Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business

By Frances Frei and Anne Morriss

Customer service is not an afterthought. In order to provide consistently excellent service, it must be baked in to the business model. In Uncommon Service, authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss explain that great service is “made possible—profitable, sustainable, scalable—by designing a system that sets everyone up to excel.”

No company can be excellent at everything, and those that try end up being mediocre at everything. So management must choose what to be bad at in order to optimize for the “operating segments” their target market finds most important. The authors include attribute maps to visualize this concept. When a company excels in attributes customers don’t care about, it is wasting money. When a company’s attribute map is very similar to its competitors, it needs to differentiate—a basic principle of positioning.

Since there is no free lunch, Frei and Morriss explain four ways in which outstanding service can be funded:

  1. Charge a premium structured as “palatable pricing.” Commerce Bank’s customers paid for convenient 7-day branch hours by accepting lower interest on their savings. Fees for seeing a teller would not have been palatable.
  2. Reduce costs in a way that improves service. Progressive Insurance immediate response vans reduce fraud, but are promoted as a customer convenience.
  3. Improve service in a way that reduces costs. Intuit had their software developers take some technical support calls. The engineers gained unfiltered insights for product improvements without the cost of market research. The callers got knowledgeable answers from people who knew the product inside-out.
  4. Get the customers to do some of the work. Ochsner Health System created a patient portal on which patients could schedule their own appointments. This improved customer satisfaction from roughly 50% to 90% while cutting the no-show rate in half.

Managing employees, company culture, and growth are also covered. This is an exceptionally well-written book, filled with interesting insights from a variety of companies.

Frei, Frances, and Anne Morriss. Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012. Buy from Amazon.com

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