What is service with sprinkles? Just ask one of my business partners, Susan Oldham, and she will immediately go into a passionate discourse on Corley, a plumbing, heating and electric company headquartered in Greenville, S.C. Susan is not just a satisfied customer; she is an enamored advocate. She had a plumbing issue in mid-February. So what do you think Corley used as sprinkles? You got it. A Valentine balloon!

Service with sprinkles is the unexpected, enchanting experiences that turn service that wows into service that awes. Just as sprinkles make a good cupcake truly special, it turns a value-added experience into a value-unique one. A Nexstar member, Corley has used an innovative service approach to turn a familiar trades business into one its customers rave about, are agreeable to wait for and are even willing to pay more for. Here are a few ingredients from the Corley gourmet recipe of “service with sprinkles.”

  • Always add an extra helping. A generous attitude has a magnetic impact on customers. It attracts them because it conveys to customers the kind of unconditional positive regard that characterizes relationships at their best. Customers like the way they feel when they are a part of relationships laced with substance more than encounters that are functional. In the words of Corley owner Chris Corley: “You cannot mandate a generous attitude; it must be embedded in the culture — from who you hire, how you train, to what you value. Two of our core values are ‘character’ and ‘unselfishness.’”

Log on to Corleypro.com and you will find videos of great “go the extra mile” customer stories told by technicians. There’s the one by Blake of a customer with guitars on his wall. “Do you play the guitar?” Blake asked. “I used to but, my arthritis is now too bad,” replied the customer. “I play the guitar,” Blake continued. “Would you like me to play for you?” And he played for the customer.

Or the story from Jeremy about a customer battling cancer during the Christmas holiday time and thus unable to put up a Christmas tree because it was all in her attic. “I think she was dreading that time of year,” Jeremy says. He got out her tree and decorations, and helped her get started hanging ornaments.

Give your customers the best you have and the best will come back to you.

  • Give the greatest thing since sliced bread. The second greatest gift you can give another person is the gift of learning. And customers today truly value service providers who demonstrate an interest in their learning. Home Depot’s popular in-store workshops turn satisfied customers into ardent advocates. According to research done by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting Vice Chair John Goodman, “Proactively providing customers new and useful information increases customers’ likelihood of repurchase by 32%.”

Corley provides a monthly “Girls Night Out” directed at its female customers, complete with refreshments. It was the brainchild of marketing manager Katie Sullivan.

A recent evite read, “It’s been a while, but we are finally talking about water heaters. We all agree that life without hot water would be a lot less pleasant, so we are giving this often under-appreciated appliance its own night. Calvin and Bubba will be letting you know about the upcoming changes to the efficiency rating standards on water heaters. If you’ve not attended before, we host these events in our shop. Don’t worry; you won’t get dirty and you can come after work.”

The eblast ends with, “Gentlemen, I apologize if you received this email, so please forward it to a woman in your life!”

  • Be as easy as a TV dinner. Are you a service provider who makes reaching a live person harder than winning the lottery? Is your service offering the only game in town — like a utility in some states? Do you hold your customers hostage with high switching costs or complicated account closing rules? If your customers call you, do you use your phone as an answering machine instead of an easy tool for two-way dialogue? Are you always reachable when your customers need you, or do you impose business hours convenient only to you? Are you always on time? Is your self-service actually “you are entirely on your own” service?

Corley customers get an email with the photo of the technician on the way, along with the photo of the dispatch person. Click on the photo in the email and you can learn the background of the person (or persons) with whom you will be dealing. Technicians focus on being easy to do business with. “We treat our customer’s home like it is truly their castle,” says one technician.

“We want to always leave our customers’ homes better than we found them,” notes Chris Corley. And after a visit, customers get a hand-written thank-you note from the tech. It almost guarantees that if customers need service again from Corley, they ask for the technician by name.

Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and host of the TV show “Parts Unknown,” wrote: “Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: Is it good? Does it give pleasure?” Innovative service is a blend of these same two sentiments. As customers, we all want service that is good — meaning it successfully fulfills our needs or accomplishes the outcome we seek. But, we remember service that comes with an experience of unexpected pleasure.

Take a lesson from Corley and his team and make your customers’ experiences come with sprinkles.


This article was originally titled “Service with sprinkles” in the August 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.