The best service is no service at all (Interview I)

Bob Thompson
I’m really pleased to have Bill Price, the founder of Driva Solutions. He and David Jaffe co-authored a wonderful new book called The Best Service Is No Service, with the subtitle, How to Liberate Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep Them Happy and Control Costs. Bill, thank you very much for being with me.

Bill Price
My pleasure, Bob.

Bob Thompson
Why don’t you give us a quick background on your company and your expertise in this field?

Bill Price
Sure. I founded Driva Solutions a little more than six years ago. We’re a customer service/ customer experience consulting and solutions company, based out of Seattle, Washington, where I’ve been for a number of years. I was the first global vice president and general manager of Customer Service for Amazon.com, also here in Seattle, for about three years before forming Driva Solutions. And before that, I spent about eight years with MCI, running a number of call center services, business units out of San Francisco and Seattle. Before that, I worked in the IVR field and started my career with McKinsey & Co.

Bob Thompson
So you’ve spent many, many years in the customer service and contact center industry doing consulting and being a practitioner. I found it intriguing that, after all this experience, it seems like you’re trying to engineer your way out of a job because the thesis behind your book seems to be get rid of service by fixing the problems. Is that a fair statement?

Bill Price
That’s exactly right. In fact, it was a notion that I was building during my earlier years, for instance, at McKinsey and ACP [an automated voice start-up MCI acquired] and at MCI. And so when [Amazon founder and CEO] Jeff Bezos interviewed me for this new position he was creating, the VP of Customer Service, he asked me what my philosophy was for running customer service, which is actually an excellent question for any CEO to pose to his or her organization. I quickly said, “Well, the best service is no service. You hire me, and I’m going to try and help reduce the need for customers to have to contact Amazon for service. Why should they? They order things online. Things should work out fine, right?”

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And that led to us putting it in place together with the rest of my team at Amazon. So yeah, it actually is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to reduce the need for service and reduce the pressure that happens all the time on service and support organizations to handle contacts they don’t really need to handle.

Bob Thompson
What was your motivation to write this book, and who did you write it for, specifically?

Bill Price
The motivation that David and I had was one of saying, “Wait a minute. Why are we continuing to build contact centers and manage them in what we call the “old-fashioned way,” with a lot of speed metrics, a lot of productivity emphasis, when, really, we shouldn’t be handling a lot of these contacts at all?” They should be handled, as I’ll describe later, I think, through self-service and proactive measures. Or just eliminate them at their root.

Bob Thompson
You found a lack of fixing the root cause of the problem in your experience throughout the years, right?

‘They waited for customers to come in, often when the screen was just unreadable.’

Bill Price
Exactly. What we thought is that most organizations do what we call “cope with demand.” They figure out how to budget for it and train and hire and motivate all of these other help functions, when they really ought to be taking more of a clean sheet of paper. So we sort of took the zero-based budgeting notion—why are we having service at all?—and then built up justifications from that. So we’re aiming this at the CxO level: the CEO and the CFO, in particular, but also the head of customer service and customer care, to give them a break. David and I both had that background. We know how difficult it is to run a support operation if you don’t have the support from your CEO and from other department heads. So we’re trying to aim it both at the CxO level and at the heads of customer service.

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Bob Thompson
You made a very provocative statement in your introduction of the book, saying that, “providing awesome customer experiences shouldn’t be hard.” Of course, there’s been a tremendous amount of publicity about customer experience management and customer experience loyalty. We did some research a couple of years ago that showed, once again, that customer service is—not the only—but a very important part of the customer experience. You’re saying being awesome shouldn’t be hard. But why is it so hard? Obviously, companies are struggling with this.

Bill Price
It’s really a provocative point on purpose, in that it shouldn’t be hard because the notions that we bring across, these seven principles of best service, are really pretty fundamental. They’re pretty easy to do individually. The challenge is really trying to combine those, so they become part of an ongoing process, almost a DNA or a new way of thinking in the organization.

Bob Thompson
It’s putting it all together that’s important?

Bill Price
Exactly. It requires breaking the mold of coping with demand and doing what we call “challenge demand.” It’s really asking the question: “Why are our customers contacting us?” Even posing that question gets a lot of people to scratch their chin. Why is that?

Bob Thompson
Clearly, clean sheet can be pretty challenging, can’t it?

Bill Price
Yeah.

Bob Thompson
Rather than keep doing what you’ve been doing only faster.

Bill Price
Exactly.

the best service is no service at all
the best service is no service at all

Customerguru Interview was conducted on April 10, 2008. The transcript  was edited for clarity

To be continued