Great Service as a Pain Remover


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A very gloomy Wall Street Journal on a very long flight left me with a very bad headache. And, I never get headaches! As soon as I exited the jet way at the San Francisco Airport, I headed for the nearest newsstand for some relief—Advil. The airport vendor was about to close but I talked him into selling me his last package. 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.

I laughed out loud. What genius! What simplicity! What great service! I could almost feel my headache start to dissipate. And, I had not yet taken the pain relievers.

Your customers are getting more headaches than normal these days. The economic recovery seems slow and uncertain; layoffs, bankruptcies and foreclosures appear to increase. And, even if customers have personally been spared anxiety, they have plenty for family or friends around them who have not. So, customers drag their woes around along with their thinning wallets. Why not give them a “two-swallow paper cup.”

The Medicinal Value of Patience

A “two-swallow paper cup” can take many forms. It might be your showing longer than normal patience when a customer frets over minutia. Patience is different than tolerance. Patience is waiting–performed in the key of understanding. Tolerance, on the other hand, is waiting to the tune of endurance and fortitude. Tolerance implies a kind of sufferance. It was the tone my fifth grade teacher had when she sighed her familiar and patronizing, “We’ll all wait until Chip decides to settle down and join the rest of us.” It always had a rigid and judgmental quality.

Patience grounded in understanding communicates compassion. It is a recognition that great service takes give and flex, always adjusting to accommodate. It is service with buoyancy. Customers enjoy service providers who wear shock absorbers. When the relationship expands and unfolds in acceptance, it telegraphs to customers that they are valued as people, not just “put up with” as consumers.

The Healing Power of Touch

One of this century’s biggest movie hits was Steven Spielberg’s ET: The
Extraterrestrial. The heart-warming film used as its billboard symbol the outstretched magical finger of the extraterrestrial main character. The image has striking similarities with Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Every civilized society has used some form of touch as the gesture of social intimacy. Touch litters our language. “Let’s shake on it” is a token of agreement. “Give her a hand” is an invitation for affirmation. “High five” telegraphs success. And, “hand in marriage” communicates a symbol of union.

“Touch” is about a special connection. While it sometimes might include physical contact, it should always have an emotional component. We know it when connections with other are authentic and delivered with a sincere desire to link. We live in a time when cultures are diverse; mores make touch a gesture that must be tailored. One might hug their mother in almost all cultures. But hugging your IRS agent during you tax audit might evoke less than an enthusiastic response. Make connections that have valued, emotional electricity for your customers.

The Remedy of Hassle Removal

A “two-swallow paper cup” might be a random act of kindness targeted at a familiar service challenge—a long wait time, a crowded check-out line, or laborious required paperwork. Think of all the steps in your customer’s trail of experience—from the time they contact you until the time their need is met (or not). Where along that service path do your customers experience any sort of hassle? What could you do to either remove or manage that hassle? Do you remember waiting in line to get on the Space Mountain ride at Walt Disney World? They entertained you, told you how long the wait would be, kept the line moving (move and wait feels different than stand and wait), etc. What lessons can you apply to your service taken from that wait management example?

Are there steps you could take on behalf of your customers rather than having your customers have to take them? Instead of starting step five only after step four is completed, is there a way to overlap steps? Would special instructions help customers negotiate typical service snags? Would your customer have less angst if some service steps were taken before you arrived on the scene? Would a leave-behind make the next encounter less anxious for customers? What if you modeled the step before asking your customer to take it?

The definition of service is “to provide assistance;” the word “medicine” comes from the Latin phrase “to assist with healing.” When these concepts are combined, you are left with a potent remedy for contemporary stress. Service can play a powerful role in assisting with emotional healing. Let your customers see you as someone who is an emotional pain remover? What’s your free paper cup?

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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