Today we’re featuring a post by our dear friend Chip R. Bell. Enjoy!


I appreciate the political incorrectness of using such an uncouth word like “stupid.”  I could use irritating, frustrating, exasperating and even nauseous.  But that would not reflect the typical customer’s sentiment when they are victim of an inane service process.  They more often explode with, “That’s just plain stupid.”


Effortless service has been the white-hot battle cry of those advocating for customers.  Most suit up to attack despised enemies like wait time, complex processes and excess red tape.  Leaders look at how Amazon simplifies, how Disney copes with guest wait for popular attractions, and how Zappos manages overnight shipping.  But, what if the real enemy was rules and systems customers deemed stupid?


I pulled into the drive-in lane of a popular fast-food restaurant to order a burger, French fries and a soft drink.  The order-taker on the other end of the drive-in speaker read my order back.  “That’s correct,” I said.  “However, instead of catsup with my fries could I get some of your great barbecue sauce?”


“No,” he said tersely, “The barbecue sauce comes with the chicken tenders.”


“That’s fine,” I said, surfacing my sunniest disposition. “Then, I’d like to buy some of that great barbeque sauce.”


“No,” he repeated with even great fervor, “The barbecue sauce is free.”


“Super,” I said, “Then I would like some with my French fries.”  I thought I was on a roll.  But, he ended my contest with Mr. Rules ‘R Us.


“No,” he continued.  “I told you before; the barbecue sauce comes with the chicken tenders.”  I gave up and looked in the distance at the competing Golden Arches further down the street plus two fast food restaurants with “chicken” in their brand names.


So many service providers put their “effortless” efforts into the basket of physical ease.  And, as customers, we clearly detest bureaucratic, rules-driven service that makes us jump through hoops, wait, and do all matter of frustrating antics to get what we need.  But, as customers we might be fine with complex as long as it made sense.  We might be patient with wait if we “got” that it was necessary.


I was on a Delta flight to Dallas.  As we were ready to depart, the captain announced a mechanical problem in need of repair before push-back.  Attentive to the reaction of passengers when delays are involved, I watched their initial anger plummet during the one-hour delay as the captain came on the intercom every few minutes to provide us a detailed update on the progress of the repair.  I was fortunate to be sitting near the front of the plane.  Every time a mechanic left the cockpit the pilot immediately shared his latest briefing with passengers. By the time the plane backed away from the gate, passengers were calm and peaceful.


If your customers wrote the rules impacting service delivery, how would the rules change?  If your frontline service providers wrote the procedures, how would they be different?  What if you threw out all rules and procedures and added back only those that added value and/or reduced effort in how service was delivered?  What if you had a “stupid rule” team that weekly brought to leadership the inane rule candidates for exorcism or overhaul?  Find the stupid rules hiding in your culture and put them under a customer-centric spotlight.



Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books.  His newest book is the just-released Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.  He can be reached at


Other resources to support your service excellence:

Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan by bestselling authors Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest is known as the business bible – a blueprint for client service success.

Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty is filled with activities you can do with your staff to keep customer loyalty strong.

The Customer Service Roadmap is an in-house customer service training program designed for employees who have front line customer contact — face to face, telephone, email, chat, forums, etc.  Instead of a one-time training event, we offer a series of short, bite-sized courses focused on developing 7 core customer service skills.