We hear a lot about customer service these days. But is the “a customer is always right” mind-set enough? Should we strive for excellent customer service or something more? Dr. Chip Bell encourages us to do much more in his small book with a big heart: “Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.”
The author has an interesting background. Before starting his consulting firm in the ‘80s, Bell was director of management and organization for what is now Bank of America. Previously, he was an infantry commander in Vietnam and an instructor in guerrilla tactics at the U.S. Army Infantry School. His current bio calls him a motivational speaker, consultant and author of 20-plus books. He’s an expert in customer service, and “Kaleidoscope” feels like the distillation of everything he’s learned and observed along the way.
What sets Bell apart is his willingness to go deeper. Don’t let the word “sparkle” in the subtitle scare you off. He encourages openness and vulnerability and wants you to think passionately and creatively. Everything he writes about has a basis in core human values; this is not a superficial book. Bell chose the kaleidoscope — a magical toy — as his metaphor for delivering innovative customer service. At first, it seemed a bit forced, but he really makes it work. From its inner mechanics and reflecting mirrors comes the advice to reflect and examine your business from all angles. The bright glass pieces inside relate to the bright cornerstones of unique customer service, including enchantment, grace and generosity.
When you think of customer service, Bell asks, do you want to leave customers satisfied or do you want them to swoon? Here’s another way to look at it: You want customer service that elevates “I got my money’s worth” to “I have a story to tell.” That’s powerful, and it happens when the service is sincere and genuine.
Each of the chapters in this short book is dedicated to one of Bell’s core values. They all end with a list of “Animators,” innovative ideas to implement immediately. One idea that struck me as smart is the “detail treasure hunt.” The “hunter” is one of your trusted customers. You ask him or her to take a look around your business and let you know what gives him or her pause or doesn’t sit right. It’s having that outsider view reflect back to you in a way you can’t see yourself. And, how honored will that customer feel when they are asked to help!
I loved Bell’s advice on examining business practices and taking an honest look at how difficult or easy we make it for our customers. For example, can they easily get through if they call your business or are they put on hold for several minutes? If you are allied together and you think of your business as a partnership with your customers, then you care about things like time spent on hold and you fix it.
“Happy processes” are another takeaway I plan on taking back to my job. Happy processes are easy to use, easy to maintain and work well with each other — my new litmus test for evaluating a process. This comes from his chapter on ease. The goal is a customer service experience with no worry or angst on the customer’s end, and happy processes make sure of this.
“Kaleidoscope” goes deeper than you think, despite all the sparkles and sprinkles throughout. Don’t be deterred by Bell’s style, which might not be your cup of tea. Stick with his core messages, and your customers as well as your business will benefit.
SHARON BROWN is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville.