The secrets behind tapping into your customer’s imagination – Interview with Chip Bell

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Today’s interview is with Chip R. Bell, a keynote speaker and consultant in customer loyalty and service innovation as well as a 24 time author of books, many of which are focused on how we can improve customer service and experience. He joins us today to talk about his new book: Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions, what it’s about, what we can learn from it and what we should be doing to improve both customer and employee experience.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – The relationship between trust, honesty and simplicity when it comes to customer and employee experience – Interview with Brian Rafferty of Siegel+Gale – and is number 368 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Chip:

  • Chips’ first book was published in 1979.
  • His first book on customer service was published in 1989 with the late Ron Zemke.
  • Ron and Chip pioneered the concept now known as Customer Journey Mapping and wrote about it in the mid-1980s. At the time it was called “Cycle of Service.”
  • His particular area of interest is what he calls value unique service rather than value added service. Value unique service focuses on ingenuity and creating innovative experiences such that people are eager to share and talk about them.
  • Ernest Hemingway said write drunk and edit sober.
  • When it comes to working with customers and seeking their opinion there is a distinction between participation and partnership.
  • Participation is like asking some to taste a cake mix, ‘lick the beaters’ as Chip calls it.
  • Partnership is when you ask customers to help you make the cake.
  • Chip cites examples like eBay and McDonalds that have used the partnership model to great effect.
  • Here are the five secrets that the book is centred around:
    • CURIOSITY – focus on developing a deep connection with your customer. Curiosity is the extractor of insight.
    • GROUNDING – when your customer’s needs and hopes intersect with your mission and values then you create an opportunity for high-performance collaboration.
    • DISCOVERY – turn tryouts into bold, risk-taking learning adventures. This will engender growth on steroids and learning that is empowering and aha producing.
    • TRUST – be an active custodian of the relationship.
    • PASSION – never stop courting as it will keep your partnership fresh and spirited.
  • Chips shares great stories about Stew Leonard’s farm-fresh food store (they have the highest retail sales per square foot of any grocery store in the world) and a bank in Nicaragua and how they have brought these to life.
  • Research shows 95% of companies get feedback from customers, but only 5% will let the customer know what they did with it.
  • Example of John Longstreet, who at the time was general manager of a hotel, and would conduct focus groups every quarter with the taxi drivers who frequented his hotel because he knew that when people left the hotel, while they may have told the front desk that their stay was fine they would often tell the taxi drivers a different story.
  • We’re not in the business of selling things, we’re in the business of telling stories.
  • There is power in looking at customer research like an anthropologist.
  • We’re in a time where we need empathy. But, we also need simplicity and authenticity in the way any service encounter occurs.
  • We’ve sort of fallen in love with technology and metrics but we’ve forgotten that service and services are emotional.
  • Service or experience is not an analytical, logical or rational. It’s emotional. It’s an art. It’s not science. It is an art. It’s a performing art.
  • In the coming years I think the big box retailers will struggle in the face of smaller, niche players that will be able to deliver something unique to them. I think we’re gonna see a heyday for small businesses.
  • Purpose, meaning and connection are going to play a bigger role too.
  • Chip’s best advice:
    • Start with the front line because that’s where the brilliance lies. That’s where the knowledge about the customer begins. Start there and start learning their world, seeing their world and empowering them to be true ambassadors and scouts for your organization. And, develop a critical pipeline of that learning back to the leadership of the organization.
  • Bill Marriott, even into his mid eighties, would visit around 100 properties a year to talk to staff.
  • Hanging out with frontline staff…..even beyond the learning you would get, imagine the message that it is sending too.
  • Chip checked into a Marriott in Biscayne Bay, Florida about four years ago, and Bill Marriott (the son) was working the front desk. He would do that on a regular basis.
  • Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines was the same. At busy times he would be out on the tarmac helping the ground crew load bags.
  • A friend of Chip’s, Chip Chapman, who is the CEO of a major hospital, would work in a frontline role one day a month, every month donning their uniform, using their equipment etc.
  • Imagine what he learned, think about the message that sent to those that work in that organization and how they would feel about telling him stuff that he wouldn’t hear from other people.
  • Chip’s Punk CX word: Relevant.
  • Chip’s Punk CX brand: Amazon.

About Chip

Chip BellChip R. Bell is the author of 24 books. His newest book, “Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets to Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions,” is due out in the fall of 2020. He is also of such bestsellers as “Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles,” “Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service,” “The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service,” “Take Their Breath Away” (with John Patterson), “Managers As Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning” (with Marshall Goldsmith), “Customers as Partners,” “Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service” (with Ron Zemke), and “Magnetic Service” (with Bilijack Bell).

He has served as keynote speaker, consultant, and trainer on innovative service to such major organizations as GE, Microsoft, Nationwide, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, Ultimate Software, KeyBank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Caterpillar, Eli Lilly, Verizon, Best Buy, USAA, Hertz, Accenture, Home Depot, and Harley-Davidson. He is a keynote speaker on topics such as customer loyalty, partnering with customers, and creating innovative service experiences. Global Gurus has ranked him for the last six years in a row among the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service, with two years in the top slot.

He was a highly decorated infantry unit commander in Vietnam with the elite 82nd Airborne and served as a guerrilla tactics instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School. His training programs have won awards including a Stevie Award in 2018.

He has appeared live on CNBC, CNN, Fox Business Network, Bloomberg TV, NPR, ABC and his work has been featured in Fortune, Businessweek, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Success Magazine, Real Leaders, CEO Magazine, and Fast Company.

Check out Chip’s website, grab a copy of his new book: Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions, say Hi to him on Twitter @chiprbell and do connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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