New Customer Service Strategies for a New Economy Beyond the Basics of Customer Service

January 5, 2012 No Comments
by Frank Price

Service basics are no longer a powerful enough strategy for differentiation. Customer service is a series of intangible activities, performed for a mass customer base. It encompasses smooth service transactions, clean facilities, hot tasty food served on time and friendly, helpful, attentive and informative employees. Service is intangible and personal in nature, so it’s hard to measure and compare consistently across multiple businesses on a day-to-day basis. Consumers know when they are disserved, but on the other hand expect to get served for what they paid, defined by their own perception of value. When they get it, they expect and deserve it. When they don’t, they complain or never come back.
Attempting to “Wow” consumers with great service has lost its impact because the expectation for service is too much like a commodity. Consumer “value” for what they paid is today’s top indicator of guest satisfaction and return visits. Only the foundation of this formula is quality service. They expect and deserve to be served, even though many businesses never meet their expectation. When they do, the consumer feels entitled or unimpressed. They do not feel it justified the value for what they paid. This good service simply blends with other similar businesses and merely meets their expectation. On the other hand, when service is lacking it still works against the business image. Consumers have learned to sacrifice some of their expectations and justify their visit, usually by price, thinking there isn’t anything better. Pine and Gilmore, in their book “The Experience Economy” called it “guest sacrifice.” The gap between what consumers settle for, versus exactly what they wanted. At some point, as this settling happens more often, “It’s the best it’s going to get,” the guest will change their expectation and buy on price alone, search for a new alternative, or stop buying all together.
In the 1970s and 1980s, “services” attached to products or businesses, were an appealing difference between competitors. Unfortunately, they’ve lost their perceived value, as the demand and expectation for these services for free eventually outweighed the product or service profitability. Two well-known companies are great examples. IBM, once known for the best service in the computer industry, has had to continually reinvent itself for quite some time, in order to survive. Disney’s legendary service is now expected and blends with competing parks, diluting their once stronghold of service, as a unique competitive advantage in the amusement park industry. They are evolving and now focusing on guest interactions, interactive parades and magical gatherings, using adult childhood memories as their catalyst.

“Wow” Builds Memorable Moments worth Remarking About

The opposite of guest sacrifice is “Wow.” “Wow” is when the guests walk out your door or exit saying, “ ‘Wow’ I can’t believe they did all that just for us.” Exceeding guest expectations results in longer, more powerful memories and a retelling of their experience over and over, to everyone they know. One of the easiest ways to “Wow” guests is to add unexpected team member involvement. This value-added intangible adds positive feelings and builds emotional connections to your business. This especially holds true at a time when family interaction and time spent together are important, extremely scarce and very valued.
The easiest way to add value is to meet one of the greatest needs of all human beings, the need to feel important. The goal of your entire team is to do whatever it takes for individuals and families to feel important, together. They need to feel important by being welcomed, informed, cared for, unconditionally, served and valued for choosing your business to spend this more important family time together.

Examples of Engaging Adult Guests in a Personal Way

  • A personal welcome, so guests feel important, use their name when you can.
  • Catch their eye and acknowledge them with a simple “Hello” every time any team member walks by them.
  • Create something meaningful or surprising that they are compelled to tell the story or brag about to everyone they know. Create a fun show to watch, using their family members as the actors. Pick them out to interact with.
  • Find something in common to create conversation, such as “Where are you from?” “Where did you go to school?” or “How about those Yankees?”

Engaging Kids in a Personal Way

  • Sparkie at Freedom Station in Prescott, Ariz., gets eye to eye to make kids feel important. Get on their level, connect eye to eye when speaking with them, as it makes them feel important.
  • Engage them into an imaginary environment, created and supported by an imaginary character you’ve created.
  • Call them by their favorite movie character’s name.
  • Use language that fits your theme or kids’ current favorites.
  • Make everything a game, from announcements to waiting in line.
  • Teach them how to win in your arcade. Show them video cheats to get to higher levels.

Personalizing the experience and engaging guests with each and every visit yields memorable moments. The idea of customizing each guest’s experience in a personal way is “Out of the box thinking” and will definitely product “Wow.” In order for your guest’s experience to be individually unique, it must be something that is done in a specific moment for an individual guest. It must be something that is designed to meet individual wants or needs and it must be something that is designed to benefit this specific guest that is meaningful to them. “I can’t believe they did that, just for me.”

(Frank Price is the president of the FL Price & Associates training firm and the founder of Birthday University. Reach Price by visiting or emailing

Tying it All Together

by Peter Starkel

I had the chance to witness the most brilliant discussion about FECs. It was a few months ago at a gathering of some of the best operators in the industry. The discussion revolved around game placement theory. There were spreadsheets, and comparative data about the interconnectivity games can have to each other.
Magic happens when the correct two games are adjacent. Earlier in the day an industry consultant revealed an amazing system for redemption. I sat in the back of this room filled with leaders of the family entertainment universe and was amazed.
What amazed me was the level of sophistication these men and women had about redemption and the game room. Clearly, monitoring the arcade was important and they knew the parameters of how it all tied together.
For years, my team has been dumbing down marketing systems for the FEC industry. Not because operators aren’t bright, but because marketing becomes very complex the deeper you get into developing the systems and processes. Clearly operators in this room knew the importance of a comprehensive game strategy. Can the same be said about the marketing strategy? How everything from advertising, to pricing, to sales and experience all tie together? I hope they do. But I don’t believe they understand how their customers interact with their brands as deeply as they understand game placement or redemption ratios.
Marketing is a system of processes that all work together. Just as adjacent games in an arcade make magic, so must your marketing and promotions efforts. Are you looking at your customer acquisition and retention this way?
If not, it’s time that you do. Customers are more sophisticated, and with weapons like Yelp and Trip Advisor, lack of performance will hurt you. If your Facebook wall, website, mailer, in-house promotions, email blasts, experience providers and the staff member running the POS machine are not working in harmony, you are missing out on the magic.
There’s no new app that will solve this challenge, it is rather dedication to a fundamental part of your business. Does your team allocate attention to tying it all together?

(Peter Starkel is a partner at Brand Champion/Fun Advisors. Reach Starkel by visiting or emailing

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