Most companies treat service as a low-priority business operation, keeping it out of the spotlight until a customer complains. Then service gets to make a brief appearance – for as long as it takes to calm the customer down and fix whatever foul-up jeopardized the relationship.
In Uncommon Service , Frances Frei and Anne Morriss show how, in a volatile economy where the old rules of strategic advantage no longer hold true, service must become a competitive weapon, not a damage-control function. That means weaving service tightly into every core decision your company makes.
The authors reveal a transformed view of service, presenting an operating model built on tough choices organizations must
• How do customers define “excellence” in your offering? Is it convenience? Friendliness? Flexible choices? Price?
• How will you get paid for that excellence? Will you charge customers more? Get them to handle more service tasks themselves?
• How will you empower your employees to deliver excellence? What will your recruiting, selection, training, and job design practices look like? What about your organizational culture?
• How will you get your customers to behave? For example, what do you need to do to get them to treat your employees with respect? Do you need to make it easier for them to use new technology?
Practical and engaging, Uncommon Service makes a powerful case for a new and systematic approach to service as a means of boosting productivity, profitability, and competitive advantage.
Compelling argument for choosing explicitly what to be good and what to be bad at in a service business. Lots of real world examples make it a more interesting read, though overall not as engaging as I hoped.
Uncommon Service makes one especially good point, which is that the customer service experience involves trade offs, where you can do some things well, but not all. While this is an important point, the remainder of the book tends to fall increasingly flat, with fewer additional ideas that could be considered new and unique.
This book has really stuck with me since I've read it. That says a lot for someone who reads a lot of books about customer service.
I really like how the core points are presented in a very logical framework. For example, one of the main points of the book is that your business can't be good at everything. Smart companies choose to be great at the attributes their target customers care the most about while spending less time, money, and attention on the things that don't matter.
Breezy read. Very very practical. Has the answers to most common doubts and questions that you might have while reading the book. I would say the book has achieved the objective of had set out with. If you are a service business owner or an aspiring one or a senior level manager in a service business - definitely do read this book.
GREAT SERVICE = DESIGN X CULTURE which is then SCALED UP It’s built into the design of the firm which achieves the goal of superior service on average employees - Which means deciding what you won’t do well e.g. WMT wont provide high customer service & allocate resources accordingly - Fund that capital allocation by either charging customers extra (e.g. apple charges for its after care), cost improvements drive improved service (Progressive agents come on site ==> higher customer service, lower incident of fraud leading to lower cost), have improved service lower costs (Intuit product managers man call center) or get customers to do the work (airline self-check-in kiosk) - Either pay up for the best people, or have superior training that eliminates dead-weight, make the job easier for sales people so they can focus on service (don’t have a cashier sell complex fin products, also means picking the right customers) and have the right incentives - Manage your customers i.e. select the right ones to serve, train them to use your product (e.g. customers use SBUX lingo to order), reduce the complexity of what the customer has to do to get the job done, reward customers for compliance (not loyalty programs that are mere discounts) and control the degree to which customers influence your operations (at BK you can make your own whopper … but up to a point)
It needs to permeate through the culture of the firm which means mgmt. needs to have clarity on their culture, need to signal it to all employees, and signal it across job functions
And finally scale up i.e. service model within service model (NOT recreating a new service model) e.g. Best Buy caters to DIY electronics while their own Magnolia brand deals in high end electronics with high customer service … need to make sure back ops are shared else don’t get any scale benefits
It did initially seem an odd concept to do something’s within the organisation badly. But to focus on doing the few things customers value, really well, other things need to bend or you end up doing everything averagely.
A recommended book for any business owner or manager.
