The Surprising Power of Customer Inclusion


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In the early 1950’s Betty Crocker was on a roll. The company’s twenty-year successful run of Bisquick (“90 seconds from package to oven”) clearly positioned the company as the kitchen partner to homemakers eager to make meal preparation quick and easy. The company (owned by General Mills) elected to expand into cake mixes with the introduction of White Cake in 1951. It was a mix that simply required adding water, just like Bisquick.

However, the product failed to take off. Most housewives felt no need to brag about their “made from scratch” biscuits or pancakes. But, cakes were an entirely different category of gourmet. After all, the colorful box promised a “fresh, homemade quality.” The company came up with a brilliant solution: giving the customer greater participation in cake-making without altering the effortless feature. The company removed the powdered eggs from the mix and had the homemaker add real eggs. The product took off. The message: customers care more when they are given an invitation to put skin in the game.

On Southwest Flight 22 from El Paso to Phoenix, the flight attendant accepted assistance from two adoring passengers to help pass out the airline’s signature peanuts to fellow passengers. The most important part of this occurrence was not the obvious fun the two guys in Bermuda shorts and ball caps were having. It was the noticeable positive effect the seemingly serendipitous incident had on everyone on board. Even the super serious passengers could not help but grin as they received the all-too-familiar snack from the flight attendant-wannabes!

Inclusion involves finding a way to invite customers to put skin in the game. The power lies more in the opportunity to participate than in actual involvement. Most passengers on the Southwest flight knew that had they volunteered, their services would have been equally welcomed. That means they participated vicariously and had almost as much fun as the two guys with the peanuts.

Customer inclusion is tangible evidence the relationship is egalitarian and valued. It signals an interdependence that elevates loyalty. Granted, there are customers who simply want to served with no requirement to get involved. But, most customers enjoy being treated as a partner, not just a consumer or end-user. Especially, when that invitation is issued with respect and completely voluntary. Put the icing on the cake by allowing your customers to help you co-create the experience!

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.