Magnetic Service: Secrets to Creating
Passionately Devoted Customers

by Chip R. Bell and Bilijack R. Bell

There are people who gleefully pay five bucks for a cup of Starbucks coffee, gratefully pay hundreds of dollars to stay at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel and loyally spend twenty-five grand for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle they wait a long time to get! Where's the logic? Customer devotion launches rational economics straight into the stratosphere.

Devotion to Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton or Harley-Davidson is not about a beverage, hotel or transportation. It's about an experience - an experience as profound and unmistakable as a schoolboy smitten for the first time! Granted, the product or outcome must be very good, but not necessarily perfect. Harley devotees grudgingly acknowledge there really are technologically better bikes. But neither Suzuki nor BMW can match the gratification of a Harley owner on a Sunday afternoon ride with other loyalists. Devotion springs from something else.

Customers who are devoted to your unit or organization act very different from customers who are simply loyal. The passionately devoted customer not only forgives you when you err, they help you correct what caused the mistake. They don't just recommend you; they assertively insist their friends do business with you. They vehemently defend you when others are critical. Even if there is a good reason for the criticism, they quickly dismiss it as an aberration or an exception.

And some take devotion even further. Some Starbucks devotees refuse to drink any other coffee. Some devoted customers of Harley-Davidson tattoo the company logo on their bodies. Devoted guests of Ritz-Carlton Hotels proudly wear Ritz-Carlton-logoed clothes…and have the hotel chain's signature cobalt blue accessories in their homes. In these instances, magnetic service has forged a connection that becomes a part of the customer's identity and life expression.

Figuring out how to attract passionate devotion is not a simple process. The discovery of our seven secrets of magnetic service came through intense study of a number of cult-like brands. We studied companies as diverse as USAA Insurance, Universal Studios, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, the Mansion at Turtle Creek Hotel and Restaurant, Sewell Village Cadillac, and Harley-Davidson Motor Company - all organizations that have a very large share of groupies. Our intent was to look for patterns or practices that seemed to yield customer devotion.

Whether posh or penny-pinching, the difference between remarkable and run of the mill lay not with the price the customer was required to pay but rather the value the customer felt privileged to experience. We also found that though these companies used their own vocabulary to describe their approach, their values and practices were quite similar and transferable in principle to many other kinds of organizations. These shared stories led us to seven secrets for creating passionately devoted customers.

Secret # 1: Make Trust a Verb

The rock-bottom basis of magnetic service is trust, but the basis of customer trust is always changing. Every experience the customer has with any service provider alters the standard for every other service provider. Magnetic service is malleable and agile enough to stay up with the customer's evolving requirements for trust. Trust is also multifaceted. It comes in part from a belief that a great service experience was not serendipity. While customers may be infatuated by an enchanting fluke, their ongoing allegiance is anchored to pursuit of experiences they feel can be replicated time and time again.

Trust starts with authenticity -- we trust another when we perceive his or her motives are genuine or credible. Trust emanates from communication that contains crystal clear content as well as empathic "I care about you" consideration. Trust comes from a track record of promises made paralleled with promises kept. Trust is made of demonstrated competence that leaves customers assured they are dealing with someone with the capacity to perform. Magnetic service providers work to honor and demonstrate all these features of trust in their relationships with customers.

Secret # 2: Focus on the Customer's Hopes, Not Just Needs

"The purpose of an organization," wrote management guru Peter Drucker, "is to create and keep a customer." All the financials are just tools for keeping score on how well that purpose is being achieved. "Serving a customer" means the organization must meet customers' needs while at a minimum fulfilling their expectations for what the process will be like for getting that need met. Perform that task adequately and you will probably survive. Perform that task well and you will probably succeed.

Magnetic service goes well beyond the "probably succeed" level. Magnetic service providers know that under the surface of the presented or obvious customer need lies the customer's hopes and wishes for what might happen. With those hopes are also aspirations, dreams, and even unconscious needs. Magnetic service providers know that tapping into this reservoir not only enables them to earn the customer's loyalty, it ensures they solidify that loyalty by anticipating future needs. The goal here is revelation, an enriched dialogue to surface those unspoken customer aims and ambitions so they can become the target of serving.

Secret #3: Add "Charisma" to the Service Mix

Attracting customer devotion requires a stand that calls attention to the experience. It is a position that is exciting, bold, and somewhat daring. One person we interviewed told us his service was magnetic when it had an unexpected spin to it. In other words, it was not just more than the customer expected, it was different from what the customer expected.

