Book review: Uncommon service

It is an understatement to claim that technology has revolutionized the way that companies perform. That same technology enables professionals within customer service to develop individualized relationships with customers or pure encounters. Supported by advancements in management science, operations management and maketing, companies are able to improve both profits and financials.

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But technology is not the critical success factor. In my opinion, the mindset of meeting the customer demand for great service – and saving money at the save time – is more important.

Frances Frei and Anne Morris wrote a book covering some recommendations how to design customer service.

In UnCommon Service, Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei and coauthor Anne Morriss bring their provocative argument to the table: that companies must dare to be “bad” in order to be great, choosing strategic ways to underperform while fueling a winning service advantage.

The authors claim that uncommon service is created by specific design choices made in the very blueprint of a business model. And it not merely about making customers happy; instead it is about creating an organization where all employees – not just the star performers – provide excellent service as a matter of routine. These outstanding service organizations create offerings, fund strategies, system and cultures that set their people up to excel casually.

The authors claim that they introduce a decidedly fresh view of service. An organizational design model is presented built on tough services one must make about four dimensions of any business.

Frei and Morriss illustrate the power of their approach with examples from a wide array of industries. Uncommon service makes a powerful case for a new and systematic approach to customer service.

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The core

These are the four dimensions of your business:

Your service offering: How do customers define “excellence” in your offering? 

Your service funding mechanism: How will you get paid for delivering excellence? 

Your emplyee management system: How will you prepare your employees to deliver excellence every day? 

Your customer management system: How will you get your customers to behave in ways that improve their service experience – without disrupting anyone’s else’s?

Your service offering (which specific attributes of service are you competing on) is determined by its funding mechanism, the employee management system and the customer management system.

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Leverage of trade-offs is essential.

As the authors explain, there are four service truths:

You can not be good at everything;
The authors claim simply that dissatisfaction is a predictable outcome when you try to be great at everything. To put it into practice you have to undertake various steps (e.g creating an internal attribute map, creating and external attribute map and analyzing your performance. In this way, one can identify wasted edges and wasted profits. The next step is redefining value.

Someone has to pay for it;

Four ways are identified to pay for excellence:

Charge customers extra for it;
Make cost reductions that also improve service;
Make service improvement that also reduce costs;
Get customers to do the work for you.
To put it into practice these steps are recommended:

Examine your cost structure;
Monetize your strengths;

Unleash your customers.
It is not your employees fault;
In a service model that works, employees are reasonably able and reasonably motivated to achieve excellence. The able part is made possible by selection, training and job designs that set up real-world employees to succeed. The motivated part is facilated by a performance management system that makes them want to do their job effectively.

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You must manage your customers;
Their basic message: if you are in the service business, you do not know which customers are showing up, when and what they are going to do once they get there. And so you need plan for managing this uncertainty. Customer chaos can be managed in two ways: by reducing  (tends to favor efficiency) or accommodating it (supporting service).

To create a successful customer management system, one has to select customers and train them applying well designed customer jobs. And just like with employees, the customer performance should be managed.

The authors use as formula: Service Excellence = Design X Culture.

When your service model is designed right, it produces the same sensations among the people who interact with it. But like an empty building it is missing the critical element of people interacting with each other. Or culture. The authors refer to other authors to sharpen your insights with regard to culture.

My rating

4,0 stars on a scale 0-5.

The authors wrote a very well structured book with lots of examples.
For those who are looking for non-American service examples. Not too many.

There are many professionals that advocate in designing service technology and processes are essential to create transformational innovation or other strategic avenues to growth. The authors stress the importance of the human element.

This book is recommended reading for anyone who is interested in reflecting about the management of customer service. It is to you how that knowledge and information will be applied by you to achieve business or professional growth.

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