The Best Service Is No Service

A while back I picked up The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs by Bill Price and David Jaffe which is based upon their experience with customer service at Amazon. The premise of the book is that if you're in the online game your customers don't want to talk to you or interact with you. They want to get what they want, anytime they want, with no need to "touch" you in any unplanned way. The goal being customer service eliminates itself rather than staffs up to process more volume. Another one of those ah ha moments where you say to yourself why didn't I think of that. How to do it, or at least my interpretation of how to do it:

  • Capture all touch points between you and the customer.
  • Classify the why or reason for the touch. Keep the options simple, less than 30, refine over time.
  • For each reason identify the cause, it is the causes your going to go after, not how to handle more touches faster, but rather what caused the touch and how do I get rid of it.
  • Create a touch index, a rolling 6 week total of all touches over some measure of your volume of business. Chart it. It should be driving down, especially if your volume of business is driving up.
  • Some touch reasons take longer to resolve or require multiple touches to close them. My recommendation is go after these first - things that take time and more than likely allot of back and forth are the most frustrating for your client and the most expensive for you. Once these are closed than go after the volume one touch reasons and close them in order of highest to lowest volume.

This approach should build momentum. It is likely going to be hard to get rolling because everyone is so busy fighting fires but as they put out the cause of the fire they should find more and more time to invest in proactive prevention rather than reactive customer service.

Pretty simple. I wish I could take credit for the insight. And like everything, hearing it second hand from me doesn't do the system any justice at all. Get the book!

What Service Isn't - Part II

A week or two ago I slammed Air Canada for their absolute no handling of a flight they canceled on me, and for the record have still not contacted me regarding reimbursement for hotel costs, etc. and then I read this "Airline promises to notify travelers via e-mail, text messaging, then provide details directly about rebooked flights" in the Globe and Mail today. Now I am even angrier and even more determined to find other means to get to where I want to go. If you can't do it, won't do it, can't afford it, don't know how to do it, or will do a really poor job of it - DON'T DO IT. Don't make promises to your customers that you can't keep.

Better example, I am in Home Depot on the weekend doing the "could you help me" dance with multiple "associates". Three of them in a row say "not my area, don't know" and stare at me blankly. Weeks before I walked by a poster in their back hall touting their "no pointing" policy and encouraging all staff to lead the customer to directly what they want. Great idea I thought at the time. Seems like somewhere along the way they failed to implement or just couldn't do it. Now to add complete insult to injury I gave up looking, took what I had and headed to the check out. Where the cashier ever so nicely asked in what seemed like a pre-recorded voice "did you find everything you need?". I said "no, I asked three people who basically refused to help me so I gave up". She stared at me blankly, then smiled awkwardly, then proceeded to ring in my items.

This doesn't win over customers. It alienates them. If you can't execute on what you are promising don't bother promising at all. Don't ask if you found everything if your not prepared to deal with the answer "no". Seems so simple but I keep running into this over and over. You don't do your customer any favors and you sure don't do your organization any either.

What Service Isn't

Air Canada cancels their 5:30pm flight at 9pm. Not the night before, three and a half hours after it was supposed to leave.

They have no one there to tell everyone what to do. So you give up and leave. You find a cab. You find a hotel. You call reservations, wait on hold for one and a half hours, while paying US roaming charges I might add, and they rebook you through Chicago, which now turns what would have been a 2 hour flight into a 6 hour journey. The person you are talking to has no idea if they will cover your hotel expenses or how to submit your claim.

You show up the next morning and you discover that you have been booked on United and United is charging you to check a bag and get a seat. You hand over your credit card. Why I am paying additional charges to have Air Canada fly me out I have no idea.

You arrive in Chicago and your flight has been canceled from Chicago to Toronto. You walk up to Air Canada and say I need a flight. They say your with United and you quietly explain that no your are not. They insist that you go to United Customer "Service" (I use the term loosely) and there you find a line of 30 people and they are moving 1 person about every 5 minutes. You do the math. You call Air Canada reservations, wait on hold for an hour, while still in line, and still paying US roaming charges, and they say okay we will rebook you on a flight. They tell you see the agent and they will give you a seat and will re-route your luggage. Why the first Air Canada agent I walked up to didn't do this in the first place is beyond me.

You go see the Air Canada agent again, line up again for another 30 minutes, and he can't fit you on the plane, but he is the first customer focused person you have seen so far and realizes that you have been through a very messed up situation. He upgrades you to business class free of charge. Thank you! Why I am so happy at that point I have no idea but my joy was short lived. I then ask about my luggage. He explains he has no idea and that he shouldn't even book me if I have luggage with United. I stare dumb founded. He says no worries he will ignore it. I still ask "how do I get my luggage"? He suggests I go to United baggage claim, see if I can find it, and if I can go back out through security, go to the ticket counter, check it, go back through security and all will be good. I say your kidding?

As of this writing I have given up finding the luggage and am just hoping that they don't cancel my next flight. This is not customer service. Problems happen but it is how you deal with them that creates opportunities. If the flight had been canceled and Air Canada accepted responsibility and guided me through getting home I would have been impressed with how they dealt with a tough situation and I would have chosen to fly with them any chance I have. Instead they have made their problem my problem and at every step made the situation worse. I now know why they are once again heading for bankruptcy and it has nothing to do with a recession.


Update from Toronto. Yes I made it. No luggage though. Surprised? No. I go to Air Canada to file a claim. They say no can do, go to United. I go to United and they say, and I quote "They can't just keep sending people over like this." and they send me back to Air Canada. Air Canada tries to balk, I say no way, and after a day and a half of trying to get home it was pretty obvious that I was about to go postal. They say okay we will file your claim. Once again I am happy. But why? Why am I happy that this really messed up situation has been finally accepted by someone and they will do something about it. Happy that I am leaving with no luggage and no idea when I will get it. Because they won't make any promises. Crazy. A couple of minor tweaks in this whole thing and I would be talking about how well they dealt with a bad situation. Instead I am dumbfounded with how dysfunctional they are. Porter Airlines here I come.

Seriously though, this is not service, if your organization moves responsibility for what you provide to your client what purpose do you have in the value you create for them? None. And if they realize they are paying for nothing, then they will go elsewhere as fast as they can. Right?