Freestyle Service


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It made business headlines this summer. The most popular brand in the world focused on the experience, not just their long-famous product. Coca-Cola introduced their “Freestyle” vending machine. Their ad copy described it as “all packaged in an innovative and interactive fountain experience.” Step one, pick your favorite Coke beverage—Fanta, Sprite, Minute Maid lemonade, Coke, etc. Step two, pick your favorite flavoring. Want a raspberry coke or a peach Fanta? There are at least 100 combinations.

Now, here is the best part. At the end of the day the vending fountain sends all the combinations chosen to the R&D unit at Coca-Cola headquarters. By watching patterns Coca-cola is able to introduce new products tailored precisely to customers’ latest whims.

Customer expectations have been rising for years. Customers want service faster, cheaper and without a hassle. But, with the advent of CRM and JIT manufacturing, they have added “have it your way” to their service expectations. Long gone are the Henry Ford-like sentiments that communicate: “the customer can have any color they like as long as it is black.” The more organizations offer a myriad of choices, the more all “one-size fits all” approaches look out-of-date.

Freestyle service requires a completely different approach to responding to customers. Not only does it take savvy segmentation it takes finding ways to deliver the exact customer experience that resonates with that particular segment. When American Airlines created their Executive Platinum level (100K miles or more a year), they asked these super frequent road warriors what perk would be of value. These travelers had all the fancy luggage tags they could use. They opted for a special Executive Platinum desk—a secret toll free number that got them very quickly connected to problem solving travel pros.

BMW took freestyle to new heights with their Mini Cooper. New owners got adoption papers when they plunked down a deposit to buy a new Mini. It came with a means to go on line and watch their specific Mini being “born” on the factory assembly line. Lately they have made news with their special billboards in major cities that respond to a radio chip embedded in the owner’s key fob (that logoed gizmo dealers like to put on your key ring). Ride by the billboard and it will flash, “Hi Susan, nice day for your red convertible” or any message Susan chooses.

Are you learning your customers’ preferences to turn that insight into tailor-made experiences? Would “have it your way” describe your customer service today? If not, it might be smart and get busy finding ways to make every customer feel as if he or she is your only customer.

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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