Ever since I started working, I’ve been in customer service. Every position has focused on the thankless task of answering people’s questions, catering to their wants and needs, and cleaning up after their indulgences. And I absolutely love it
Not all of it, of course. It’s hard getting yelled at about things you have no control over (the weather, for example). It’s hard when you want to but can’t solve a problem due to lack of autonomy or lack of resources. It’s hard to put energy into tedious tasks that have been outsourced from the customer to you, and with little thanks from those who no longer have to bear that burden. There is no glory in customer service, it seems.
But Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, which was not what I expected in terms of focus, seems to give hope that the trenches of customer service have more potential for greatness than it appears.
My favorite part is that it somewhat confirms what so many front-end employees often learn quickly but back-end management tends to be ignorant of: bad service is not necessarily the fault of the employees. Negative feedback only occasionally centers on the attitude of a specific employee. More often than not, people are complaining about service or product offerings, production time, quality, and price– all things that base level employees can’t change.
I was surprised by this book because I was expecting ways to be a better customer service representative. Instead, it told me that I’m likely already doing the best I can and that the system I’m working in probably needs some help. It’s a nice confidence boost.
Uncommon Service goes way deeper though. It isn’t just about treating employees better to get better interactions out of them, and it certainly isn’t about catering to every customer’s whims. Instead, it’s about creating a system of excellence, within which employees can only provide excellence. It’s beautiful because it takes the impetus off of each individual and puts it on the whole.
There are many ideas that might seem counter-intuitive, like striving to be bad at parts of your business, but it makes a lot of sense when they explain why– and provide compelling examples. Huge names like JetBlue and Zappos regularly make appearances as poster children for some massive changes and heavy-lifting strategies that really make it easier to be great at service.
Overall, it gives some great insights into the pitfalls of customer service-oriented businesses and how to avoid them with grace and even panache. Whether you’re just starting a small business or transforming a flailing massive corporation, the strategies and arguments in this book are exciting and compelling.
Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! Especially if you’re involved in business, customer to CEO.