the ceo magazine, customer service,
Chip R. Bell, Author, Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles

The super cool feature of a kaleidoscope is not the charming images that take our breath away.  Or, the fact that, unlike a magnifying glass or set of binoculars, you get to actively engage with the kaleidoscope to create swoons and grins. It is the fact that the kaleidoscope has character.  The gems inside never change but are reflected through a series of mirrors.  You don’t open up a kaleidoscope to replace the gems.

Innovative service—what I call kaleidoscope service--is borne of a constancy of core values that never change.  Think of the very best service providers you have ever experienced.  There was more than delight and wow.  There was an obvious sense of integrity, honesty, collaboration and trust.  And, the leaders of organizations renowned for awesome service—Southwest Airlines, USAA, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton—constantly demonstrate their “do right” orientation.

“Would your work practices change if your son or daughter was watching you in order to learn life lessons?” my business partner and I asked a group of senior leaders.  The company was famous for its profit at any cost mentality and had indicated a desire to become more customer-centric. 

A major conflict had emerged when one of the senior leaders wanted to implement an opt-out product.  Opt-out means the customer gets a product or service they did not request and has to proactively let the company know they did not want the product or service.  Many customers do not micro-manage their statement and fail to catch the added fee.  Once they do, they scream at the call center.  Tricking the customer might generate short-term profits but it clearly is not customer-centric.

The irony was the fact that just the week before we were working with a large call center on the practice of anchoring.  Anchoring is a variation on the magician’s misdirection.  Say, your early afternoon flight has been cancelled.  When you call the airlines the operator sees in the system there is a late-evening flight.  But, instead of telling you that, the operator informs you that it looks like you’ll have to take a flight the following morning.  “However,” the operator continues, “I may be able to grab you a seat on the late-evening flight.”  When faced with the potential of flying out the next day, the late-evening flight sounds good.  The approach deceives the passenger into thinking they are getting a better alternative. 

The two incidents surface the relevance of an impeccable character among organizational leaders.  Most organizations today are very transparent since social media can overnight spotlight corporate practices that reflect unethical methods or Machiavellian manners. And, the slippery slope typically signals to employees the true values of their employer.  As Tom Peters once said, “There is no such thing as a lapse of integrity.”  But, the largest issue is the impact on innovation. 

Innovation is a white hot strategy right now as organizations are realizing incremental improvement is not fast enough to retain competitive advantage.  If leaders are asked to increase productivity by 10%, their focus becomes efficiency and automation; but, if asked to increase productivity 100%, the focus becomes reinvention and transformation. 

Kaleidoscope service requires an atmosphere of trust.  When leaders attempt to deceive (anyone) or foster relationships laced with uncertainty, trust wanes.  When leaders camouflage key metrics to yield a more favorable impression to the board or investor, it signals an indifference to character, introducing angst.  When leaders tacitly turn a deaf ear or close-inspection eye away from practices that are shady, sleazy or devious, they allow distrust to seep into the culture, leaving uncertainty, unease and concern in its wake.  Anxiety is the adversary of invention.

The creation of innovative products and the delivery of kaleidoscope service require a crucible for experimentation, curiosity and boldness.  Such a setting is shepherded by leaders who value transparency, clarity and courage.”  As organization rush to decorate ever-changing experiences for customers, never forget the foundation of greatness—the gems inside—should be always solid and unchanging.

About the Author

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books.  His newest book is the just released Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.  He can be reached a


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