Guest Post - Leading Innovative Service, by Chip Bell

Customer service and business expert Chip Bell has long been an influence on my work. His many books and articles reflect a true understanding of what makes businesses and their customers tick. And I'm fortunate that we have become friends. I'm thrilled that he has a new book coming out February 14 - Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles. I've had a chance to read a sample, and can't wait until the full book arrives (I've pre-ordered it at Amazon - My favorite line in the book so far is, "Good is the key to customer retention, but unique is the secret to customer advocacy.

While waiting for the book be available on February 14, Chip offered to write a guest post for my blog. I think you'll enjoy it and find it to be valuable.

Leading Innovative Service

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By Chip R. Bell

Value-added has been the service solution for many service exemplars--take what the customer expects and add a little more. Nordstrom sales clerk escorts you to another department far from their own. Southwest Airlines gives you free peanuts with slapstick humor. Airlines upgrade frequent flyers; hotels put loyal guests on the fancy-floor concierge level. And Rosie’s Diner refills your ice tea glass without you being charged.

But value added extras have gotten a lot more expensive. That free snack on a flight is now eight dollars and service charges are standard fare on most bills.   Pursuing the extras can also send a very mixed message. What do employees think when told to “wow” customers in the morning and informed of staff cutbacks and expense reductions in the afternoon? Challenging financial times call for a new approach: value-unique service.Value-unique is different than value-added. Ask customers what would be value-added and they focus on taking the expected to a higher-level…meaning “they gave me more than I anticipated.” But, value-unique is not about addition, it’s about an imaginative creation. When service people are asked to give more, they think to themselves, “I am already doing the best I can.” But, if asked to pleasantly surprise more customers, they feel less like worker bees and more like fireflies. And, when employees get to create, not just perform, they feel prized.

But, how do leaders foster customer service that takes customers breath away? What is it that leads employees to think “value-unique,” not just the familiar, too-expensive “value added?”

Project Realness

Innovative service leaders know they get from employees the attitude they project. Employees do not watch the leader’s mouth; they watch the leader’s moves. As all leaders move in the floodlight of employee observation, their actions can telegraph either optimism or gloom; excitement or despair. Great leaders know that an animated attitude is contagious.   When we are around happy, upbeat people, it is much easier for us to join in the spirit––especially if the invitation to join is coming from someone who clearly prefers we enroll. An unbridled spirit has a magnetic power on both customers and employees.

Protect Customers

Tasks are important; rules are essential. But, revenue comes from customers. Innovative service leaders encourage and empower employees to put customers first; not procedures. This is not about deliberately violating a safety decree or putting the organization at risk. Archie’s manager Osman Shaw is quick to say: “Archie loves customers. We get more letters about him than anyone else. So, we encourage Archie to ‘do Archie.’ I wish I had a dozen more like him.”

Provide Trust

Innovative service happens when there is an atmosphere of trust--where people are considerate and supportive. If people are given license to criticize colleagues behind their back, the setting turns to one of suspicion. If manipulative or unfair behavior is tolerated, the climate turns to one of protection. It requires leaders disciplined enough to model thoughtfulness and hold others accountable for the same.

Preserve Integrity

Innovative service leaders are grounded and laced in complete, total, wall-to-wall, no-exceptions integrity. They stand on integrity; they are constructed of integrity, they reek of integrity. Such leaders do not do half-assed integrity--as Tom Peters says, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.” They show their nobility when they courageously tell the truth, relentlessly do what they say they will do, and gallantly turn their backs on all shady actions. They know they send signals through their character—a word rooted in the concept of engraved.

Challenging times require a departure from “the way we’ve always done things.” Customer expectations are not waning. Expectations are increasing as economically challenged customers demand increased value for their diminishing funds. As organizations scramble to shore up value, the time is ripe for service with inventiveness, not just service with generosity. It calls for leaders who ensure the ingredients they add to their leadership recipe are those that advance service innovation.


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at



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