The Best Service Is No Service

As hard as it is to remember, support teams need to reflect on why customers have to contact them at all. That’s often easier said than done as day-to-day pressures encourage a heads-down focus on the queue. The risk is that you might optimize for work that never needed to happen.

This is why I find so much worthwhile advice in Bill Price and David Jaffe’s book, The Best Service Is No Service. The authors present a vision for support that goes beyond that day-to-day, heads-down view. The book is loaded with guidelines and anecdotes, and each time I read it I take away something new.

Price and Jaffe start from the premise that people don’t begin each day hoping to contact support. This seems obvious, but it’s a reality that companies often overlook. That oversight shows up when companies focus on what a customer needs help with rather than why they need help at all. The authors put forward a clear goal: create an experience that’s so great customers don’t have to contact support.

It takes many pieces working together for that to happen and the authors outline seven key principles. For anyone leading a team, these principles will help you think about how support can partner with teams across the company. While I find some of the specifics too prescriptive, it’s nonetheless a framework that helps me examine my own assumptions and learn where our team can improve.

Early in the book they outline three categories of customer requests. These are what the authors call “dumb” contacts—those emails, chats, or phone calls that could have been avoided:

  • Customer interactions caused by the company. Think of all those issues caused by unclear processes, poor products, or long delays.
  • Customer interactions caused by support. Often these are mistakes which cause a customer to contact support again.
  • Customer interactions that are easy-to-answer. These are all those questions that take just a few seconds (or a script) to answer.

In my experience, and in many of the anecdotes they share, these three categories catch tons of issues that customers face every day. Fixing them often just takes an update to support docs, or an improved email template, or a similarly quick next step. That quick payoff is a great place to start as it helps build the trust and habits that let a team tackle more complex issues.

One of my all-time favorite examples of this kind of work comes from Dan Heath’s book Upstream. In a lot of ways it’s a less structured, spiritual successor to The Best Service Is No Service. In the first chapter of Upstream, which is also available on Medium, Heath relates how Expedia realized almost 20 million calls a year came from customers who just needed a copy of their itinerary. Wowza! They got a team together and after quick, basic improvements went from 56% of customers contacting support to just 15%. Talk about dramatic results.

A common thread in both Upstream and The Best Service Is No Service is that great service depends on more than just the support team. To make progress on those three categories I mentioned earlier requires involvement across company leadership. That’s not easy, but Price and Jaffe’s book provides a number of clear, practical suggestions. It won’t do the hard work for you, but it will give you the language and examples that help your team create a great customer experience.