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Best Service is No Service
Best Service is No Service
by Bill Price & David Jaffe


Those of us who have been in the customer service world for the past 15+ years have struggled mightily to apply new technologies such as intelligent call routing or automated speech analytics, identify and hold onto the best possible talent to answer email or handle phone calls, and implement better training, scheduling, and other systems to pull it all together.

Unfortunately, for all of our efforts, billions of dollars, and blood, sweat, and tears, customer satisfaction is essentially flat while operating, capital, and support budgets are under tremendous stress. Customers have more and more choice and are expressing their frustration by switching companies at the drop of a hat, often sharing their disquiet with thousands of others on Internet blogs.

Instead of coping with customer demand, building more capacity and trying to figure out how to improve the customer interactions, we need to challenge that customer demand, and find other, more sustainable solutions that will enable a win/win/win for customers, our companies, and our agents.

This paradigm shift is what I have been calling “The Best Service is No Service”, meaning that everything should work perfectly such that customers do not have to interrupt their busy day to call, email, launch a chat session, walk into a branch, or in other ways have to interact with a customer support person.

This might sound like nirvana, or it might even worry you – after all, don’t customers prefer to speak to a real person instead of machine? Won’t we risk losing all of those cross-sell and up sell opportunities if we get rid of customer contacts? Stay with me as I paint the picture with two quick stories, and then I’ll lay out how to start the journey for Best Service.

The Stories

One of the inspirations I had for Best Service was in the early 1990s at MCI Telecommunications, a renegade upstart in the US battling the AT&T long distance monopoly (MCI is now part of Verizon). MCI offered low cost home and business phone services, originally with fewer bells and whistles than AT&T provided but increasingly closing the gap.

In California MCI’s services appealed to immigrants from Mexico or Asia who placed long distance calls to those countries and craved lower rates. MCI’s Sacramento, California call center was growing fast as more customers signed up for the company’s services, but an MCI customer service manager figured out by listening to calls that most of the time the bilingual agents were simply translating the English language invoices for the confused customers, not adding “value” but rather eating into MCI’s then tight profits.

This manager decided to take a bold course change by asking “why don’t we produce invoices in different languages?” Shortly after MCI launched this program the calls started to plummet, the call center could shrink in size, and customers were delighted, so much that they remained loyal to MCI even after AT&T bombarded them with offers to convert … to AT&T’s English-language only invoices. Clearly this intervention was a win/win/win.

Amazon has been the poster child for Internet commerce, now a USD 11 billion juggernaut selling products in 41 different stores and 7 web sites. Amazon’s early products were BMV (books, music, and video), so when the rare shipping mishap damaged one of the products Amazon would send a free replacement, no questions asked.

This helped Amazon to develop its reputation garnering the 2nd highest score for the ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index), and yet this customer-centric strategy wasn’t scalable when the company launched electronics or sold back-up generators – no way the company could send free replacements but, instead, it had to follow standard “reverse logistics” practices by issuing RMA (return merchandise authorizations).

Customers started calling Amazon’s centers to explain why they needed to return one of these more expensive products, describe the reason to a patient agent, request the RMA, and wait for the RMA to arrive in the mail.

Amazon decided to take a bold course change by challenging its vaunted web self-service team to work with reverse logistics, marketing, and customer service to produce what we called “downloadable return labels”.

In short order calls plummeted, agents could service other issues, and customers controlled the RMA directly from their home or office printers. Another win/win/win.

The Best Service Journey

MCI’s and Amazon’s experiences are not unique, and they share the same stepwise approach that your company can apply to take a bold course change and reshape how customers can get what they want. Let me describe the 7 steps in this Best Service journey:

  1. Challenge demand for service, instead of coping with customer demand; sort customer contacts into valuable or irritating for the customer and for the company, leading to four clear paths: (a) eliminating contacts entirely (irritant/irritant); (b) automating contacts (valuable for customers/irritant to company); (c) simplify or improve contact handling (valuable to company/irritant for customers); (d) leverage and spend more time on contacts (valuable/valuable)

  2. Eliminate “dumb contacts” (the irritant/irritant category which is usually 20-40% of the customer contact volume, defined as numbers of agent-handled contacts X average handle time X cost per hour)

  3. make it really easy for customers to contact your company, instead of burying toll-free numbers or ignoring the growing blogosphere

  4. create engaging self-service using web and IVR tools, aiming for 80% “success rates”

  5. Be proactive, sending timely alerts, instead of waiting for inevitable contacts

  6. Own the actions across the organization, pinning the blame for customer contacts with the departments whose broken products or mistakes or confusing policies are actually causing the contacts, usually 90-95% of them

  7. Listen and act on what customers are saying, or WOCAS, since customers convey tremendously useful information about your products or what they want to buy from you, your competitors, and brand-affecting issues.

By following these 7 steps, and taking the bold course instead of investing more effort and scarce resources coping with customer demand, your company can raise the bar and achieve the rare win/win/win for customers, the company, and your agents.

 The Best Service is No Service is available now!

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