Your Customer Service Should Fail to Scale

Do customers really care if you have great customer service? I don’t want to call a company to help me build a new desk I purchased. I don’t want to call a company to complain about a service problem, either. Do you? Designing a function that can scale to mounting external pressure from failures seems to be a capability that many value. This is especially true if that design incorporates opportunities to grow your customers by selling something to them at, or around, a point of failure. If your first service failed, will the average customer succumb to the pressure to purchase yet another service? Apparently they do.

Wouldn’t the overall experience for your customer be better if you eliminated these touch points altogether? To what degree are call centers, or social media teams, integrated into the process of designing a service? Engaging customers in the wrong activity at the wrong time should be obvious (this just happened to me, again). What doesn’t seem to be as obvious is tracing the problem back to its root cause – preferably this potential is dealt with back in the design of the service or product. It’s one thing to get the occasional call because things do just happen; those are special cases. But when they become common problems, should we rush to design a response mechanism?

A recent post by Dennis Howlett , prompted me to stash this topic aside and write about it. The frequency of failures he highlights is astonishing, and apparently the customer service fails just as often. But should we be focusing on the customer service at all? Is that what our customers want? Is it proper to design your company with the anticipation of a severe product failure, or is it more proper to design your offering that has a high probability of meeting your customers’ needs in the first place?

Is this what Clay Christensen means when he says disruptors create products and services that are good enough while targeting non-consumption? It appears to me that many products are created that are clearly trying to attract sophisticated early adopters; and not the non-consumer that Christensen talks about. If you’re going to do that, you’d better get it right the first time. A little more work up front understanding the job(s) that such a service supports, and the related portfolio of needs is critical. I’m sure everyone believes they are doing that.

Clearly, if you are trying to provide a new service to an existing industry, say fitness or healthcare, you had better make sure it performs well along the dimensions those customers expect. In this case, not good enough is clearly going to fail. Can a company like this afford to fail fast so publicly? While I don’t like that term, I’m sure those who created it were not talking about failing after they’ve invested this much capital and gone to market (at least I hope not).

Whether you are serving a sophisticated group who have paid good money for a service (and expect it to perform) or you are targeting non-consumers with an innovative new service and business model, should you invest vast amounts of time and effort into designing for failure? The former group has expectations you should have known up front. The latter group hasn’t invested enough in your new, cheap and convenient service to care (I know, that’s a broad stroke). Regardless of your market, or your entry point, I’m always going to argue that there are steps that should be taken to avoid designing the bulk of the customer experience around your customer service function. Call me unrealistic!


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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About Mike Boysen

I'm just a simple guy trying to figure out how software is going to save the world. Along the way, I talk about applying outcome-based logic to the concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) using the customer's job-to-be-done as the focal point...and a bunch of other stuff. My opinions are so off-the-wall that I must claim them as my own.

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