Win Customer Loyalty With an Unexpected Experience

Turn a value-added service into a truly unique offering to inspire repeat business, suggests the author of a new client-service book, 'Sprinkles.'

learn more about Chip R. Bell

By Chip R. Bell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Display of a generous attitude has a magnetic impact on customers. It draws them in because it conveys the kind of unconditional positive regard that characterizes relationships at their best. I believe customers like the way they feel when they're part of relationships laced with substance as opposed to encounters that are merely functional.

Ask my business partner Susan Oldham about Corley, a plumbing, heating and electric company in Greenville, S.C., and she'll immediately go into a passionate discourse. She's not just a satisfied customer. She is an enamored advocate.

For her, the company has demonstrated what I call "service with sprinkles," the topic of my new book Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. Just like sprinkles make a good cupcake truly special, this kind of service turns a value-added experience into something especially unique. The unexpected enchanting experience is more than a service that wows customers. They are in awe.

Corley has used an innovative service approach to a familiar trades business. Here are a few ingredients from the Corley recipe of service with sprinkles:

Related: Will Your Company Be a Leader of the Customer-Service Revolution?

1. Always add an extra helping.

"You cannot mandate a generous attitude," Corley owner Chris Corley tells me. "It must be embedded in the culture -- from who you hire, how you train, to what you value. Two of our core values are character and unselfishness."

A Corley website video shows company technicians describing how they have gone the extra mile for various customers. Technician Blake Turner inquired of one client if he played any of the guitars on display in his home. It turned out the customer had arthritis and his hands hurt. After some conversation, "he asked me if I would play for him," Turner recalled, noting how he enjoyed playing for the customer.

Technician Jeremy Barnes recounted an exchange with a customer battling cancer who had not decorated her home with the Christmas tree stashed in her attic. "I think she was dreading that time of year," he said. Barnes got down her tree and decorations and helped her start hanging ornaments.

Provide your customers the best that you have and the best will come back to you.

2. Give consumers information.

Business owners can also provide customers the gift of learning. Customers today truly value service providers who demonstrate an interest in their learning. Home Depot's in-store workshops have the potential to turn satisfied customers into advocates.

Corley provides a monthly Girls Night Out event, directed at female customers and the brainchild of marketing manager Katie Sullivan. "It's been a while, but we are finally talking about water heaters," a February event e-vite explained. "We all agree that life without hot water would be a lot less pleasant so we are giving this often under-appreciated appliance its own night."

On the agenda aside from refreshments: efficiency rating standards on water heaters. "Don't worry; you won't get dirty and you can come after work," the invitation noted.

According to surveys of 10,000 customers done by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting's vice chairman John Goodman, published in his 2009 book Strategic Customer Service, proactively providing customers new and useful information increases the likelihood of a repurchase 32 percent.

Related: The Three Biggest Sins of Customer Engagement

3. Make the service as easy to use as a TV dinner.

Are you a service provider who makes reaching a live person harder than winning the lottery? Do you hold your customers hostage with high switching costs or complicated account-closing rules?

When customers call, do you use your phone as an answering machine instead of an easy tool for two-way dialogue? Is your company always reachable when customers need it or do you impose business hours convenient only to you? Is the company's service delivery always on time? Is the company's self-service option a "you are entirely on your own" arrangement?

Corley customers receive an email with a photo of the technician on the way along with a shot of the dispatcher. If they click on the photo, they can learn the background of the arriving staffer.

Technicians focus on being easy to do business with. "When they enter a customer's home, they treat it just like a castle whether it be a 900-square-foot house or a 5,000-square-foot house," technician Randall Rainey said on the website video.

"We want to always leave our customers' homes better than we found them," Chris Corley tells me. And after a visit, customers receive a hand written thank-you note from the technician. This almost guarantees that if customers need service again, they will ask for the technician by name.

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain said in a Slate interview: "Anyone who's a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: Is it good? Does it give pleasure?" Innovative service is a blend of these same two sentiments.

Customers want service that is good -- meaning it successfully fulfills their needs or accomplishes the outcome desired.

And they will remember and tell others about service that also comes with an experience that gives customers unexpected pleasure. Take a lesson from Corley and make your customers' experiences come with sprinkles.

Related: 10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service

Chip R. Bell

Keynote Speaker, Author and Customer-Loyalty Consultant

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books including his newest, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. He can be reached at

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