Author and Customer Service Expert Chip Bell

Growing up on a cattle farm was a chance to see the promise and perils of freedom.  For months cows leisurely grazed and drank water from a nearby pond.  In the winter when there was no grass, bales of hay were delivered to their “doorstep.”  But, when the time came for cows to go to market, herding became a challenge.  It started out rather peaceful; but, as cows were moved from open pasture into holding pens and then forced to go into a loading shoot and onto the truck, it could require electric prods to convert their revolt into compliance.

Culture of Freedom

Our culture is all about freedom.  We humans enjoy “grazing” in the fields of choice.  We relish our countless options and enjoy the pleasures of personalization. And, when we are prodded to follow a lock-step, freedom-limiting path, we quickly leave the herd for greener service pastures.  When, like the cows, we have no option, they find disorderly ways to register our displeasure. 

So, what does this cattle metaphor have to do with you?  If you limit the freedom of those you serve in any way, you pay a price with their propensity to respond with greater than normal fury.  Introduce a draconian procedure and watch associates look for ways to circumvent and sabotage.  Become difficult to do business with, and your associates will assertively trash your reputation. 

Find Freedom Limited Places

Where might be the freedom-limited places in your unit’s service delivery?  Can associates easily and quickly reach a live person if they have an issue, or is your phone merely an answering machine?  Are emails or texts constantly monitored for quick response?  Is your service offering the only game in town—like a utility in some states or a staff unit in most organizations?  Are you always reachable when you or your unit are needed, or do you impose “open” hours convenient only to you?  Are forms you require totally user-friendly?  How about your procedures?  Is your self-service actually “you are totally on your own” service?  Do your offer exactly what associates need, or just what you want to provide?  How would a Chick-fil-A or Ritz-Carlton hotel rate the hospitality and helpfulness of your front-line when serving an associate?

People are obviously a lot smarter than cows.  When cows get herded to market, they are unable to anticipate their imminent plight to jump a nearby fence to freedom.  People, on the other hand, find clever ways to neutralize or immobilize their temporary service jailors.  The most alarming part of their mutiny is the ease with which today they are able to get others to join them in their uprising. 

Conduct a Freedom Audit

Conduct a freedom audit and eliminate any unfair and unreasonable restrictions on the capacity for associates to get what they want, when they want it, and the way they want it.  If regulation requires a restrictive process, provide associates with a rationale, sincere empathy, and accommodating assistance.  Call your own unit or department, disguise your voice and ask for something slightly out of the ordinary.  Ask those you serve for suggestions on ways to reduce service effort and enrich their service experiences. 

As more and more organizations put “ease of service” front and center thus relegating bureaucracy to sidelines, the standards for how service should be delivered gets elevated.   Your associates use Nordstrom, FedEx and Amazon eyes to inspect your service delivery.  And, if their service experiences are found lacking, they trash your “brand” rendering your unit, “necessary, but not very nice.”

About Chip Bell

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several award-winning, best-selling books.  He has served as a consultant or trainer to the most customer-centric companies in the world including Ritz-Carlton Hotels, AMEX, Cracker Barrel, Cadillac, Harley-Davidson, Ultimate Software, Southwest Airlines and USAA. To learn more visit his site at

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