Eye doctors use dilation drops to get the big black dot (pupil) in the center of the eye to open up so the doctor can more easily examine the back of the eye. It is a completely different procedure than dissection since the drops literally invite the eye to cooperatively open wide. Dilating innovative service means getting the customer to willingly report what is really happening to them when they experience service that pleasantly surprises.
Here is the non-scientific short version. The examination came from countless customer interviews crafted around the question: “So, what exactly made the experience delightful to you?” The majority of the answers centered around one or more of the following features: it was unexpected, it was simple, and it was appropriate.
Unexpected surprise is less like an Easter egg hunt (you know you are going to find eggs) and more like a treasure hunt (you have no clue what you are going to find). It has the characteristics of a great joke. Comedian Larry the Cable Guy often uses the unexpected twist feature in his performance: “Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.” Notice how the first line sets the pattern or context for the second line to take you where you did not expect. Customers enter every service encounter with a set of expectations about what is likely to happen. When one of those expectations turns in a unique way, it can leave the customer delighted or wowed. If the experience is really ingenious, customers are left stunned and awed.
Simple does not mean artless or naïve. It means unencumbered with other mental baggage. Most customers enjoy red carpet treatment, but not if it involves champagne or limousines. While providing a helicopter and pilot to transport me to and from home while my car is being serviced might surprise me, the mental baggage would include my worrying about the real cost of my service. A simple surprise would be ensuring the loaner car provided was nicer than my car being serviced. Sometimes extravagance has its place. But, it is always advisable to carefully consider the ulterior messages being sent by the gesture.
Appropriate is about fit. Out of character surprises can leave customers confused. There was a time when most Nordstrom stores featured a pianist playing a grand piano that provided live background music for the entire store. Since Nordstrom was renowned for great service, many best-practice seekers flocked to Nordstrom in search of their secret. Grand pianos with a pianist began showing up in the lobbies of hospitals, banks, and car dealerships often to the puzzlement of customers who much preferred quiet or Mazak.
There were other features mentioned by customers. They found serendipitous surprise intriguing but unimpressed given its incapability of being easily replicated. They also enjoyed surprises that involved the addition of a unique actor: a dog, a clown, or a famous person. But, if you invited innovatively served customers to open up about their experiences so you could look at the backside of its power, it was unexpected, simple and appropriate that put a smile on their faces and an assertiveness in their advocacy.