Why Delight Matters in Customer Service: 5 Questions for Chip Bell about Sprinkles


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Everyone is talking about Customer Experience (CX) these days. Unfortunately, “improving CX” usually means fixing something that’s broken.

Yes, of course companies should fix problems that annoy customers and motivate them to take their business elsewhere. But business leaders should also realize that fixing problems to meet basic expectations will result in merely satisfied customers — and they will still leave for a better offer.

That’s why I find Chip Bell’s new book Sprinkles a refreshing break from “just-fix-it” CX myopia. It’s a fun read, with 9 chapters devoted to innovative ways to provide memorable experiences that won’t break the bank. Or, as Chip likes to say, service “with a cherry on top!”

Here are five questions I asked Chip about about Sprinkles. Enjoy!

1. Providing good customer service seems so basic. Why do companies struggle?

There are many reasons. But, one I focus on in the new book is the path many organizations take in their quest to “exceed the customers’ expectations.” We all know customers want their experiences with minimal effort, reliably delivered. But, they also want them with a cherry on top! Value-added (taking what customers expect and adding more) can be a dead-end street. Each time you add more, customers can expect more; you ultimately run out of room. Sprinkles is about creating value-unique experiences, those that provide an ingenious, unexpected surprise. There may be limited ways to be generous; there are unlimited ways to be innovative and creative. And, it is the simple ways we enchant customers that make them want to come back as well as tell others. The book provides nine strategies for delivering that special experience that gets your customers talking.

2. What prompted you to write your latest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service?

The origin of this book came from two sources. The first was a quote by Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and host of the TV show Parts Unknown. “Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: Is it good? Does it give pleasure?” Innovative service is a blend of these same two sentiments. As customers, we all want service that is good—meaning it successfully fulfills our needs or accomplishes the outcome we seek. But, we remember service that comes with an experience that gives us unexpected pleasure.

The second source for this book came from my three granddaughters. They taught me that a great cookie becomes a really special cookie only when adorned with sprinkles, icing or cherry. Service is the same. Customers want their experiences to be more than great…they want them special. As customers, we like great service; but we love service that takes our breath away–the kind that leaves us “awed” not just “wowed.” The book is about how to deliver an experience as enchanting and memorable as a special cookie.

3. Does great customer service have to be expensive? Can you share an example?

Actually, it shouldn’t be expensive. Pricey service gets customers worried about the price they are paying or investment they are making. Think back over the best customer experiences you have had and I bet most, if not all, were simple, inexpensive ways the service provider delighted you. I had a waitress at a hotel restaurant bring me a complimentary go cup of coffee after my breakfast. That’s value-added. But, then she added sprinkles as she declared it, “Our gift to you!”

I can think of several examples. My wife is a Lexus fan. When she traded cars the service tech took the time to program in all her favorite radio stations from her trade-in and just let her discover it. Or, the Four Seasons in Austin that not only let us check-in with our cat, they made a big deal over the cat at the front desk. When we got to our room, they had already put out a serving tray with a bowl for cat food, a bowl for water and small cat toy! Now, I get to hear, “Why don’t we just stay at a Four Seasons?” Makes my credit card cry!!

4. What’s your favorite example of a company providing truly innovative service?

I would have to say Kimpton Hotels, especially the Hotel Monaco. They know business travelers who stay at mid-priced hotels find a certain sameness about the typical Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, Doubletree, etc. So, they added a bit of enchantment. Turn down service is always a surprise, not the proverbial chocolate on the pillow. The bathrobe in the closet is not the usual white, but is leopard or zebra print. There’s a yoga mat in the closet. And, if you did not bring a pet (they are very pet-friendly—even providing nature videos for pets to watch in the guest room), the housekeeper will bring a goldfish to stay with you in your room. All they ask is that you give it a name. That is all an experience some may not care for. Some may want it plain and functional. But, most customers enjoy a captivating, creative experience. It makes customers want to tell a story! And that promotion builds advocacy and ensures growth!

5. How would you like your new book to be used?

Three ways—as a wake-up call, as a source of inspiration and as a recipe for how to deliver innovative service. Here is the wake-up call. When Candace Nelson last year introduced her cupcake ATM, it was an instance success and is now spreading around the country. It was more than a clever idea; it was a metaphor for today’s customers. You can get cupcakes 24/7. Cupcakes are delivered in ten seconds. The cupcake is high quality at a fair price. But, you get to customize your order to your desires—with sprinkles if you like. I think it is the last part that customers more and more are seeing as a differentiator. Everyone can get it for you fast, good and cheap. As Flo says on the new Progressive Insurance ad, “Sprinkles are for winners.”

I hope readers will be so inspired by the book they will be compelled to try the techniques on those they serve, whether external customers or internal colleagues; whether B2C or B2B. My last hope is readers will find the clarity of examples instruct them in how to deliver innovative service. To paraphrase Anthony Bordain, good may bring customers in; pleasurable brings them back. Sprinkles is a metaphor for the unique and special ways we can take our customers’ breath away! Treat all customers like today is their birthday! Happy sprinkling!

About Chip Bell


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and has served as consultant or speaker to such organizations as Microsoft, Nationwide, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, Ritz-Carlton, Caterpillar, Verizon, USAA, Harley-Davidson and Victoria’s Secret. He is the author of many best sellers including The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service, Wired & Dangerous with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away with John Patterson, Managers as Mentors with Marshall Goldsmith, Magnetic Service with Bilijack Bell, and Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service with Ron Zemke. Dr. Bell has appeared on CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, NPR, ABC and his work has been featured in Fortune, Businessweek, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, WSJ MarketWatch, CEO Magazine, and Fast Company.


  1. I sure enjoyed reading this. Just for grins, I checked out the Hotel Monaco, because it’s right in my backyard in Alexandria, Virginia. Everything Chip called out about the hotel’s ‘sprinkles’ is mentioned on the website. Curiously, the pet-friendly nature videos are not. Which exposes a bigger challenge for businesses, especially those dedicated to providing customer delight: making invisible value visible. It seems there are many things that companies do in providing even the most prosaic products and services that are valuable to customers, but not visible. Years ago, many customers didn’t pay much attention to whether a hotel conserved water or energy, paid their staff a living wage, or offered access to a pedestrian-friendly walking path or bike trail. Today, these things matter much more to consumers, and offer value even if it just means we feel better using the product. My question for Chip: how can companies make the value they provide more visible, without seeming disingenuous. And, how do they decide what to hold back on (i.e. not represent on their website or marketing communication) to preserve that sought-after element of delighted surprise?

  2. Andy, I forwarded your question to Chip to answer.

    My take is that companies need to balance two things:
    1. How much to promise — because marketing does matter, and offering to do more than competitors can win business.
    2. How much to surprise — because if you just deliver what you promise, you’ll get satisfied but not necessarily loyal customer. Delight creates an emotional response, and stimulates positive word of mouth.

    Years ago in an interview with Jan Carlzon, author of Moments of Truth, he told me this story.

    I used to give an example of how we in the tour operating company where I started my career surprised our customers by putting baskets of fruit or a bottle of wine and a hand-written card into their room when they came to the tourist destination. Everybody got extremely happy, because nobody expected it and they all thought it was a kind of individual service to them. The year after, our advertising manager, who must not have been related to Einstein, wrote in the brochure, “You should know that when you travel with our company, there’s always a surprise waiting for you in the room.”

    Naturally, the surprise was gone after that marketer made it a promise.


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