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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

Sprinkles: The Generator of Customer Surprise and Employee Resiliency

I live on the shoreline of a large lake! And, while the likelihood of tornadoes where I live is not as high as Kansas or Oklahoma, we do get our share of wicked twisters.

Early one Sunday morning I was awakened but the sound of the proverbial freight train. Looking out the bedroom window I watched a tornado running along the shoreline on the opposite side of the lake destroying everything in its path. Fortunately, my house was not in its path. Then, the power went out. After a day without power, I was glad I had bought a gasoline-powered generator three years earlier.

After my purchase, I had uncrated the generator, filled it with gasoline, and parked in the garage under its customized cover. Now, it was time to fire it in action. As night fell with still no power, my generator was uncovered for duty. The generator was still bright and shiny like the day it was purchased! But, it failed to crank. Fortunately, the power came back on before everything in the refrigerator was in jeopardy.

A few days later I was in the local Ace Hardware and mentioned to an employee that I could not get my never used generator to start. He gave me a two-word solution…"bad gas!" At first I thought it was a crude joke! However, I learned I was supposed to change the gas in the generator every few months or it would gum up the carburetor and spark plugs. It is vital for generators, just like employees, that their resiliency be maintained.

Too often service providers leave "bad gas in new generators." They focus on ways to make their service functionally efficient, but forget it is the pleasant emotional experience that customers remember. They implement CRM but forget the middle letter stands for "relationship." They put in high tech self-service delivery process without any access to a high touch person should the system fail to work.

But, worse they take away the freedom to be innovative (good gas) from the frontline leaving them tasked with obediently (and mindlessly) following procedures (bad gas). Remember when the gate attendant or hotel front desk clerk made the call on the upgrades? Now, the computer gets to do it...based on points in a frequent flyer or frequent stays program. What was formerly a delight has become a customer assumption and therefore no longer value-added. In fact, customers are disappointed when they are not upgraded.

Have you ever heard a customer compliment your amazing computer or awesome procedures? It is people who make magic for customers. And, just like sprinkles turn an okay cupcake into a special one, unexpected surprise can turn a satisfied customer into a storytelling fan.

But, what keeps frontline employees from turning into the human equivalent of an inoperative generator is resiliency. Especially in roles that can be repetitive and boring or customer encounters that can be emotional and problematic, employees need to stick-to-itiveness to bloom and shine when they want to fume and whine.

Resiliency emerges when self-esteem is sponsored, authority is trusted, and capacities are expanded. The second greatest gift a person can give another is the gift of growth. "I am not a teacher," wrote Robert Frost, "I am an awakener." Just as good gas awakens a generator, growth enhances the resilience of employees by awakening their spirit, ingenuity and joy.

Let's bring back unexpected and enchanting customer surprise by providing employees with the authority, growth, capacity and encouragement to deliver innovative service! Customers love service with sprinkles. So, add sprinkles to your leadership practices and fire up your generators of customer surprise.

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

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