Uncommon Service (book review)

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

Author: Frances Frei and Anne Morriss
Genre: nonfiction; business, strategy, management, service
Rating: 4/5

In one sentence: learn why the customer is not king plus many other surprising insights and strategies to achieve service excellence.

In a book about service, you expect a message along the lines of “customer is king”: make service the number one priority in your company; ensure all employees spend as much time time with your customers as necessary; and excellence all the time and everywhere.

That is not the message of this book. Early on, Uncommon Service states:

“To deliver great service on the dimensions that your customers value most, you must underperform on dimensions they value less. This means you must have the stomach to do some things badly.”

Wow! To provide excellent service, you must actually do some things badly. Why? Because for most businesses, it’s not possible to provide excellent service in every area and maintain a sustainable business model. Instead, you must figure out what your customers care most about and excel there, while sucking in most other areas.

As a great example, it cites Commerce Bank in its early days. While other banks had reasonable deposit rates but terrible counter service, Commerce flipped this around: they realized many potential customers didn’t care much about deposit rates; they cared about good counter service. So Commerce provided terrible deposit rates (hence saving money there), and provided excellent counter service instead (which meant increased costs there).

The other surprising insight from the book is to consider your customers part of your organization. Just like hiring the wrong team members can doom your company, bringing in the wrong type of customer can also wreak havoc. They might expect a level of service that does’t fit with your pricing strategy or they don’t get along well with your other customers. Customer selection should therefore be part of your service model as much as anything else.

Uncommon Service has lots of practical advice on how to improve your service offering while staying profitable at the same time (and even increasing profits by improving your service offering). It reads well, has lots of great examples, but is also practical enough to make learnings easy to implement. A great book for anyone thinking of improving customer service in their business.

> Uncommon Service

Goes well with: The Four Steps to the Epiphany. While Uncommon Service hammers home how to design your service experience for your ideal customer, The Four Steps to the Epiphany helps you figure out who that customer is based on your product.

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