Customer Service: To Make it Memorable, Make it Surprising

Consumers don’t talk about good service — they talk about unique service.

To set your business apart, you’ve got to be a cut above, especially when it comes to your customer service. Business owners are always looking for ways to add value to their customer experience, such as an airline upgrading a frequent flyer from coach to first class or a bartender buying a loyal regular an occasional beer.

Exceeding expectations may be a great blueprint for providing stellar customer service, but it also continuously raises the bar for what customers expect from your brand, said Chip Bell, customer service expert and keynote speaker.

A better approach, he said, is to find ways to use the element of surprise to give customers a “value-unique” experience. “It can be as simple as an unexpected gesture, such as a taxi driver shaking your hand and thanking you for your business after getting your luggage out of the trunk. The key is that it is unexpected.”

Why surprise works

There’s research to prove that people get hooked on the element of surprise, said Bell.


“Innovative service is not about ‘being nice.’ It’s about creating an experience that is profoundly remarkable — meaning it has such a positive impact on customers that they cannot wait to remark about it to others.” -Chip Bell (Photo: Chip Bell)

Harvard professor and psychologist B.F. Skinner, in his work studying behavior modification, found that he was more likely to increase a certain behavior when the rewards for it were random and variable.

“This is the concept behind slot machines,” explained Bell. “Casinos have found that if you hit the jackpot every fifth time you put in a quarter, they’re not going to get near as many quarters put in the machine as when you don’t know if or when it’s going to happen. It’s variable. The whole concept of making it random and variable — which is the element of surprise — has such an impact that some people get hooked.”

Leveraging the element of surprise in your small business can provide an experience that will have your customers coming back for more. Here are a few “value-unique” tips Bell shared with NCR Silver.

Make it remarkable

“Innovative service is not about ‘being nice.’ It’s about creating an experience that is profoundly remarkable — meaning it has such a positive impact on customers that they cannot wait to remark about it to others.”

According to Bell, the “pinnacle of customer loyalty” is an eagerness to tell others about his or her experience — so much, in fact, that they become an extension of your business’ sales and marketing team without realizing it.

Related: How to Get Positive Online Reviews

Make it personal

The more personal your service, the more memorable it will be. But that means really getting to know your customers, including their likes and dislikes.

“Great customer intelligence helps ensure small business ‘sing the service song’ their target market is likely to enjoy hearing,” said Bell. For example, “When I go have my car serviced at the dealership, they know I’m coming because I made an appointment. They also know that my favorite coffee is hazelnut, so they always make sure there are a couple hazelnut K-Cups on hand for while I wait.”

Related: 5 Inexpensive CRM Solutions for Small Businesses

Go a step beyond ordinary


A friendly store pet can be a memorable and positive experience for customers. (Photo: OlgaOvcharenko/Shutterstock)

Guests of seafood restaurants typically expect their server to be able to explain how a certain dish is prepared. But if a server also shared what kind of waters the fish came from or where the produce was grown, that would provide a more memorable experience for guests, said Bell.

A store pet that “works” in your shop can also create a unique and memorable experience for your customers, he said. “The hardware store near me has a dog named Barley. Everybody knows Barley. When you come in, you see Barley. He’s the guard dog, but he also wears a branded store T-shirt like other employees.”

Mix in random acts of kindness

Random acts of kindness can give a huge boost to your customer service reputation. Consider having cold, bottled water available free for customers on a hot day (branded with your logo, of course), or helping a customer install the car bike rack he or she just purchased.

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Bell said his wife experienced this tactic firsthand when she traded in her old car to buy a new one. “A week after she had her new car, she turned on the radio for the first time and discovered the dealership had programmed in her radio stations from her trade-in — and just left her to discover it without saying anything.”

“People today don’t talk about good service. They talk about unique service — different service,” said Bell. To stand out, find unique opportunities to build memories around your brand that go beyond satisfaction to surprise and delight.

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