Sprinkles:  Value-Unique Service Trumps Value-Added

5 min read · 7 years ago


Customers today are bored! Blame it in part on their
elevated standards for all customer experiences. To paraphrase the post-World
War I song, “how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve
seen…Disney World.”  Part of their
boredom is driven by their overstimulated, hyper-entertained daily lives.
Stores have become sensory theater; TV and the Internet are as vibrant as
Broadway after dark. Look at what it took to get on their feet the attendees at
the Super Bowl half-time show—Katy Perry sky walking with pyrotechnics and
riding atop a giant glass lion.

But, the largest culprit driving customer boredom may be the
absence of surprise in most of customers’ experiences. What is random about
getting upgraded to first class as a frequent flyer with a coach ticket? You
have the miles, the seat is available, and the computer delivers an upgrade.
When randomness is gone, the well-intentioned value-adds become a standard
customer expectation, adding no value at all. What is needed today is service
with sprinkles.

Service with sprinkles includes all those unexpected,
inventive experiences we receive as customers. It is service with ingenuity,
not just generosity. When my wife purchased a new SUV, a week after she had her
new car she turned on the radio for a first time and discovered the service
tech had programmed in her radio stations from her trade-in. She got great
service from the dealership, like a good cupcake. But, good service turned into
gourmet service when the tech added “sprinkles” to her experience!

Wise organizations create cultures that arm frontline
ambassadors with the capacity, authority and encouragement to deliver an
innovative, unpredictable customer experience. Instead of focusing only on good
service with value-added extra (taking what customers expect and adding more),
they create value-unique experiences—service with sprinkles on top! They
understand the difference in inspiration between foreseeable value-added and
random value-unique. Here are six ways to put surprise back in the gourmet mix
for the pursuit of customer loyalty.

Everything Goes Better With Sprinkles

When the only First Bank & Trust ATM in the rural town
of Tahoka, Texas went down, customers were unhappy. They were forced to use the
only other ATM in the area at a convenience store where fees were considerably
higher. And, when it took several weeks to get the ATM operative, unhappy
customers were accustomed to going to the convenience store for their cash.
First Bank & Trust, headquartered in Lubbock, found a way to lure customers
back to the bank’s ATM, “sprinkles.”  The
bank ran an ad in the local paper that told customers not to think it was a
mechanical glitch if they received a fifty-dollar bill instead of a
twenty-dollar bill when they used the bank’s ATM. Word spread as customers told
neighbors when they hit the ATM jackpot! The value-unique was such a success at
growing loyalty the bank expanded the concept to other branches throughout West

Always Add an Extra Helping

Bouquets is an award winning flower shop in downtown Denver
near many parking meters as well as a bus stop. Many businesses refuse to give
change for meters and buses, except to customers, because it takes employee
time to go to the bank for more change. Bouquets replenishes a bag of quarters
daily, specifically designed to make change for anyone who asks, says co-owner
B.J. Dyer. “Coins are offered with a smile and a business card. Many people
later become our customers when they need flowers.” 

Let Your Customers Lick The Beaters!

On Southwest Flight 246 from El Paso to Phoenix, the flight
attendant accepted assistance from two adoring passengers to help pass out
peanuts to fellow passengers. The most important part of the occurrence was not
the obvious fun the two guys in Bermuda shorts and ball caps had. It was the
noticeable positive effect the incident had on everyone on board. Even super
serious passengers could not help but grin as they received the
all-too-familiar snack from the flight attendant-wannabes! Customers care when the

Add the Icing on Your Customer’s Cake

Kauffman Tire in Woodstock, GA enjoys taking their
customers’ breath away. When a customer walked into the store to purchase a
tire, he was greeted with, “Welcome back, Mr. Steve.”  He was blown away since he not visited the
store in a very long time. Pressing the clerk a bit closer on the secret of his
incredible memory, the clerk reluctantly admitted how the magic was performed.
“When you pulled in the parking lot and we did not recognize you or your vehicle,
we plugged in your license plate number into our computer and cross referenced
the name with our records. We knew you were a prior customer by the time you
got to our front door!”  

Make Passion the Spice of Service

Take the shuttle bus from the off-airport car rental lot to
the Atlanta Airport terminal at Hertz and you just might get a great
surprise—Archie Bostick. The first thing you see is Archie with a big,
welcoming grin on his face––and he’s having a great time reinvigorating this
simple, routine service transaction. Once onboard, Archie delivers a comedy
routine instead of issuing the standard warning about the consequences of
forgetting to turn in the keys to your rental car. As he pulls up to the
terminal, he announces, “Now that we’re at your final destination, I may never
see you again. I want us all to say together, ‘I love Hertz!’”  He invariably convinces a crowd of strangers
to holler, “I love Hertz!” before exiting his bus. As customers exit applauding,
they realize they have just witnessed a passionate service innovator at work.

Be as Easy as a TV Dinner

My wife and I checked into the ranger’s store to get our
permit for a campsite. As we were leaving the store to find our site, the
receptionist said, “You might need this.” 
It was what every Army infantry soldier would know as a P38, a miniature
can opener. We no doubt looked puzzled. “A can opener is the most frequently
forgotten item, according to our campers,” he explained. “We want your stay to
be stress free!”  

Customers are weary of stressful service. Lines like: “Your
call is very important to us,” “We are experiencing unusual call volume,”
“Complete this form,” or “Did you have an appointment/reservation?” all signal
dreaded effort, hassle or frustration is on the other side. Some research shows
that effort (being easy to do business with) today trumps practically every
other feature of basic customer service.

Today’s customers expect experiences to be sparkly and
glittery with sprinkles on top. Meeting the challenge of rising expectations
requires rethinking the role of those employees who are face-to-face,
ear-to-ear and click-to-click with customers. When service people are asked to
give more, they often think, “I’m already doing all I can.”  But if asked to pleasantly surprise more
customers, they feel less like worker bees and more like fireflies. Invite
employees to create not just execute and they will feel esteemed…and, their
customers will feel they hit the jackpot. 

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and author of
several bestselling books. His newest book is the just-released Sprinkles:
Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service
. He can be reached at

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