Sprinkles order_stackWhat do Cirque du Soleil™, Cracker Jack® and a jack-in-the-box toy have in common?  Their charm is based, not on product, price or solution, but on surprise.  Cirque du Soleil plays to sell-out crowds…over 90 million people have attended one of their shows.

Cracker Jack has had a 100+ year history, about the same as Coca-Cola.  And what child has not enjoyed the delight of a musical jack-in-the-box?

The crowd-pleasing feature of surprise is being bled out of the fabric of today’s enterprises. Customers today are bored.  They live in an over-stimulated, highly entertained world and bring “service with sprinkles” expectations to all service providers.  They love the delight of a surprise…but, unfortunately, we have so automated, programmed and managed surprise that it is now assumed when it was once upon a time enchanting.

Do you think it is the friendly gate attendant who decides if you get upgraded as a frequent flyer to that coveted first class seat?  No more.  The computer is now in charge.  How about an upgrade to a higher priced room on the fancy floor of a hotel?

Front desk clerks once enjoyed the pleasure of surprising a frequent guest with an unexpected upgrade.  In the quest for consistency and the almighty elimination of variance, management has let the system make that call. And the customer?  Loyal customers now expect to be upgraded and get disappointed when they are not.

Innovative service is unexpected.  And that takes leaders gutsy enough to give the front line the power to make it happen.  It takes embedding an entrepreneurial spirit into the culture with sufficient force to push out the kind of service experience customers view as mechanized, homogenized, sanitized and boringly predictable.

It takes leader moxie to make customer magic.  It requires treating customer encounters as adventures, and the role of the front line as making it more like a treasure hunt.

We need to bring back the old-fashioned, jack-in-the-box service surprise.  Putting a digital timer on the front of the colorful box means we know exactly when the “jack” is going to pop out. It becomes boring, not captivating.

Value-added service needs to become unique and unexpected again.  And that takes the ingenuity and generosity of a front line empowered to make the call, trained to make it responsibly and encouraged to make it creatively.