While this book was published back in 2012, many of its lessons are just as relevant today (albeit for potentially different reasons or due to new drivers). Some of my key takeaways include the following quotes:
• 4 service truths: 1) You can’t be good at everything. 2) Someone has to pay for it. 3) It’s not your employee’ fault. 4) You must manage your customers (p. 9-10). • “Leadership, at its core, is about making other people better as a result of your presence—and making sure that the impact lasts in your absence. As a leader, you create the conditions for others (in services, that means employees and customers to perform), and you do what it takes to sustain those conditions, even when you’re not in the room. Designing good systems is part of this ‘absentee leadership,’ but the most powerful tool you have, by far is culture. Culture not only guides individual decision-making, but also provides the foundation for all other organizational behavior and action. In other words, culture doesn’t just tell you what to do—it shows you how to think… Service Excellence = Design X Culture” (p. 8). • “There is an important distinction between marketing and operating segments. Marketing segments tell us how to identify and communicate with different kinds of customers. Operating segments tell us how to serve customers differently. There is rarely a one-to-one mapping between these segments” (p. 53). • “gratuitous service [is], service nice-to-haves donated to customers, with little chance of recovering their costs” (p. 56). • “there are four ways to pay for excellence: 1. Charge customers extra for it—in a palatable way. 2. Make cost reductions that also improve service. 3. Make service improvements that also reduce costs. 4. Get customers to do the work for you” (p. 56). • “be prepared to go all the way in integrating technology into job design, from great software and functional hardware to effective training and regular user feedback” (p. 1010) • “Job design is mostly about designing tasks so that they match a typical employee’s attitude and aptitude. Performance management is about creating incentives to do a job well—and disincentives to do it poorly. These are the carrots and sticks that keep your employees on track, but they can also include controls such as scripts and checklists that make it difficult for employees to stray too far” (p. 101). • “The goal of an excellent service organization is to deliver outstanding results with AVERAGE [my capitalization] employees” (p. 116). • “Successful employee management systems have four main components: selection, training, job design, and performance management” (p. 116). • “IT solutions can help or hurt your employees’ productivity, often in dramatic ways. IT tools that work are sensitive to the employee experience, including how and when data is entered in the rhythm of a particular job. The best solutions are developed in tandem with the role itself—not piled on after a job design is already in place” (p. 116). • “The average service employee is overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of his or her job. When a company identifies a gap like this between operational complexity and employee sophistication, it has two choices: change the people or change the job. In other words, (1) train and hire differently or (2) redesign the job so that your current team can do it” (p. 117). • “variability is a fact of life with customer-operators. Here are the different forms it can take: Arrival… Request... Capability… Effort… Preference…” (p. 122-123). • “These kinds of practical tools for communicating and reinforcing culture show up across organizations that consistently deliver outstanding customer value. More specifically, we’ve seen three distinct patterns in these organizations’ relationship to culture. All demonstrate high levels of the following: Clarity: knowing exactly what kinds of a culture you want to build, and how this culture is critical to achieving your most important performance objectives Signaling: relentlessly communicating the organization’s core values, particularly in moments when people are likely to be most receptive to these messages, such as during recruiting and orientation Consistency: reinforcing the culture at every turn and rooting out cultural violations, that is, misalignment between the desired culture and organizational strategy, structure, and operations” (p.163-164). • “When they are in constant contact with customers, employees often get a disproportionate exposure to the bad. When things are going great, customers rarely call their car company or cell phone provider to let it know. And what this disproportionate exposure to the bad means is that calcification often sets in. Employees become hardened toward customers and start treating them as two-dimensional entities. But it’s impossible to deliver excellent service when you’ve dehumanized your customer. So cultures not only have to get the norms and values right, but also have to provide for what we call regular decalcification. How much decalcification you’re going to need will depend on how much hardening has occurred” (p. 181). • “another way to think about shared services: a mechanism for sharing insight and learning across agencies. We call this realizing economies of experience” (p. 210).
3 things that stood out for me: 1) A company cannot be great at everything. It is better to focus on the things that matter to your client base than to try to be better at everything. 2) An excellent service organization need to achieve its results with average employees. Don't say "If only everyone is like Mr X." 3) Someone needs to pay for great service. Nothing is free.
Uncommon Service urges one to pick your battles and not go after everything. My biggest takeaway was the existence of an alternate segmentation based on operational feasibility, dubbed as operational segments (on the similar lines of marketing segments based on demographics and psychographics).
This is a really great, practical and clear roadmap to turning your organization into a high service, high achieving one! Our whole service team is reading it together and gleaning great insights, wonderful and engaged discussions, and targeted action steps.
The first half of this book was excellent, but it felt like it ran out of gas about halfway through. The overarching theory sustained 4-5 insightful chapters before the book gave way to a pretty generic conclusion.
That said, the first half of the book was really, really good.
Inspiring, dynamic, and practical. Their framework is a true blue print for service excellence. Three key take aways: employees yearn to serve, customers are eager to do their part, and organizations can change overnight. Highly recommend.
While this book is unnecessarily academic (maybe don't put a bunch of smiley faces on your cover and then write as if everyone reading is a Harvard MBA), but it is also packed with good information for any size business. My recommendation to small business owners - tough it out. It may get tedious at times, but it will give you so much valuable information.
Very applicable book with lots of tips and tricks. The only way to make this better would be by adding lots of comparison data (Collins style). Some of the ideas are thought provoking and it’s a great starting point to think differently.
In order to provide really great customer service you need to choose what aspects of customer service you’re going to really excel at and, this is the clincher, what aspects you’re going to put less attention on. Or, in the words of the authors, choosing where you’re going to be bad! The choice to be made is what type of service design you’re going to implement in you organization – and trade-offs will always have to be made.
The authors argue that the time has come for this book as:
The primary driver of our economy is no longer what we make, but how we serve each other. Eighty percent of jobs in the U.S. are now in service, and service represents eighty percent of the gross national product.
WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW
There are four key ‘truths’ for amazing service. These are: (1) you need to choose what aspects of service you’re going to focus on and which parts you’re not; (2) understand where the resourcing for this extra service will come from; (3) understand that your employees can only ever be as good as the system you establish allows them to be; and (4) you ought to proactively manage your customer’s engagement with your organization. The final point is that it is your organizational culture that allows this to come together as a whole.
THE GENERAL OVERVIEW
This is a really interesting book which isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. While much of what the authors advocate could be considered common sense it is often the things that are the most obvious that we don’t notice.
What the authors do – and they do it well – is lay out a number of structural decisions that an organization can make to create a service design within the organization to help differentiate your organization from your competitors. These four structural aspects – which the authors call the four service truths – are then made real through the operation of the organization’s culture. And, they do a very good job of both explaining how culture impacts on the operation of an organization’s service design as well as how an organization can work to create the ‘right type’ of culture for success.
In the author’s word:
Service Excellence = Design x Culture
The real strength of the book is the very practical way in which they outline what an organization needs to do to put into practice their ideas while all the while backing it up with evidence from a range of different companies working in a number of different sectors. Part of the interest in the book is the use of examples you wouldn’t normally think of being successful because of service excellence such as their use of case studies from businesses like ‘Bugs Burger Bugs Killers’ – a pest extermination firm!
We’ve followed their advice in the creation of modifying the service design model we’re using in our firm and there isn’t a better recommendation of the utility of a book like this than using it ourselves! Definitely a recommended read.
This book has useful elements of service design but falls short of meaningful advancement in favor of a standard 'customer service' approach. The book sometimes strays from its thesis "putting customers at the core" and at various times adopts the banner of "doing less to get more". Fundamentally this book is as if blue ocean strategy was re-written specifically for services. (Choose the dimensions you will excel in, others not so much).
This approach while valuable falls apart with the inconsistent rigor applied to selecting the highlighted companies. At various times the book recommends Best Buy as a notable example, when their shortcomings should have been obvious by the time this book was written.
Overall this book inspired my thinking but is a 'nice to read' not a definitive contribution to service design or management.
Normally, It is a sin to compare business books against fiction. For a business book this had one of the most coherent story all through without repeating itself. And fit enough to be the bible for designing customer service.
The authors have not polished theories, but build a more empirical logic on what works and what doesn't. The first chapter in a gist gives the entire book and each chapter explains with anecdotes and case studies. The core idea that service organizations must resign to the fact that they can't be good at everything is hard hitting.
It follows through the logic with each chapter exploring the various dimensions such as Customer, Employer, Culture, Structure, Strategy and Scaling up in crisp concise fashion with Uncommon Takeaways at the end of each chapter.
When a CEO gives you a book, you read it! I interviewed Rhoda Olsen, CEO of Great Clips, for my blog (post coming out next month). As we discussed books she reached into her bookshelf and gave me this one, and I'm glad she did.
This book, by two Harvard business profs, lays out the secrets to a good service strategy. One of them particularly resonated with me - to be good at something, you have to decide what to be bad at. If you're going to offer great service you either need to charge more, or sacrifice something else to pay for it. Commerce Bank was one example - great service paid for by offering the worst rates in the industry.
If you're running a service, I highly recommend this book.