Service as Circus


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“The circus is coming to town!” were words that started every child’s heart racing where I grew up. You did not “go” to the circus; it came to you. Schools closed and business shut down so everyone could go to the three-ring Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey big top! They had the funniest clowns, the scariest animals, the most thrilling trapeze, the cleverest acts, the best-tasting popcorn. These were sights and sounds rarely seen by folks living in rural areas. You wore a grin for days after going to the circus. And, it dominated conversation in the school hallways and got reenacted on the playground!

Service can be a menagerie of sights and sounds a lot like a circus. It can be scary–like not getting something promised on which you depended. It can be funny–like Annie Lou’s jokes at the CVS check-out. It can be thrilling by exceeding your expectations or clever like a restaurant remembering your favorite whatever. It can have sights and sounds that create a cacophony of dissonance or a symphony that becomes the basis of long-lasting pleasant memories.

You are the ringmaster of your service circus. You determine what sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations will remain solidly lodged in the memory banks of your customers. You determine if customers leave your “circus” with a great story to tell or an experience to avoid in the future. You turn a ho-hum “shopping center parking lot fair with a few lame rides” into the “greatest show on earth. Great service is choreographed with disciplined planning, solid customer intelligence, and careful attention to detail. There was nothing left to chance under the big top. How about under yours?

If your service were a circus, what part would your customers focus on? Which emotion would they say you stimulated with the experiences you created? What part would you prefer they say? And, what can you do to help make that prediction come true! “La-dies and gent-le-men, boys and girls of all ages. Wel-come to the great-est ser-vice show on earth!”

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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