The Best Service is No Service

Customer service is broken.

"Loyalty" is very hard to achieve when customers encounter broken processes (incorrect invoices) or missed promises (late shipments) or confusing offers, all of which force customers to call, email, chat, write letters, or stomp into the branch office to complain.

For many years we have "coped" with this demand for service, instead of figuring out why customers have to spend their precious time (and our precious resources) to answer those contacts, research solutions, and pacify customers. What if we approached this problem from the opposite side -- what if we could "challenge" the demand for service and fix the problems for once and for all and, while doing so, find new ways to deliver great customer experiences?

This is the core premise of "the best service is no service" or, put differently, customers shouldn't have to contact organizations for pre- and post-sales service or tech support at all -- everything should work perfectly, be clear, and not force customer service. To all service contacts we apply the "wake up in the morning" test -- do we as consumers wake up thinking, "Hey, I think that I'll call my utility [or bank or online retailer] to get my account fixed!" -- no! We all want things just to work!

After suffering many years as customers, and putting in place "Best Service" at Amazon.com and with our clients, and collecting both "bad cases" and "good cases", we decided that "enough is more than enough," and so we have developed the 7 Principles of Best Service:

    1. Eliminate dumb contacts. Let's fix the broken systems and confusing marketing message -- 26 percent of the customer contact volume (contacts times handle or process time times handle costs) never need to be handled.
    2. Create engaging self-service. Let's engineer self-service offerings to ensure an 80 percent success rate, just as Alaska Airlines does for its online support. Don't know your self-service success rate? It's time to figure it out!
    3. Be proactive. Let's craft outbound automated messages to alert customers when something changes, or is broken, just like Amazon pioneered with order and shipping confirmations.
    4. Make it really easy to contact your company. Let's invite our customers to phone us to send messages directly to the CEO, like Kingfisher Airlines does in India, the best way to figure out what to fix or what customers really want.
    5. Own the actions across the company. Let's identify the groups that cause customer contacts (hint: it's not the Customer Service Department!) and enlist them to work together with customer care.
    6. Listen and act. Let's set up multiple listening posts to collect "what customers are saying" -- and act upon what they're saying -- cheaper and faster than focus groups (hint: blogs are turning into a gold mine).
    7. Deliver great customer experiences. Let's rethink fundamentally the way we do things today, asking "How do we create processes, technology, and an organization that can deal with this remaining demand?" after following the other Seven Principles. Instead of trying to calculate first contact resolution, track "snowballs" (repeats) and engage your agents to help each other to eliminate mistakes.
The core metric in Best Service is to cut contacts per driver X, where X = orders or customers or statements. When the entire enterprise, including your outsourcing firms, embraces that "the best service is no service" there are manifold benefits: lower support costs, higher customer sat, and greater customer loyalty. Remember the "wake up in the morning" test!

About the authors
Bill Price is the president of Driva Solutions, a customer service management consultancy in Bellevue, Wash. He was Amazon.com's first global vice president of customer service. David Jaffe is the managing director of LimeBridge Australia, a customer service management consultancy in Melbourne, Australia, and previously was with Accenture. They have co-authored The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep them Happy, and Control Costs (Wiley, 2008)

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