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What Anthropology Can Teach Us About Great Service

What Anthropology Can Teach Us About Great Service


Everybody’s idea of “amazing” will be a little different.

When famed anthropologist Margaret Mead first visited Samoa in the South Pacific, it led her to write in the preface of her book, “Coming of Age in Somoa” …

“Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, good manners and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways.”

Her nonjudgmental approach to the target of her research enabled her to gain a level of intimacy with Somoan inhabitants that few researchers have been able to attain.

Customer service is anthropological. As customers, we all look for symbols, artifacts, language and customs to signal trust and the potential for a happy ending. Doctors display credentials, banks parade the iron door of the safe, airline pilots sound safety conscious, and hospitals are spotless.

We respond to cues that tell our subconscious where to go, what to like and what to avoid. We have learned the meaning of caution lights, shaking heads, yellow tape, church bells, furrowed eyes, electrical smells and dashboard icons.

As service providers, it is vital we remain vigilant and astute at learning the cues and customs to be embedded in the customers’ experiences.
We are effective if we take the Mead approach—nonjudgmental recognition that customer “standards differ in the most unexpected ways.” Woe to the service provider that assumes, guesses or stereotypes.

Everyone loves a pleasant, unexpected surprise. We are all the same in our preference for service with delight versus service with disdain or indifference.

My three granddaughters, like customers, all love sprinkles. But Kaylee likes chocolate sprinkles with the same passion that Cassie enjoys rainbow sprinkles. And Annabeth just might mix all types of sprinkles together just to see how it looks on top of a cupcake or cookie.

The quest of innovative service is to provide a value-unique experience, not just a value-added one. But what one customer views as valuable may be viewed by another as just ho-hum.

My business partner enjoys surprises with an edge—something clever, even if it is not particularly warm. It makes him laugh. I gravitate toward surprises that are laced in sincerity and kindness, something that makes me swoon like a kid with a new puppy.

Choosing your version of surprise starts with understanding your customers and learning what will touch their hearts in the most unexpected ways.

Written by

Chip Bell is a keynote speaker, author and consultant who helps Fortune 100 companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and reputations through innovative, customer-centric strategies. His latest book, “Sprinkles,” shows businesses how to create awesome experiences through innovative service. // www.chipbell.com

Categories: Marketing


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