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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

Generosity: Serve It Forward

Change the calculus of service from miserly subtraction to Midas-like addition

Published: Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 11:01

The 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 35th Academy Awards. Given the current conflicts in the Middle East, I recently watched the four-hour movie to learn more about the cultural history of the area.

Thomas Edward Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) was a British intelligence officer assigned to investigate the revolt of the Arabs against the Turks during World War I. He embraced the culture and dress of the Arabs and organized a guerrilla army that for two years raided the Turks with surprise attacks.

In the early part of the movie, a poor Bedouin guide is hired to escort Lawrence across the desert to meet with Prince Faisal (played by Alec Guinness), the leader of the Arab revolt. (Faisal would ultimately become King of Greater Syria and King of Iraq, pushing for unity between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims). It was customary then for desert guides to be paid at the end of their assignment. Instead, at the beginning of their journey, Lawrence gave his military pistol to the guide—a gift of great value and pleasure for any Bedouin.

What followed was a powerful example of “serving it forward.” The guide instantly gave Lawrence some of his food, provisions better suited to desert survival than the military rations Lawrence carried. The guide then assumed a mentoring role, revealing valuable desert survival secrets. The timing of Lawrence’s unorthodox gift completely changed the dynamic of the relationship, with the Bedouin transforming from compliant servant into resourceful partner.

Customer service is a reciprocal act. Customers are expected to communicate their needs; service providers are expected to indicate whether they can meet those needs. There are generally stated or implied expectations around speed, quality, cost, and so forth. Both parties assume a modicum of respect; both assume the exchange will employ a measure of fair play.

Adopt an attitude of abundance

Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia started getting a lot of publicity after their decision to sell single slices of pizza for a dollar. But it didn’t have to do with the price of the slice; it was about a customer-suggested idea for how to fund pizza for the homeless. It works like this: When customers buy pizza for themselves, they put a dollar in a container, write a message on a Post-it note, and stick it on the wall. Any homeless person can come into the store, take a Post-it note off the wall, and get a slice of pizza. Rosa’s has given away thousands of slices.

The principle of abundance is about giving more than is expected. It is a proactive attitude of engulfing a relationship with emotional plenty without concern for reciprocity. Granted we cannot “give” our way to bottom-line success. An attitude of abundance is core to the belief that if we employ a giver mentality, the customer will take care of the bottom line.

Abundance is a selfless gesture that changes the calculus of service from miserly subtraction to Midas-like addition. The sports world was uplifted in the 2016 Rio Olympics 5,000 meter heat when Abbey D’Agostino of the United States fell, causing her to trip up Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, a fellow runner she did not know. D’Agostino could have regained her composure and continued toward the finish line. Instead, she worked to help Hamblin to her feet. But, D’Agostino’s injured legs buckled in the attempt, and Hamblin returned the favor helping D’Agostino. Neither runner resumed the race until both could successfully run. Because neither was at fault for the fall, both were allowed to race in the finals.

“It is a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life,” said Hamblin.

The cheering fans that watched the abundant gesture are not likely to forget it either.

The worth of a great customer experience requires a focus not on the transaction costs but on the relationship value. Transaction costs are not irrelevant, but they can, if we are not careful, become destructively dominant. Loyal customers spend more money each year they are your customers. As advocates for your business they become an extension of your sales and marketing efforts. Their word of mouth and “word of mouse” accolades influence prospects to become customers.

An abundance orientation has a magnetic impact on customers. It attracts them because it conveys to the customer the kind of unconditional positive regard that characterizes relationships at their best. Customers like the way they feel when dealing with service providers who have such an orientation. They feel valued, not used. They enjoy relationships with value and substance far more than encounters that are functional but hollow.

Deliver a masterpiece

I took my beloved Lucchese western boots to McMillan’s shoe repair store in Milledgeville, Georgia, for new soles and heels. Leaving them in the hands of a stranger was no doubt like leaving your hand-built, perfectly restored sports car with a new mechanic. When I returned a few days later, they were impeccably repaired and out of the boot emergency room.

“There was a crack in the leather on the left side of your left boot,” said store owner David Cooper. “It was just gonna get worse, so I took a piece of leather and repaired it.”

I was thrilled with his obvious concern. “How much do I owe you for the extra repair?” I asked. His response was like the sound of great chorus.

“You don’t owe me nothing. I just wanted your beautiful boots to stay looking good and lasting a long time.” I left him a very large tip.

Great service means caring so much about the experience you are authoring or the product you are caretaking that you are willing to invest more in it, purely in pursuit of the remarkable. Mr. Cooper went the extra mile, not because he sought my loyalty or my tip. He did it because he loved great boots! And anyone who loves the excellence of the service or product I am getting from them will always get my love right back.

Let your next customer encounter end with a personal investment in the best of what it could be. Shake hands as you thank your customer. Handwrite a thank you note to a key customer. remember birthdays. Find a way to compliment your customer to their customer. Encourage reciprocal giving like the “Got a penny? Give a penny. Need a penny? Take a penny” signs you see near cash registers. Surprise your customer with an unexpected discount or a unique extra.

“It is better to return a borrowed pot with a little something you last
cooked in it.”

—Omaha (Native American)

Generosity is the key to opening a door into a garden of opportunity for a more expansive relationship. Jacques Cousteau wrote, “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.” Customers remember what you give to them long after they have forgotten what you take from them. Make what you give them a memorable experience.

The backstory of Lawrence of Arabia was a man’s search for meaning and self-understanding. T.E. Lawrence found in the Arabian Desert that, to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Give to your customers the best service you have, and their best will come back to you.

Animators for generosity

The word kaleidoscope comes from the amalgamation of three Greeks words—kalos (beauty), eidos (form), and skopeo (to examine or experience). Figuratively, it means, “experiencing constantly changing beautiful forms.” Like a kaleidoscope that ensures the next array of color displayed will be even better than the last, let the service experience your customers have be one they view as bountifully beautiful.

• Don’t wait for your customers to wear an “Ask Me About My Granddaughter” button; find ways to learn the target of their affinity, and add it to your list for attention.
• Know your customers well and aim for the response you believe they will value. It is the room service person delivering our breakfast who greeted our cat by name (“Good morning, Taco”) when my wife and I stayed at the Four Seasons in Austin, Texas.
• Be your customer’s mentor—escort them to insight and discovery rather than acting as an expert with secret information. Smart mentors guide; smart alecks gloat. Since learning is a door opened only from the inside, be the person your customers will want to invite in along with your wisdom.
• Change your call center farewells from a closed-ended “Is there anything else I can help you with?” to an open-ended and generous conclusion: “What else can I help you learn more about today?” Put QR (quick response) codes in lots of places—website, invoice, forms, products—with links to helpful learning information or videos.
• Generous service that truly helps sum up who you truly are is service laced with extras and given from a spirit that expects nothing in return.


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.