Gazing Into the Customer Service Kaleidoscope: A Q&A with Chip Bell

Good customer service isn't hard to find, but service so outstanding that customers feel compelled to talk about is much more rare, writes author and customer service expert Chip Bell in his new book, Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. Bell sat down with's Maria Minsker to discuss the lessons in his book and offer companies advice on adding a little sparkle to their customer service strategies.

SmartCustomerService: What was the genesis of this book?

Chip Bell: I wanted to explore what motivates customers to become advocates. In other words, what makes them feel so good about an experience that they want to tell their friends about it. I realized this was a deeper level of service than I had previously written about. I chose a kaleidoscope as the key concept to build the book around because you can turn a kaleidoscope and get a unique image every time you turn it, but the stones inside that form those images never change. The book is about these basic, foundational "stones" and concepts that should drive customer service. When presented in a unique combination, they represent profoundly sparkly service.

Based on your last book, Sprinkles, and this new book, it's evident that the idea of going the extra mile in service is important to you. Why is that so key?

It's important because the research shows nobody talks about good service. People talk about it when it's unique. It's a classic case of value-unique versus value-added. Value-added involves looking at what customers need and giving them more. It's always great to add value, but you're never going to build loyalty by doing that because expectations will always go up. If you focus on value-unique, meaning creating ingenious and unexpected experiences, there's no limit to that.

You cover nine key customer service values—or "stones"—in the book. Can you give us a preview of one?

The book opens with the one called enchantment—the idea of a magical surprise. One example of this happened to me last week, when I was on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to LAX. As we approached LAX. I was sliding my bag back under my seat before landing and I noticed a flight attendant had written a personal note to me, thanking me for being a million-miler and thanking me for being on her flight. That was a delightful, simple way to enchant a customer.

What are some of the biggest mistakes made in customer service today?

One mistake is companies make assumptions about what customers want without ever asking the customers. We assume customers want service that's easy and simple. This is true, but customers can handle processes that are complex as well. What they don't want are policies and systems that don't make sense. Customers don't like when something takes longer than it needs to, for example. The second biggest mistake companies make is they don't ask the front lines for feedback. I've always said that the genius of an organization lies in the people who interact with customers every day. Asking them about what they're hearing is important. They are scouts and they get insight in real time.

What are the biggest takeaways you hope people get from the book?

Companies should want to serve in a way that's a masterpiece. That's why I opened the book with a story about Johnny Cash. When Sam Phillips was turning Johnny Cash down because he wasn't impressed with a song he wrote, he told him, "If you were hit by a truck and you were lying in a ditch, would this be the song that would best represent you?" The same applies to customer service. Companies should try to deliver the very best that they can.

Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles will be available for purchase on February 14.