Episode 112 : Secrets to Getting Into Your Customer’s Imagination

Chip Bell is the author of 24 books, Chip’s newest book, “Inside Your Customers Imagination: 5 Secrets to Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions” is due out in the fall of 2020. He is also the author of bestsellers “Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles,” “Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service,” “The 9 ½ Principles of Innovative Service,” “Take Their Breath Away” (with John Patterson), “Managers As Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning” (with Marshall Goldsmith), “Customers as Partners,” “Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service” (with Ron Zemke), and “Magnetic Service” (with Bilijack Bell).

He has served as keynote speaker, consultant, and trainer on innovative service to such major organizations as GE, Microsoft, Nationwide, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, Ultimate Software, KeyBank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Caterpillar, Eli Lilly, Verizon, Best Buy, USAA, Hertz, Accenture, Home Depot and Harley-Davidson. He is a keynote speaker on topics such as customer loyalty, partnering with customers, and creating innovative service experiences. Global Gurus has ranked him for the last six years in a row among the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service, with two years in the top slot.


  • Could you share with us a little bit about your journey, how it is that you got into this whole customer service?
  • You have written many, many books, and I had the privilege of you sending me a copy of the one of your most recent one “Inside Your Customers Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services and Solutions. And I found it really, really insightful. Could you share maybe one to three things that you think is really critical for us to get inside our customer’s imagination?
  • In your book, you talk about curiosity, being grounded, discovery, you talk about trust and you talk about passion, of those five secrets that you believe are breakthrough tactics or strategies in order to really get into your customer’s imagination. Which one do you think is the most important?
  • Could you share with us what’s the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?
  • Could you share with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you, maybe books that inspired you to become an even better writer?
  • Could you share with us maybe one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about – either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • Do you have a quote or saying that during times of adversity you’ll tend to revert to this quote, it kind of helps you get back on track or to get you more focus?


Chip’s Journey

Chip shared that he has always had a fascination and an interest in the customer; he studied it in graduate school. What makes people buy, what influences customers to make decisions that they do and how organizations manage that influence and how do they create cultures that create great experiences? Most of his work has been focused on the customer experience. That is what when we encounter a customer, whether it’s face to face, the ear to ear, click to click, we give that experience in such a way that it’s a memorable experience and a very positive way. So it’s been an exciting, he has been at it for 40 years now. He’s still learning every day, but we’re all customers, so it gives him a chance to hopefully influence how that’s done through the organizations that he works.

Getting Inside Customer’s Imagination

Chip shared that he thinks it starts with recognizing that the customer’s imagination is inside. And he likes to think of it as a door open only from the inside. So, the challenge becomes, how do I create a relationship or a partnership with the customer in such a way that they want to open that door and share their insights, ideas, creative thoughts in a way that helps them with us, co-create new products, services and solutions. So the book is really about how do I build that relationship, how do I build that partnership that creates a sense of excitement and safety and a willingness for the customer to open that door and share their ingenuity and insight and creativity.

Me: And so, we really have to dig deep into what the customer is looking for. A big part of when I was reading through some parts of the book, it focused on ensuring that you have curiosity. And I’d like for you to share with us in your own words. What exactly is curiosity, especially in the sense of customer experience? Why should we be curious and how do we exercise that skill?

Chip shared that he thinks part of it is the one of the ways which we demonstrate we really care about the customer. We all go to reunions, family reunions or school reunions. And we always engage, we eat too much food and we engage in a lot of superficial conversation. But every now and then somebody, a family member or friend, demonstrates that they really are interested in us. And they ask different kind of questions, “You still work in and are you still doing this?” And so, they really want to know what makes us tick, what do we feel and what matters to us. And we walk away from those conversations feeling not just heard and understood, but truly valued.

So he thinks part of curiosity is how we demonstrate that deep curiosity. One of the techniques he talks about in the book is called Be the Customer.

