Why Cirque du Soleil is Your New Challenge

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A few years back it was popular to say that the number one competitor of all organizations seeking to create a great customer experience was Disney! And, their friendliness and dedication to “happy like a kid” joy still makes most banks, restaurants, hotels and retail chains pale by comparison. Many leaders flocked to Disney World to go attend their “Disney Way” training programs. Zappos, Ritz-Carlton and Baptist Hospital in Pensacola have all had their turn being the leading exemplar for great service wannabees.

Welcome to the new kid on the service exemplar block. Cirque du Soleil. And, their formula for success is not just an over-the-top attitude of great service. It is total sensory emersion. All their customers’ senses are plunged headlong into a cavalcade of theatrical delight. The payoff? Over 100 million people have seen a Cirque du Soleil performance; 15 million last year.

Let’s try a fun exercise based on a real situation. You look for all the places a Cirque du Soleil sensory transformation could have elevated this experience to high wire heights.

I had lunch at a well-known seafood restaurant chain. The seafood was good and reasonably priced. There were a few nautical photos on the walls. Except for those two features—pictures and menu, it could have just as easily been a steakhouse or Italian food restaurant. I left without any thought of the seaside on my mind. But, I could not help but notice the wide array of missed opportunities to turn a pleasant meal into a powerful memory. So, what would you do with this seafood restaurant?

The landscaping out front was very similar to the Chili’s rocks and cacti nearby. The hostess greeted me with, “Welcome to Fish Feast (not their real name).” The music playing was Vince Gill. And, the place smelled like any family restaurant, not one with a particular theme. The waitress was nice and wore a white logoed shirt, but no uniform or costume. When I asked her about the Tilapia, she only knew how it was prepared, not anything about the features or habits of the actual fish.

Their bathroom could have been exported from any medium-priced restaurant with no piped-in-sea songs. The place mat was colorful—blues and greens, but without pictures or puzzles or “little known facts.” And, my take-away souvenir, after paying the bill? A toothpick that tasted like wood; not even salty. The receipt was the same color as the one I get at a Wal-Mart checkout. So, what would Cirque du Soleil do to transform this ho-hum restaurant experience into one stimulating to all the senses?

Know your customers well and aim for the response you believe your customers will value. Consider the emotion and sensations (real or imagined) you want to call to mind. Sights, sounds, and smells are all cues for customers that can surface pleasant or not-so-pleasant memories. Once you have decided on the senses to appeal to, find ways to introduce them in a way that customers discover and delight in. Also remember that sensory enhancement must reflect proportion and balance. If your customers are singing along with the music, it might be playing too loud.

If service were an attraction, great service might be Disneyworld but innovative service would be Cirque de Soleil. Put your customers’ senses on steroids!

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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