What Chimps Can Teach Us About Customer Experience


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All species of chimpanzees engage in the tradition of grooming. It is a social activity that lowers tension and builds bonds among group members. Mutual grooming involves picking through each others hair to remove insects, dirt and seeds. Some groups of chimps even have a custom that involves a pair of chimps crossing palms above their heads and grooming each other with their free hands.

Now, please don’t take this metaphor too literal. But, could it be that through natural selection Homo Sapiens transformed crossed palms into handshakes, cheek kissing and bows but lost the grooming feature of important social connections? What if we brought back “grooming” to social interactions? In some parts of the country visitors bring a gift when visiting someone they have not seen in a while. That’s grooming. Have you ever brought a bottle of wine to the host of a dinner party at which you were an invited guest? That’s grooming.

“Grooming” enriches greetings. Like with chimps, “grooming” lowers the early anxiety of unfamiliarity. It nurtures early trust as it adds a spirit of generosity to a new encounter. It jump starts engagement from awkward encounter to valued relationship.

Waiters at Vincenzo’s Ristorante in Omaha, NE, greet patrons at their tables with a pitcher of “honor wine”—a high-end Chianti. “Enjoy this if you like,” a waitress told a group of us one evening. “The first glass is on the house. We charge by the glass. At the end of the meal just let me know how many glasses you had and I’ll add it to your bill.” When I asked the restaurant owner on my way out how many patrons drank the “honor wine” beyond the complimentary glass and accurately reported what they consumed, he smiled and said, “Most do…it’s one of our best features!” The restaurant has twice been voted “Best of Omaha” by Omaha City Weekly.

How can you “groom” your customers? Like the chimps, grooming may begin as a single gesture and end with mutual admiration. Customers will “groom” you back with their return, their advocacy…and their “coconuts!”

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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