There is nothing subtle about the impact of magnetic service. It hits its target in a fashion that leaves behind a positive emotional afterglow. The nature of the engagement is personal and moving. People are favorably attracted to service providers when there is an emotional link. And, when that link is profound without being imprudent, congruent without being presumptuous, and purposeful without being manipulative, it makes doing business with you a treasured relationship.

Secret #4: Engage the Customer's Curiosity

Customers have a huge reservoir of curiosity. Some anthropologists believe the compulsion to learn is a part of the human DNA that explains why humans have evolved so much further than other species. (Perhaps when God inserted a soul in mankind, the substance of that gift was curiosity.) Consequently, when service providers respond to natural "teachable moments" in the delivery of service, they stimulate something very deep in the customer.

One way to appeal to the customer's curiosity is to create a path for participation. The allure of customer participation opportunities is not that customers actually join but that they know they could if they wanted to. It is the potential for inclusion more than the enrollment experience itself that touches the customer's innate curiosity.

There are many forms of emotional membership. The most powerful is to actually engage the customer's energy in delivering the experience. But sometimes simply enabling the customer to feel and value a connection is enough to inspire their devotion.

Secret #5: Give Customers an Occasional Miracle

We have all experienced or heard about those magnetic service moments in which someone pulled out all the stops. Whether recipient or witness, such unexpected out of the box experiences remind us that service miracles can still happen. Such special incidents leave us as enthralled as a table set with candles and champagne on a special date. Miracles cannot be regular fare; otherwise they become plain vanilla instead of Neapolitan. But the once-in-a-while special gesture communicates not only a desire to serve, but also a yearning to enchant.

Magnetic service is something that leaves you more emotionally moved than simply delighted; more blessed than blown away. It is the zenith of the nobility of service - a special gift that is unexpectedly bestowed and distinctively right for a particular customer. Service miracles reflect server imagination; they also are manifestations of a purity and goodness of purpose. They leave the customer uplifted and eager to impart their happening with another. Service miracles are the key components of the most endearing service stories we hear and tell. With each retailing, the storyteller becomes more devoted, the audience more keen to join the fold.

Secret #6: Empower Customers through Comfort

Customers feel empowered when they experience psychological comfort, and magnetic service provides psychological comfort by being reliable and predictable. We can more easily deal with flights that are always late than those that are sometimes on time and sometimes not. Human nature abhors dissonance and the ambiguity and unpredictability that take us out of control. Our aversion to discord and dissonance means for a service moment to be magnetic, it must be in synch with the customer, "congruent" as the psychologists would say - it must fit.

Customers are also empowered when service has physical comfort - the kind that reflects a smooth operation. This means that the experience is not just hassle-free; it is noticeably comfortable, strikingly reliable, and surprisingly seamless. It requires processes and systems that work with the service person to ensure a customer's need is met without anxiety, dissonance or negative surprises. Think of it as service without any drag or resistance.

Secret #7: Reveal Your Character by Unveiling Your Courage

Magnetic service should reflect a deeper purpose or destiny, befitting of the organization's vision and marketplace strategy. Service with character also means a sense of innocence, naturalness, purity - a grounding. We describe someone as grounded when we see them as uncorrupted. We like being charmed by what we do not understand; we do not enjoy being hoodwinked by what we should have understood. Magnetic service need not be completely obvious to the customer in its design, but it must not feel devious to the customer in its execution.

Magnetic service works when it contributes to a sense of natural joy. The anatomy of joy is that it is not only clean and ethical; it is also considerate, kind, and thoughtful. It can be subtle and crafty. But, if it is devoid of a childlike purity the customer will feel they have been the subject of a ruse rather than the target of a reward.


Chip R. Bell manages the Dallas office of Performance Research Associates. A renowned keynote speaker, he is the author of several best-selling books. Bilijack R. Bell is an associate with Wilson, Hull & Neal, a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta. This article is adapted from their new book Magnetic Service: Secrets for Creating Passionately Devoted Customers due in bookstores in September. Visit www.chipbell.com for additional information.

Magnetic Service:
Secrets for Creating Passionately Devoted Customers

by Chip R. Bell and Bilijack R. Bell
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
August 2003

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Copyright 2004 by Chip R. Bell and Bilijack R. Bell. All rights reserved.

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