If the 2014 Back-To-School shopping season proves to be anything like 2013, retailers have a 72 billion dollar opportunity for business according to the National Retail Federation. While retail giants like Walmart, Target, Apple, and L.L. Bean are already offering special discounts and promotions, international customer service expert Chip Bell says in today’s marketplace, gaining and retaining customers requires more than new items in stock or deep discounts.
Long-term strategy requires innovative customer service practices. “Customers will remember how you made them feel long after they have forgotten how you met their need. So make that feeling one of surprise and delight,” says Bell.
The author of the best-seller, “The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service” advises that innovative service is not about addition or value-added; it is about a unique and unexpected creation. Bell says retailers can learn from the children returning to school on how to exceed expectations of today’s customers. Below he shares three short strategies with a “back-to-school” theme on getting ahead of the curve and being able to surprise today’s customer.
1. The Lunch Box Strategy: On the first day of school, most parents put an unexpected surprise in their kid’s lunch box—a candy bar or cookie. Just like the “free prize inside” made Cracker Jack a megahit, look for simple, unexpected ways to surprise your customers.
Bell shares of a recent personal example, “When I had a pair of pants pressed at a hotel, the housekeeper brought my pants to my guest room, and with them a package of logoed stays for my shirt collars!”
2. The “Everything Shiny” Strategy: Back-to-school includes a lot of colorful new things—new crayons, new books, new clothes. It is a sensory delight that ramps up the excitement with the fun of seeing old friends and making new ones. It is time to ramp up the sensory world of your customers by adding compelling eye-ear-nose candy. Bell says to consider this: “If Disneyworld or Cirque du Soleil were in charge of your customer’s experience, how would it change?”
3. The Monogrammed Strategy: Bell says that first thing you probably did with new books was put your name in the inside. It was also on your lunch box, your notebooks, and your locker. Young kids were eager to show off their ability to write their name. He finishes by saying that customers enjoy a personalized service too. “Find ways to use your customer’s name, and build their experience around what is most important to them,” he concludes.
The three short “back-to-school” themed strategies shared by Chip Bell are applications from his latest book, “The 9 and ½ Principles of Innovative Service,” an instruction manual and inspirational guide to making service an experience that causes customers to swoon, smile, and sing praises. The book, celebrating its one year anniversary, focuses on value-added as a service solution, acknowledging the need to be creative in tough economic times, and shares examples of many service exemplars that take what customers expect, and add a little more. The book’s focus is on creating a value-unique experience that serves as a spark plug to energizing customer experience.