The Fallacy of Service Shortcuts


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January is the number one dieting month of the year! Those holiday parties and giant, pull-out-all-the stops meals can add unwanted pounds and unattractive inches. Who could pass up trying that casserole? As good as the eggnog and fruit cake were, you could not escape their propensity for turning seconds of palette pleasure into months of waist line excess.

“Get liposuction!” someone advised our friend, George, at year before last’s neighborhood holiday gathering. But, there was George at this past year’s holiday party with the same over-the-belt bulge. “What happened to your weight loss, George?” we queried him. George had tried every diet on the planet and had been proud of his new figure right after his mid-section vacuuming.

“Liposuction was a short cut; it only lasted me a few months,” he reported. “I have finally come to realize that the discipline of eating right and exercise regularly is the only real way to lose the pounds and keep them off.” I am happy to report that so far this year, George has lost twenty pounds. But, he admits he is treading the temptation of Fourth of July barbeque!

Customer service can be a lot like George’s struggle with coping with a scrumptious but unhealthy culinary thrill. Self-service can be service liposuction—removing necessary human interaction solely to cut costs. “Some assembly required” can be a signal of service liposuction in the works. Excess customer wait time can be the byproduct of someone’s shortcut to expense control. Count the number of phone number buttons you have to push to finally get to someone who can help you. If you are past two or three, you are definitely the victim of a shortcut that adds unpleasant effort to the service experience.

Customers value organizations that ardently pursue efficiency and seek novel ways to lower service costs. Lowered costs, while clearly improving the attractiveness of a company’s bottom line (don’t go there!), can often be passed on to the customer as a lower price.

Southwest Airlines runs a perpetually profitable, low-cost carrier through an efficient operation. But, their renowned service experience is the result of discipline and hard work, not the byproduct of shortcuts that leave passengers feeling their treatment was stingy or their experience hollow. Beware of shortcuts that skimp on your customer’s experience. It is the source of their memories about you and what they tell others about your indifferent attitude toward their service health.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


  1. Yeah, but…
    Self service gasoline is a fantastic improvement because I’d likely pay extra to avoid interacting with the Circle-K clerk, and the tweaker trying to talk him into a doughnut for the 27 pennies she has in her brassiere.
    Conversely, when the self-check line at the supermarket today shat a ‘supervisor’s approval required’ message, we walked out, carrying our bag of loot, wondering if the transaction will post to our bank, or if perhaps we are the criminal element, shoplifting our $12.45 worth of vittles.
    The axiom is that “Technology is great, until it isn’t.”
    Same with self-service. I’d rather help myself than discover the freakishly shallow depth of knowledge of the salesperson that I am supposed to trust to help me make the right purchase. I’d rather help myself than waste my time being ‘helped.’
    And, therein is the double-edged sword: If you stand up technology as an alternative, or a short cut if you will, to service, make damned sure it works: Intuitively, efficiently, and effectively. If you parade ‘self service’ as an alternative to an organizational inability to stand up good customer service, make damned sure it works.


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