I am enjoying a love affair with sprinkles!! Not only is it the title of my newest book, it has opened up a fresh and vibrant world of novel ways to turn good service into really special service. It has provided a charming portal into the world of service ingenuity—the type that awes instead of wows; compels a customer story, not just coerces a customer’s return.
Innovative service aims to surprise customers through an experience that is unique, simple, and unexpected, yet appropriate. But, it is more than a typical customer surprise. It is less like a delightful Easter egg hunt (you know what you are going to find just not where you’ll find it) and more like an enchanting treasure hunt (you have no clue what you are going to find or where). When a waitress gave me an “on-the-house” go-cup of coffee at the end of my breakfast, it was a surprise for which I thanked her. It turned innovative when she decreed it: “Our gift to you.”
So, what do sprinkles have to do with innovating service? They are a metaphor for the features of innovative service. Good cupcakes or cookies are turned into gourmet when decorated with sprinkles. Unlike fancy cake decorations, sprinkles are carefree and without pattern. Adding sprinkles to desserts, like adding ingenuity to a customer’s experience, requires no more skill than putting pepper on scrambled eggs. However, it does require a desire to step outside the norm and embellish the customer’s experience. It takes the passion and courage to abandon the service “recipe” and experiment with originality. It entails a focus on warming a heart, not simply meeting a need.
But, you’re not innovative or creative, you say? Perhaps you have not been looking at the right source. What if you picked something random and applied it to your service experience? Sprinkles…the new book…does that with a gourmet theme and chapter titles (principles) crafted to unleash service insight. Here are three Sprinkles principles that can help you concoct an experience that can get your customers talking.
“Put a Cherry on Top of Great Service”
When the only First Bank & Trust ATM in the rural town of Tahoka, Texas went down, customers were unhappy. They were forced to use the only other ATM in the area at a convenience store where fees were considerably higher. And, when it took several weeks to get the ATM operative, unhappy customers were accustomed to going to the convenience store for their cash. First Bank & Trust found a way to lure customers back to the bank’s ATM–“sprinkles.” They ran an ad in the local paper that told customers not to think it was a mechanical glitch if they received a fifty-dollar bill instead of a twenty-dollar bill when they used the bank’s ATM. Word spread as customers told neighbors when they hit the ATM jackpot!
“Let Your Customer’s ‘Lick the Beaters’”
Matt Garofaio, owner of the Oconee Cellar near Lake Oconee, Georgia, decided to have a well-known bourbon brewery create a signature bourbon for him to sell in his upscale liquor store. The brewery formulated five different distinctive options and sent them to Matt, each in a clear, numbered bottle the size of an old-fashioned cough syrup bottle. Now, how do you think Matt chose his special brand of nectar? He invited his best customers to taste test each of the five bourbons and register their preference. So, how many customers do you think will place orders for their “co-created” beverage? Customers will care when they share.
“Be as Easy as a TV Dinner”
A very gloomy Wall Street Journal on a long flight left me with a headache. As soon as I exited the jet way at the San Francisco Airport, I headed for the nearest newsstand for some relief—Advil. I opened the plastic package and removed the two tablets in foil for some quick relief. Tucked behind the foil was a collapsible paper cup just big enough for two large swallows of water. What simple service innovation! Stressless service starts with examining your customers’ experiences through their eyes. It might involve calling your department, disguising your voice, and asking for something out of the ordinary to learn what customers go through. And, in this era of self-service, it means ensuring there is always high touch along with high tech.
Innovating is the result of focused daydreaming–letting reality blend with fantasy in a totally non-judgmental manner. It surfaces when you are willing to take the risk to rearrange order and upset the tried (or tired) and true. Innovating ensues when you ignore mind-limiting barriers and giggle at conventions that are mere form. It is there when you find joy in the simplicity of life and allow yourself to be completely awed.
Innovation appears when you engage others in your treasure hunt–a customer, a colleague, or someone unrelated to the challenge. Innovative people become friends of the bizarre; partners with the uncommon and view failure as merely feedback, never rejection.
There are many paths to innovating service. What if you chose a different set of eyes to examine what you are seeking to solve? What would a group of first graders suggest? Or, a wonderful wizard? What would Walt Disney do? What if you turned your problem into a play, a food, an old movie, a celebration, a book title, a famous character, the combinations are endless.
What if you made your customer’s experience smaller, done alone, done in reverse, done with a guide, greener, more romantic, slower, done with elegance, easier, more inclusive, faster, done remotely…keep going! There is a creative person inside each of us waiting to emerge to make service so gourmet it becomes a delectable dessert, not just an essential entre.