How To Ensure Technology Does Not Bury Heartfelt Customer Service

sprinkles_3dTechnology is great. But sometimes we have so much tech that we take the heart, the soul the feeling from what we’re doing.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book, Sprinkles:  Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service will be released in February.  He can be reached at I’ve asked him to share his thoughts on technology and customer service.

Ask a hundred grandparents about how customer service has changed and you will get a common theme–the soul of service has been removed—too much high tech, not enough high touch.  Probe a bit further and you will learn that “soul” is the spirit of other-centered care laced with generosity, true compassion, and an unmistakable desire to add value, not just fulfill an obligation.

We love technology and the great capacities it has enabled.  Self-service has made “store hours” seem quaint.  The experience of time has morphed from overnight to instantaneous.  Our interpersonal connections are no longer limited by back yard fences or cross-town drives; we have social media that links us to practically anyone, anytime.  But, with all the cool stuff, we still enjoy having our hearts race, our spirits lifted, and our moments made special.  It is the power of the extra straw.

Chip BellMy business partner and I were conducting a focus group with family members who had a parent in an assisted living community of our client.  We were searching for a deep understanding of the key factors that drove customer advocacy.  The topic of conversation was a particular nurse in the unit that served dementia residents.  “She gives my mother an extra straw.”  Everyone in the room registered an all-knowing recognition of exactly the meaning of the compliment.  Nothing more needed to be said.  Service had been delivered…and, with soul.

The concept of the extra straw is the same as what sprinkles do to a cupcake; what lighted candles do to a birthday cake, and what a Zappos contact center rep does to a customer conversation.  It is an encounter laced with special attention, a focus on the details of the customer’s experience, and an obvious desire to enrich not just serve.

What makes the “extra straw” so powerful? It is a symbol that gets generalized to your entire organization.  And, it empowers the experience in a powerful way just as poor detail management aversely impacts customer perception broader than the encounter.  Pull into a trashy parking lot of a restaurant and you think about more than where you are putting your vehicle.  Catch a security guard asleep on the job and you consider far more than the work habits of the guard.

Great technology can signal to your customers how much you care.  When Starbucks recently began adding wireless charging Duracell power mats, it communicated to customers a sincere commitment to over-the-top hosting and a “very human connection.”  When UrbanSitter (think Uber does babysitter hunting) added a video feature to the resumes of sitters, customers raved about their enhanced confidence.

What else would the hundred grandparents tell you about customer service?  When you take the soul out of service, you are left with the charm of an ATM or elevator.  Organizations without a valued emotional connection with customers stop growing and become commoditized and fight over lowest price.  Would your customers say they get an extra straw?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *