If Cracker Jack Ran Your Customer Experience


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A large brokerage company added a twist to their toll-free telephone queue—“…punch 8 if you’d like to hear a duck quack!” Word of the playful feature spread and soon millions of people were weekly calling to hear the duck. The company had to remove the unique feature because it overloaded their phone system and ran up a huge tab! The story communicates that fact that customers are bored with plain vanilla service.

Something else has happened to your customers. They’ve been getting way over-stimulated. Television has become both high definition and multi-media. The nightly news shows the weather report, ball scores, stock market numbers and a crawling headline simultaneously on the TV screen. That steady stream of sensory arousal risks making a trip to your unit or organization seem humdrum and plain vanilla.

What’s an organization to do? Innovative service! Want a small taste? The service techs at Sewell Lexus in Dallas program in the radio stations for new car buyers from their trade-in and just let customers discover it. Miller Bros. Ltd in Atlanta, an up-scale men’s clothing store, has a large gumball machine in its entrance. Beside the machine is a large bowl of shiny pennies. Guess where junior gets to go while daddy is trying on trousers?

At a time when value-added service has gotten way too pricey maybe it is time try value-unique. Value-added is taking what customers expect and adding more; value-unique is something completely unexpected and delightful. Customers recall, return, and refer others to those experiences that engage them emotionally and leave them with a great story to share. Creating a place of joy can help your unit or organization become the customer’s “oasis of choice.”

Consider a common service experience: Taking a shuttle bus from the off-airport car rental lot to the terminal. A quintessentially unremarkable event? Not at the Atlanta airport, at least not when Archie Bostick is driving the Hertz courtesy bus. After you turn in your car and go outside to catch the bus, the first thing you notice is Archie standing next to the doors with a big, welcoming grin on his face––and he’s having a great time reinvigorating this experience. Instead of a tip jar (baited with a handful of bucks to encourage reluctant tippers), Archie paper-clips dollar bills across the front of his shirt. Nothing subtle about that ploy—it’s an attention-getter that announces this is going to be a surprising experience.

Once on the bus, Archie delivers a stand-up comedy routine instead of the issuing the standard warning about the consequences of forgetting to turn in the keys to your rental car. He uses any excuse to break into song. (“The next time you’re in Atlanta, maybe there’ll be rain, and you’ll be ‘Singin’ in the rain. I’m singin’ in the rain….’”). As Archie pulls up to the terminal, he announces, “Now that we’re at your final destination, I may never see you again. I want us all to say together, ‘I love Hertz.’” He convinces a crowd of strangers to holler, “I love Hertz” before they get off his bus! As customers exit applauding, they realize they have just witnessed an unexpected free prize inside!

What can you do to apply a Cracker Jack strategy to your customer experience? Pretend the service that you deliver is like your customer’s birthday. The best gifts are those that contain a simple but delightful surprise. Like Archie, put on your “little kid” creative hat and consider ways to make your service silly, funny, whimsical or quaint. Better yet, ask a kid for ideas! Like Cracker Jack, position the surprise in a way that heightens the astonishment and amazement. What would your customer service be like if it was run by Cracker Jack?

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) 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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