Air Conditioned Service


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The air conditioning system broke in the little country church we attend when we have a getaway weekend to our North Georgia river house. It was a hotter than normal day, even for the normally cool mountain area. So, the church ceiling fans were turned on! It was an improvement, but clearly not the same. It reminded me of customer service…but, then most things do!!

A fan moves the hot air around much like a sudden breeze on a hot July day. It is temporary and superficial, accomplished through the simple agitation of the air. In the church in which I grew up there were no ceiling fans; ushers passed out individual fans—cardboard stapled to a thin wooden paddle. It was a favorite way for the local funeral home to advertise. Air conditioning pulls the hot air into an appliance, sends it over a built-in refrigeration unit for cooling and then returns it to the room. The heat from the hot air is sent outside, leaving only cool air inside. It literally modifies the condition of the air.

Great service is more like an air conditioner and less like a fan. Fanlike service simply meets the basic needs of customers without leaving a trace of anything in their memory bank. But great service changes the emotion of customers from ho hum to wow; from no memory to a super story they are eager to share. It does that by focusing on an enhanced experience, not a superficial one; on changing, not simply agitating. And, it works because it channels any unpleasantries “outside.”

Frontline employees with fan approach to service view it as a task to perform and a checklist of practices and patterns to complete. Frontline employees with an air conditioned perspective work to understand the real requirements of the customer—what they really want, not just what they request—and manage everything within their control to deliver it. It takes listening to the “question behind the question” as author John Miller calls it. It involves having the authority and flexibility to responsibly follow guidelines instead of coping out behind them as iron-clad laws.

Author Steven Little in his great book, The Milkshake Moment relates a powerful story of his struggles at getting hotel room service to bring him his favorite end-of-the-evening treat: a vanilla milkshake. Sometimes the item is not on the hotel room service menu. In those cases, Steve always offers to pay whatever the clerk would like to charge. But, typically after a way-too-long phone conversation with super friendly, but helpless room service person, Steve ends up ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream (on the menu), a half-glass of milk (on the menu) and a long spoon. The “rules ‘r us” room service person cannot deal with assuming responsibility to deviate even slightly from their pattern or they cannot cope with the fact that the needed blender is located in the bar—a completely different department. Steve gets “fan” service, not “air conditioned” service.

You will want to order Steve’s book to learn the rest of the story. This question to consider is this: Is your service like a fan or like an air conditioner?

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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