Where Are Your Service Exits?


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Hide and go seek is a game every child knows. When I was growing up on a large farm we took that game to a whole new level. Not only was the space for hiding extensive the choices for hiding places were extremely diverse. By the time whoever was “it” could count to fifty; those hiding had plenty of ways to get creative about where they hid.

One summer my cousin was visiting and we elected to play “hide and go seek.” Rob was a city boy and at that age, a bit of a show off. He gave us all quite a scare. While I counted, he climbed down into the open well (our source of water) and stood on the pipes 100 feet above the well water. One slip and Rob would have ended up deep in the well. Cries for help could not have been heard and he likely would have drowned before being found in the unlikely location.

After all kids were found except Rob, the game was declared over and everyone participated in the hunt. Thirty minutes passed without a trace. Amusement turned to anxiety as we realized something devastating might have befallen him. Finally, Rob emerged from the well all smiles and totally thrilled he had “won” the game. When his family learned about his stunt, Rob remained in the “doghouse” for at least a month!

Effective self-service can have the sense of satisfaction a kid can feel after winning hide and go seek. As customers, we enjoy the easy access and freedom of getting what we need when we need it. No searching for someone to get behind the counter or make change. No qualms about closing time. No having to deal with a surly or indifferent personality. We get it and go—all on our terms. Self-service is great…when it works!

But, self-service is far from flawless. The product we want is out of stock, the system is down, or the scanner cannot read the barcode on an item we need. As customers, we feel like being locked in a stuck elevator without a cell phone. We look for a way to alleviate our rising anxiety. Where is the instant access to a live person? Where are the do-it-yourself instructions for coping with unexpected service abandonment? Where are your service exits?

Service is fundamentally a covenant between two people—customer and service provider—to exchange value for value. The customer gets the outcome they seek; the service provider gets some type of “payment” for providing that outcome. Engulfed in this value-for-value exchange is the experience that customer and service provider collectively create. If the service provider is absent for their side of the experience creation and provides no recourse for an unmet value, it can leave a customer as apprehensive as trying to find Rob in a well. And, the result? The service provider will end up in the customer’s dog house for a very long time!

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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