“The best service is no service.”
An interesting phrase, this elicits many possible thoughts. Does it imply the complete absence of any kind of service whatsoever will deliver what customers need? Is it that the best possible service is simply impossible?
This phrase comes from the title of a book (shortened from here onward to “TBSINS”) by Bill Price and David Jaffe. Written in 2008, this decade-old narrative still has companies pursuing the many concepts it proposed for radically altering the traditional approach to customer service. Among the notions offered are to:
- Eliminate dumb contacts
- Create engaging self-service
- Be proactive
- Own the actions across the organization
What the authors were describing at the time has strong similarities to a service management-style approach. From its beginnings in IT, the past few years have seen service management applied to other parts of the business, including customer service. Let’s look more closely a the parallels between the book’s ideas and service management.
Eliminate Dumb Contacts
“Prevent the need for many contacts, once and for all.” – Principle 1, TBSINS
Applying the label of dumb sounds harsh, but it’s not referring to the customers; rather, it’s about the associated work. Specifically, these are the customer interactions that are high-volume, low value, uninteresting to agents, and add unnecessarily to service costs because they can be eliminated.
This involves examining the reasons why customers are calling, identifying the root cause of these issues, and taking care of them. Analyzing and addressing the root cause fits into problem management, a sub-process within service management.
I would wager most customer contacts are as a result of a problem a company creates for itself: products arriving broken due to poor packaging, parts missing, unclear instructions, billing errors–the list goes on and on. TBSINS delves further into how the root cause is best approached below in Principle 5: “Own The Actions Across The Organization.”
If eradicating the root cause isn’t possible, there’s another way to address high volume, repetitive contact issues: self-service.
Create Engaging Self-Service
“Because you cannot eliminate all contacts, the next best thing is to enable (self-service) contact mechanisms.” – Principle 2, TBSINS
It’s true it would be impossible to abolish all customer contact. But not every issue needs to be handled over a high-expense, live, one-to-one channel. Similarly with service management, the goal is to provide efficient, intuitive service. Engaging self-service is one such channel for that.
Research supports the need to provide self-service. Forrester has pointed out customers want companies to value their time; the continued growth in the use of self-service illustrates how customers prefer service they can use at a time and place convenient to them.
Changing contact information. Updating billing information. Registering a warranty. These are just a few common interactions that could be automated through workflow, taking the work out of customer service by having customers submit requests directly to the departments that can complete them–another concept introduced in Principle 5, which we will cover below. Other self-service options like knowledge base articles fill the gap for situations that require manual steps by the customer.
“Alert customers before they need to contact you.” – Principle 3, TBSINS
Customers contact customer service when they have problems. Imagine turning that around, so that customer service contacts the customer when they might experience an issue, addressing it before it manifests. Mastering both Principle 1 and Principle 2 help to streamline the application of proactive service.
Consider this. Eliminating the root cause of an issue means many customers who have not yet experienced it can avoid it. They can be notified using available contact methods–email, text message, telephone call, or even a postcard. If those solutions require actions that can be addressed with automation or simple steps to follow in the form of a knowledge base article, the customer can effortlessly apply the solution because self-service is available.
Another aspect of being proactive is performing preventative maintenance, where applicable. Periodically informing customers of the need to perform certain actions on their own or to have a field service technician complete the maintenance helps circumvent a disruption.
Own The Actions Across The Organization
“It is time to stop blaming the customer service department, which, in the vast majority of cases, is the messenger and not the cause of customer contacts.” – Principle 5, TBSINS
Customer service did not cause the wrong item to arrive, the product or service to break, or the invoice to be incorrect. These issues originated outside of customer service.
Earlier, Principle 1 espoused solving the root cause. Only the department that owns that part of the larger customer experience can properly address that root cause. Customer service, therefore, can be the friendly face and voice of the company and collect and triage customer issues. As both this principle and service management suggest, those issues are assigned to the teams who can address the root cause and permanently solve the problem. Workflow connects customer service to these other parts of the organization, keeping all teams on-track and accountable until a solution is delivered to the customer.
Outside of the technology driving it, a strong customer-oriented company philosophy is also needed. From the top down, every part of the organization must be working cooperatively to drive improvements to the customer experience.
Are You Offering The Best Service?
No product or service will ever truly be completely free from problems. There will always be something that requires a customer to contact customer service. Where companies will differ is in their approach to addressing these issues.
If you haven’t read it before (or perhaps it’s been a while since you did), read “The Best Service Is No Service.” Perhaps your company is already practicing many of its principles–or perhaps not. Problems are unexpected and frustrating disruptions for customers and can be costly for businesses to address, and this book as well as a service management approach offer a smarter way to drive a better customer experience.