And he borrowed it from most parents who have children who are in Little League, when that child has the bat and the pitcher is about to throw the ball, they’ll yell to that child, “Be the ball, be the ball.”Which is all designed to get the focus, focus on that ball, it coming their way. It increases the likelihood that they’ll be hitting it.

And so, he thinks in much the way be the ball, be the customer, try to be the customer. He gave you a funny example. His wife’s hairdresser, Johnny Odair, has been known to get a permanent. He said, “Johnny, why do you get a permanent?” He said, “I realized that when women get a permanent is often one of the most uncomfortable and awkward situation, so if I figured if I went through what they went through, then I would see the world through their eyes and because of that, I made changes in the experience to make it a more comfortable experience for them.”

That’s to him, a great example of him working to try to deeply understand a customer, when the customer senses that sense of quest to understand them at a deeper level. Then they feel a sense of kinship with us, a sense of partnership with us.

So it’s looking for techniques, it might not be just talking to the customer or just doing customer research, it might be talking to people who know the customer in a different way. He gave an example and he uses this example in the book. He has a friend of mine, John Longstry. John used to be the General Manager of a huge hotel in Dallas, Texas, and he realized that he wasn’t learning enough about what really was important to customers through the front desk.

Now, if you think about checking into a hotel, when you check out, typically the front desk will say how was your stay? And we usually have a one-word answer, fine. And not much learning is going on from the word fine. So, what did he do? He’d already been doing focus groups with the taxi drivers who frequented his property to take guest to the airport, DFW airport.

And so every quarter he would hold a focus group, he buys these taxi drivers who frequent his property hanging out because it’s a nice fare from his hotel to the airport so a lot of them would hang around to take now, Uber, Lyft.

But then it was it was taxi drivers. And so he would hold focus groups with these taxi drivers. And what he would learn is not just information and understanding, but insights. For example, he learned that when the customer complained to the taxi driver that their towels in their bathroom smelled a little scorched like they’d been in the dryer too long and housekeeping, what they really were worried about was a hotel fire started in housekeeping or dust bowl under their bed, in their room. What they really were concerned about were are there bugs in my room?

So the goal was not just information that gave you superficial information. Like there’s a light out in the parking lot, thank you so much, but when the customer spotted a security light out in the parking lot that was burned out, they worried about security in their hallway.

Well, by taking that insight level, he was able to make improvements and changes that really impacted customers in a way that they couldn’t even describe. Not something you’d necessarily write on a comment card when you’re checking out, but it taught him a lot about what was really going on in the mind of that customer.

Well, that’s the kind of technique, who knows my customer? What if I talk to them, not just my customer, what would I learn from that? And so, again, that’s part of curiosity is how they look for ways to demonstrate to the customer that they really, really do care. And part of it is how they show them that when they provide feedback, that it really matters.

The research shows 95% of companies in the industrialized world asked their customers for feedback, 95% of them, but only 5% of them let the customer know what they did with that feedback.

And so, when we get those surveys, it’s no wonder that we don’t fill them out because we go, “Why should I, it is not going to make any difference.”

And so it’s learning to tell the customer, you did this, you asked for this, this is what we’re doing with it. And so, it tells the customer, you matter, you’re important, you’re valued. And from that kind of relationship, when you ask them, what’s something cool we can do, they can give you creative ideas.

Me: There was also a part in a book that you spoke about as it relates to curiosity, where the company got permission from the customers to watch them shower. I found that so interesting. I was like watching them shower.

Chip stated exactly. He’s doesn’t know who volunteered to do that, but yeah, it’s MOEN revolution. And what they did was they wanted to learn how customers experienced a showerhead and what they found from their research by getting customers to say, “Let us watch you in a shower and see what you do and not just invade your privacy.” But they found it about 35% of their customer’s time is spent avoiding the spray. It gave them the insight they needed to design a different kind of spray that they didn’t spend so much time avoiding the spray for the shower. Giving a similar example.

He works with the major hotel chain would ask customers when they checked in if they were a familiar customer or a frequent customer. They would say, “We’ll give you a discount on your room rate, if you’ll let us follow you to your room and watch you unpack.”

