• Service Essentials – The Amplification Effect

    Las Vegas, July 2010. I took a cab from the McCarran Airport to my

    hotel, located about 30 minutes from the Las Vegas strip. The

    annual TMI World Congress was being held at this hotel. I was

    looking forward to seeing my TMI colleagues from around the world

    and to bring new consulting and training methodologies back to

    Malaysia. The cab pulled up to the hotel. First impressions were

    good. The hotel wasn’t your usual over-the-top Las Vegas glitz, but

    rather, gave the impression of muted tones with a touch of class. I

    paid the cab driver and he drove off. There was no one from the

    hotel to greet me as I got out of the cab. This registered in my brain

    for a nanosecond, but it was just a little thing. I walked past a hotel

    employee who seemed to be slouching at his desk outside of the

    hotel. This sloppiness registered for a nanosecond, but it was just a

    little thing. Little did I know that, by the time I had left the hotel, the

    series of little things that weren’t quite right had become so huge

    that they reverberated like big gongs banging inside of my head6

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    Check-in went smoothly. I took the elevator to my room. I always

    have a feeling of expectation as I put the key card in the door and

    am about to inspect my “home” for the next few days. I swung the

    door open. The room was dark. I fumbled around, looking for the

    light switch. The lights didn’t come on. I looked for a place to put the

    key card. There wasn’t one. For some reason, my stress levels went

    up. I used my suitcase to prop the door open to let some light in,

    fiddled with the two-way switch and it finally came on. I figured that

    this must be a “George issue”, and recorded it somewhere at the

    back of my brain.

    The room looked great. I had a pool view! Bonus! I needed a drink of

    water. There were no drinking glasses in the room. I went to the

    bathroom. No drinking glasses there either. Eventually, I found 2

    plastic cups. “This is unusual,” I thought to myself. By now, the little

    things were starting to amplify in my brain. I didn’t realise it, but my

    RAS – the Reticular Activation System in my brain – was starting to

    get stimulated.

    Your Reticular Activation System is the part of your brain that

    controls how acutely aware you are to what is happening around

    you. If you are a bird watcher, when you are outdoors, your RAS will

    heighten your senses to the birds around you. If you are in the

    market for a new car, say a BMW, then your RAS will attune your

    senses to notice the BMWs on the roads. I could feel that a “What’s

    wrong with this hotel?” reticular activation was starting to kick in.

    Without me realizing it, my brain was now scanning my experience

    to find out what was going wrong! I found that the series of little

    things that were going wrong were being amplified in my mind.

    One of the professional development sessions that I attended at the

    TMI World Congress was on customer service design. We decided

    to use the hotel as the case study. Little did I know what was about

    to erupt. One person from Poland complained that she was so

    distressed to arrive at night to a room that was pitch black – and she

    couldn’t switch on the lights. A number of people – including me –

    had the same experience! Another person from the UK said that the

    hotel did not supply power adaptors for those with non-US electric

    appliances. A number of people – including me – had the same

    experience! A young consultant from Nigeria said that the check-in

    person was unhelpful.

    Your Reticular


    System can

    make you

    acutely aware

    of “what is

    wrong” with

    this business


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    The stories kept coming. One participant from Australia said that

    there were no mirrors in the elevators – and a number of women

    chorused her complaint! The size of the problem kept amplifying. It

    got bigger and bigger. The “unhappy customer” gong in my head

    was hitting harder and harder. One of the women in the room got so

    angry that she left the session and tried to check out of the hotel! I

    found that the things that had first mildly annoyed me were now

    amplified many times over. And my mind was now “looking” for more

    little things that would go wrong! I have coined this term – where a

    number of little things that “go wrong” combine to create major

    customer dis-satisfaction – as The Amplification Effect.

    Let’s step back and take an objective look at what happened. First,

    millions and millions of dollars had been spent on this business. It

    looked good, had comfortable facilities and a choice of food outlets,

    and more. The business spent on a lot of time and money to get the

    “big things” right. But the hotel lost sight of the “little things”. And it

    was a combination of “little things” going wrong that led to their

    impact being amplified more and more in the mind of the customer.

    Taken in isolation, the little things may seem insignificant. Most

    times, the customer won’t bother complaining about them. Many

    people would consider themselves to be “petty” to be making a big

    deal about them. After all, it was just a drinking glass! But when the

    customer experiences a series of little things that go wrong and the

    Amplification Effect sets in – then we have recipe for a very unhappy


    When the Amplification Effect sets in, 1 little issue + 1 little issue + 1

    little issue no longer add to 3 little issues. Rather, they amplify to

    major customer irritation. And when the customer gets irritated, any

    additional “little things” get amplified louder and stronger.

    So here is the message for your business: you spend an enormous

    amount of money on getting the “big things” right. Be equally vigilant

    to make sure that you look after the little things. Focus on the little

    details of your customer experience so that there is no chance of a

    series of seemingly minor issues amplifying to a customer never

    wanting to deal with your business ever again. Until next month!

    Little things

    that go wrong

    amplify to





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    Copyright © 2010 by George Aveling

    Share the knowledge!  Please feel free to share this knowledge. You have

    permission to distribute and copy this article providing you acknowledge George

    Aveling, CEO of TMI, as the owner of the copyright.

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