Joes as the company’s customer service is always on point. So it comes as no surprise when a video of dancing cashiers trying to cheer up a toddler spreads across the internet.
Customer Experience expert Blake Morgan even listed the adorable experience among her favorite service stories in her recent Forbes article.
So we can say with confidence people love value-unique service for all of its creativity, special care, and endless possibilities.
“There is a limit to generosity,” Chip said. “I don’t think there’s a limit to ingenuity”
Related Post: Disney Customer Experience: The Magic of No Worries
Everyone’s creative: trust employees and encourage ingenuity
So, value-unique service is the way to go. The next question comes naturally – how do we encourage our employees to keep coming up with new ideas to surprise and delight the customers?
Chip said it’s all in the company’s culture and the atmosphere.
While there should be no tolerance for incompetence, management has to allow lots of freedom for employees to make mistakes. The atmosphere in the workplace must say “I trust you” and “wacky is cool.”
“I don’t think that frontline people are going to do weird, crazy, wild, unusual, out of the ordinary, unexpected things unless they know that they are trusted,” Chip said.
Building a strong company culture and keeping customer service agents happy is imperative to any business. But going beyond job satisfaction to encourage boundless creativity takes true empowerment and complete trust.
Various fears often prevent people from embracing creativity – fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of vulnerability.
Addressing these fears, allowing room for mistakes, and encouraging vulnerability in the workplace can help build a culture that fosters creativity.
Sociologist Brene Brown stresses that there is no creativity without vulnerability.
This goes hand in hand with Chip’s employee trust advocacy.
When we say, freedom to do silly, crazy, wacky, whimsical, things doesn’t mean that we don’t have high standards of performance. They can go, hand in hand, so it’s but it’s how we treat people at the end of the day, in terms of [the notion that] everybody has the capacity to be creative and innovative.
Three Components of Value-Unique Customer Experience.
It’s beneficial for a company to provide value-unique experience and in order to do so, it’s essential to empower employees with trust.
But what truly makes value-unique experience get to a customer’s heart?
There are three components to value-unique service:
- The service has to be unexpected
- It has to be simple
- And it has to fit the brand
Any successful value-unique service will feature all three of these components.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Last year a friend of mine traveled to Paradisus La Esmeralda in Playa Del Carmen in Mexico with her two children. Once at the resort, she took advantage of the concierge service offered by the hotel.
Expecting the usual tour bookings and local entertainment information, my friend and her kids were pleasantly surprised when every day a treat or a toy waited for them.
Nothing outrageous, mind you, just a cupcake here and a balloon animal there, but the surprises delighted the two little girls and, subsequently, their mom.
To this day the kids talk about the experience and they cannot wait to go back to the resort once again this year.
(Can you blame them? I want to play with these adorable little guys, too!)
This successful value-unique service that keeps my friend and her kids talking has all three necessary components.
First, it was unexpected. While this family expected to get some value from the concierge service, the little touches came as a surprise.
Second, it was very simple. It doesn’t take much to delight a child with a sweet treat or a balloon. It doesn’t cost that much extra and it doesn’t take too much effort. Just a little bit of planning and care.
Third, the surprises fit the brand. It wasn’t something completely out of the character. It provided something colorful and fun, just like the rest of the experience at the resort.
Related Post: Ten Golden Rules of Successful Customer Service
A word about the fitting aspect of the service. What works at a Home Depot might not work so well at a funeral home, so using common sense is important, Chip warned.
“And nobody eats chicken-fried beaver”: the sky is the limit in customer experience, so get wacky with it.
Keeping social norms and common sense in mind, we should not put limits on the ingenuity and creativity in customer experience.
“Organizations are rational, not whimsical. Everything about an organization in the business world today is rational, logical, and analytical,” Chip said. “The environment already reeks of control. It already reeks of analytical and logical and rational, that’s already hardwired into the DNA of every organization”
So Chip urges companies to really think outside the box and no be afraid to be overly creative. If we do overdo it, customer feedback will tell us that (or your accountant will).
But there’s plenty holding us back already. We shouldn’t be afraid to be as wacky as we want.
Here’s one of Chip’s favorite wacky stories:
My wife bought me the Jack Daniels barbecue cookbook. It’s a real pretty cookbook, got lots of recipes. Well, I’m thumbing through and I’m looking at some of these real cool restaurant recipes and I get halfway through and I see they’ve got a recipe for a roast possum.
Look at this! They got a recipe for a possum! And you turn the page and there’s one for barbecued rabbit and then at the bottom of the page – chicken-fried beaver.
And nobody eats chicken fried beaver! But they put it in there. Somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s put something cool in the cookbook!’
Well, and now we have a story. And storytelling is the pinnacle of customer advocacy, as Chip says.
Bring your own sunshine: how to be an inspirational customer.
As we wrapped up our session, I asked Chip one last question – as a customer experience expert is it hard to be a customer?
Apparently, not too hard if you have the right attitude.
“I get great service everywhere I go,” Chip said. “Not because they know who I am and what I do, but because I set it up that way.”
He says he enters each place of business with a smile, an assumption of good service, and an outlook that says “let’s have fun together!”
Expecting great service and expressing the belief that the person providing the service is going to do a great job will ensure a great experience for everyone and not just the customer experience.
“If you bring the right attitude you can get great service.”
Being creative both as a service provider and a customer pays off and makes both customer and employee experience great. It’s a win-win for everyone.
We’ve learned a lot from Chip during our talk. And now, going back at my experience with Adam at an Albany AirBnB, I can tell that he really did a wonderful job providing a value-unique service that was unexpected, simple, and very fitting to his business. His kindness and care keep me talking about him all these years later.
And it was delightful to visit his property’s site again while writing this article and see recent reviews from people who still come stay at his place. They all remark on Adam’s hospitality, delicious dinners, free airport pickups, and great conversations.
It’s great to know he’s still having fun serving people. (And I still remember the wacky Poison warming on his sugar can.)
For more great tips from Chip Bell check out his blog: https://www.chipbell.com/blog/