And a customer goes, “What?” But what they really were interested in is they wanted to see how the customer settled into the room. And so what they discovered at that particular time, this is a giant hotel chain. What they discovered is that sometimes customers will bring up their own hairdryer. Well, most of us bring hairdryers. But back then, what you would do is in order to use your hair dryer, you had to unplug the one that was plugged in the wall. They already provided you a hairdryer, but you like yours because it’s hot or whatever. Well, nobody complained about the fact that you made me unplug your hairdryer to plug mine in. But there’s a little irritant, there’s a little negative, or they found that when a couple checked into a hotel, there was only one luggage cradle in the room for them to put their own luggage.

So we all know what happens then, he puts his luggage on the floor. Well, there’s another little work that’s a negative, but nobody ever put that on a comment card. But you add up enough little workarounds like that, you got a negative experience the customer can’t even talk about it because it’s so subtle.

Watching the customer, they go, we could fix this, we could provide another receptacle for their own hairdryer or we could hardwire ours into the wall so the receptacle is available for them to use their own hairdryer or every time a couple checks in, we can have housekeeping bring another luggage cradle to the room, all of these easy fixes. But there are things that the hotel didn’t notice or didn’t know because they were too subtle for the customer to say anything about it. And we don’t notice the things where we live. We quit seeing the wallpaper a long time ago. And so, we take it for granted, we don’t see it. And so, we’re blind to the details that customer sees. So, again, it’s looking for those ways to say, “I want to go deep inside that customer’s world and their experience to understand and demonstrate my understanding to that customer so they feel valued.”

Important Breakthrough Strategies To Get Into Your Customer’s Imagination

When asked about which of the 5 secrets is the most important tactics or strategies in order to get into customer’s imagination, Chips stated curiosity. He thinks it is the foundation, that’s what started with it first. Interestingly enough, where these five secrets came from was, he knew the book was going to be about innovation and co-creating with your customers.

And so, he looked at organizations that we all know famous for innovation. And we can all think of if you ask anybody, who are the most innovative companies on the internet, most people will talk about Google or Amazon or Pixar, they’ll have names like that. If you go in those cultures and you say, “Okay, what are these cultures have in common?”

You find their cultures are all about curiosity, they’re all about grounding or focus, they’re all about risk taking that leads to discovery. They’re trust and they’re about passion. So those are the five things that are common among cultures. So he thought, what if you took those same five features of an innovative culture and apply them to a relationship, in this case, a relationship with a customer? What would that be like? What would that partnership be like? So that’s the basis for those five secrets to breakthrough products, services, solutions.

They’re fun things to do but part of it is how do you get customers to drink with you? He knows the listeners love tactics that they can use and apply, but sometimes we focus on asking customers only about their needs and expectations when the world of the imagination is around the customer’s hopes and aspirations. And he’ll give a fun example. He was working with a large pizza delivery company, one world-wide, we all know this pizza company. And he believed when he did started the research that when you talk to lots and lots and lots and lots of customers about this company that they were going to focus on product, price and process, meaning your pizza is not very good or it cost too much or it takes too long to get it to him, pizza price, product and process. But when they asked dreamer questions, they learned a whole different set of things.

For example, a dreamer question is where you asked the customer to think beyond what’s now present. For example, one question they would say is like, “What’s something no pizza company is doing that would be really cool?” Well, one of the answers they have here in is, “What about the pizza box?” They said, “What?” “The pizza box? You know, I get this delivered pizza, it’s got this box and I end up having to throw the box away. What would it be like if you did something with a box?” “Well, like what would you have in mind?”

Well, it could be like a color a picture or a puzzle or it can be a mask you could have for kids to wear a mask. They could just cut it out.”

