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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

Does Your Service Have a Preview and a Souvenir?

Extend customer satisfaction before and after the encounter

Published: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 13:01

When the circus ringmaster wails, “...and children of all ages,” he is speaking to me. I love the circus. When it came to my rural hometown when I was a boy, it was an all-consuming experience that embedded “circus” in my heart before it appeared and well beyond its departure.

Long before the circus train arrived, Ringling Bros. sent front men to my town to put stirring signs on telephone poles, place exciting ads in the local newspaper, and provide captivating materials for teachers to use in imparting lessons on circus animals. We watched men with large muscles and hammers put up the giant tent. The wild animals were paraded down Main Street. By the time the ticket booth opened, schools closed and businesses shut down so all could go to the circus! The whole town sat amazed at the funny clowns, thrilling trapeze artists, and clever acts cavalcading under the big top. Outside there were fearless men, without shirts, swallowing knives and daredevil motorcycles racing around a small cage. 

But, the experience didn’t end with the departure of the pretty lady riding on top of the jeweled elephant. We all took home a colorful souvenir that gave us a perpetual memory of that special experience. We wore a grin for days, and “circus” dominated our conversations in the school hallways and got reenacted on the playground.

The “Circus Principle” is about a great customer experience created through the careful management of timing—before the main event and beyond the main event.

Customer experience is enhanced through anticipation—set with meticulous attention to optimizing buildup much like “enchanting service is coming to town.” For example, the brass railing at Disney theme parks is polished in the middle of the night so guests never see it being cleaned. The Las Brisas Hotel in Acapulco cuts the grass after hours with manual clippers and engine-free push mowers so guests never hear the unpleasant sounds of maintenance underway.

Customer experience more likely remains embedded in memory if the experience extends beyond the engagement itself. Johnny Adair of A Brand New Look is my world-class hairstylist. The first time he cut my hair, he commented that not only was he interested in how it looked when I exited the barber chair, but he was also eager to ensure it looked great when I attempted to replicate his artistry in my bathroom the following day. So I got a short take-away lesson—much like a circus souvenir. Giving me a hand mirror and turning the barber chair so the large wall mirror was behind me, he said, “I want you to watch how I style your hair so you’ll know how to keep it looking exactly like it does when you leave here today.”

Nordstrom is famous for stretching the service experience beyond the main event. “We try to guess what is beyond the customer’s purchase,” says John McClesky of the men’s suits department at the company’s Dallas store. “If a customer buys a sports jacket, the obvious extension might be a tie. But if you learn the customer is buying the jacket for a cruise, you might explore dressy shorts or an ascot.” John continues, “But slipping a complimentary set of collar stays in the newly purchased jacket pocket (a frequently forgotten item on a trip) can leave a customer awed.”

Movies have a trailer to get you ready and in the mood for the film. They also have souvenirs—those after-market toys kids buy after seeing Frozen or Star Wars. What could you do to ready your customers for service? What souvenir can your provide to extend their memory beyond the service experience?

What can you do to follow the Circus Principle?

Anticipate what might ready your customers for their service encounter. Carefully think through potential wait time. Universal Orlando shows movies to entertain guests as they stand in the queue waiting for an attraction. On the opposite side of the encounter, lay out in your mind the possibilities of what customers will be doing, thinking, and feeling after you have met their presented need. Instead of asking, “Would there be anything else?” ask, “What have we not thought of that would make your purchase or our service really special?” Make your queries reach into the future, and the customer will provide you clues ripe for an occasional marvel.


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.