And so, sure enough, several years later, he’s working with the paper manufacturer that made pizza boxes for this company and sure enough on the inside lid, they had put puzzles or coloring things for kids or various different things. And they put a sheet of wax paper between the lid and the pizza so it didn’t soil the inside of the lid. And it turned, nobody would have thought of that. But they only get those kind of things when you take your customer into the world and you focus, that’s what grounding is all about. You focus on new applications, new solutions, and all of a sudden you get a whole different world.

Me: That’s so true, that’s really innovative. And that’s a good point because we really do throw the pizza box away so why not find something else to do with it that could be more than just throwing it in the garbage.

Chip agreed and shared that the really wise companies get their customers to help them. A good example is Starbucks. Starbucks is a very creative company, but they get customers to help them. For example, things like splash sticks that go in your coffee cup lid, customers came up with that, Starbucks didn’t come up. Cake pops that looks like a little lollipop, but it’s made out of cake, customers came up with that. Pumpkin spice latte in all the stores, these are all things the customer came up with, company didn’t do that.

But it means you got to take your customer into an imaginary world with new ideas and new concepts and new applications and help them think with you. And that’s why he loves the concept of creation, is you’re not making stuff for the customer or on behalf of the customer, you’re doing it with the customer. And so, not only do you get their creativity to add to yours and come up with all kind of new stuff, but you’re also building the loyalty of that customer, because when they got their fingerprints on what you’re creating, they feel a commitment to it and their loyalty goes up.

App, Website or Tool that Chip Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about online resource that he can’t live without in his business, Chip stated that he will share two of them. One he can’t live without in his personal life is called Sound Hound. And sound hound is a great website because how many times do you go in a store and they’re playing music guide, you go in a store and they’re playing a song and you go, what’s the name of that song? Sound Hound is an app that allows you to hit that thing and it listens to that song, not only does it tell you the name of the song, but it also gives you the lyrics and if you want to buy it, you can buy it right there. So, for him, it’s a great app that he that he uses a lot.

And in his business life because he’s a writer and he writes a lot of stuff, lots and lots of articles and blogs and so forth. Grammarly has been a godsend because he doesn’t know anything much about the English language from the standpoint of grammar. He doesn’t think he did very well on those courses in school. And so, Grammarly is a program that allows you to when you finish writing a blog or an essay or a letter or anything, you can simply put the letter inside Grammarly and it’ll bring up and tell you, this is a different way you need to say that or you’ve got this misspelled or this should be an ‘are’ not an ‘is’. And it’ll correct all your grammar or at least tell you what it sees is wrong and give you the choice to correcting it or not. But it also provides you the rationale, so you get to learn a little bit more about what a ‘dangling participle’ or a ‘split infinity’ is. But it’s a great tool for him, particularly from a writing standpoint.

Books That Have Had the Greatest Impact on Chip

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Chip shared that the one he remembers that he thought was a powerful book was a book called Watership Down: A Novel. It’s an old book by Richard Adams. And it’s a favourite book of his because it’s basically a fiction story of a group of rabbits that get the feeling that they’re down, their warren where they live is in danger. They don’t know why, it turns out it’s like a construction crew that’s come in and build housing development where they live. And so, they have to journey across England to find a new home. There are many, many, many adventures and stories. And it’s a great story, they actually made a movie of it. But the use of stories, the use of myths, the use of fables in their interaction is, he thought, one of the most creative uses of how they do that. So, that’s one book that’s been an inspiration for him.

Another one is a book by his friend Seth Godin called Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. Great book and it’s in the marketing category, but it underscores the power of being distinctive, to being different. And he’s a very, very creative guy who’s written many, many books. But how you will only succeed through your service and product if you find a way to make it unique, different. What he calls value unique, not value added. And that’s been his work in the customer experience world. Value added is taking what customers expect and add more. The problem with that is you run out of room because the expectations of the customers go right up with you and so you add more and more and more and more, and pretty soon you’re going to go bankrupt or run out of room. And so it’s like, “You’re a great customer of ours, we’d like to upgrade you to the first class or if you’re a frequent flyer.”, that approach of a linear value added approach to him has limitations.

So, his work is all around value unique and it’s not looking at generosity, but ingenuity, what can add to that’s unique, that’s different, that will surprise the customer in a way they didn’t expected. Value added usually that you aren’t shocked by the fact that they upgraded you or added more comped your dessert, it doesn’t shock you. But if you did something that was totally unique, different, all of a sudden you’d be talking about that. And his belief is that the pinnacle, the height of customer loyalty is when the customer tells great stories about you, not just recommends you, but they say, “You’re not going to believe what happened to me.” And they tell a story that’s going to have more influence on a prospect than simply a recommendation. And so how do you create the stories? Well, that takes something unique. His wife as a new car and she traded in old car and got a new car. And a week after she had a new car, she turned on the radio for the very first time and discovered they had programmed in her radio stations from her trade in.

Ingenuity and she tells everybody about the radio and not about the car. And so, it’s little things like that, it’s making sure that when you take your car in to be service and you’re going to be waiting for it, they’ve got in your profile and they’ve got a current machine or, one of those cake cup machines, that your favorite coffee is there available. So when you have to wait on your car to be serviced, you got hazelnut coffee, which is the one you like, it’s little things like that that personalize the experience.

But it’s thinking about it; think about Crackerjacks in the world of service. Crackerjacks is a 100 year old product. And what we loved about Crackerjacks was not the caramelized molasses flavored popcorn, but the free prize, which was actually workless, but emotionally priceless, we knew we were going to get a prize because it said so on the box, but we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. It’s that thinking, that concept applied to the world of experience, to the world of customer service is his world and Seth’s book, The Purple Cow, he thought was a very, very insightful book that was very helpful to him. So those are two he’d recommend.

What Chip is Really Excited About Now!

Chip shared that he and his wife are on the board of the Georgia Writer’s Museum, he lives in the state of Georgia and they have a writer’s museum that celebrates famous writers that live in the state, many of whom have all passed on, people like Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King and folks like that. And he’s on the board of that museum and so he gets to serve as sort of the museum curator to design new exhibits. And so, that’s a fun thing for him to do.

The other thing in terms of his work is he stumbled onto a new concept called anticipatory innovation. And so now he’s developing a whole new body of work around anticipatory innovation.

And what that is, he gave an example and then he’ll come back and describe it. When he and his wife stayed in a Hampton Inn, they provide you a coffee pot and they provide you paper cups. Now, if you happen to be in a situation where you and your significant other both fix your coffee the same way. And you fixed a cup in the room and they got the paper cups in the room for years, invariably you’re going to run into a situation where you go, “Is this my cup or yours?”And so, what they did is they put on the front of the cup, on one cup they put lips like somebody put lipstick on and kissed it. And on the other one they put a mustache and so it’s very clever, but it fixes a situation that you encounter they go, “Oh, I know this one’s mine because it’s got the lips on it or it’s got the mustache on it.”

But it’s that you anticipate you’re going to encounter. Another example, Tampa Airport, the rental car where they put all the rental cars is inside the parking deck. The first thing you do when you get inside a rental car is you going to set your GPS. The problem is there’s no internet inside that structure. So, what did they do?

As soon as you exit the parking deck, there is a GPS, pull over and little parking slot you can pull in that does have does have Wi-Fi internet so you can set your GPS before you actually leave the parking lot. But they thought about that, they thought ahead and say, “What’s a little problem or challenge or hiccup that the customer may encounter that we can anticipate and provide an easy fix before they get to that hiccup?” And so, that’s a whole new world, he calls it anticipatory innovation and there’s not much research done about it, nobody has written much about it, he has written recently an article for Forbes that’s called, Are You Using a “Boy” or “Girl” Cup?. But it’s little things like that that now is a whole world he’s researching and trying to create a whole new body of work around. In his business life, that’s what he’s working on.

Where Can We Find Chip Online

Chip shared listeners can find him at –

Website – www.chipbell.com

Email – chip@chipbell.com

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Chip Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Chip shared, “Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.”

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