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

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Most companies treat service as a low-priority business operation, keeping it out of the spotlight until a customer complains. Then service gets to make a brief appearance – for as long as it takes to calm the customer down and fix whatever foul-up jeopardized the relationship. In Uncommon Service, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss show how, in a volatile economy where the old Most companies treat service as a low-priority business operation, keeping it out of the spotlight until a customer complains. Then service gets to make a brief appearance – for as long as it takes to calm the customer down and fix whatever foul-up jeopardized the relationship. In Uncommon Service, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss show how, in a volatile economy where the old rules of strategic advantage no longer hold true, service must become a competitive weapon, not a damage-control function. That means weaving service tightly into every core decision your company makes. The authors reveal a transformed view of service, presenting an operating model built on tough choices organizations must make: • How do customers define “excellence” in your offering? Is it convenience? Friendliness? Flexible choices? Price? • How will you get paid for that excellence? Will you charge customers more? Get them to handle more service tasks themselves? • How will you empower your employees to deliver excellence? What will your recruiting, selection, training, and job design practices look like? What about your organizational culture? • How will you get your customers to behave? For example, what do you need to do to get them to treat your employees with respect? Do you need to make it easier for them to use new technology? Practical and engaging, Uncommon Service makes a powerful case for a new and systematic approach to service as a means of boosting productivity, profitability, and competitive advantage.


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Most companies treat service as a low-priority business operation, keeping it out of the spotlight until a customer complains. Then service gets to make a brief appearance – for as long as it takes to calm the customer down and fix whatever foul-up jeopardized the relationship. In Uncommon Service, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss show how, in a volatile economy where the old Most companies treat service as a low-priority business operation, keeping it out of the spotlight until a customer complains. Then service gets to make a brief appearance – for as long as it takes to calm the customer down and fix whatever foul-up jeopardized the relationship. In Uncommon Service, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss show how, in a volatile economy where the old rules of strategic advantage no longer hold true, service must become a competitive weapon, not a damage-control function. That means weaving service tightly into every core decision your company makes. The authors reveal a transformed view of service, presenting an operating model built on tough choices organizations must make: • How do customers define “excellence” in your offering? Is it convenience? Friendliness? Flexible choices? Price? • How will you get paid for that excellence? Will you charge customers more? Get them to handle more service tasks themselves? • How will you empower your employees to deliver excellence? What will your recruiting, selection, training, and job design practices look like? What about your organizational culture? • How will you get your customers to behave? For example, what do you need to do to get them to treat your employees with respect? Do you need to make it easier for them to use new technology? Practical and engaging, Uncommon Service makes a powerful case for a new and systematic approach to service as a means of boosting productivity, profitability, and competitive advantage.

30 review for Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steven Bragg

    Uncommon Service makes one especially good point, which is that the customer service experience involves trade offs, where you can do some things well, but not all. While this is an important point, the remainder of the book tends to fall increasingly flat, with fewer additional ideas that could be considered new and unique.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thijs Niks

    Compelling argument for choosing explicitly what to be good and what to be bad at in a service business. Lots of real world examples make it a more interesting read, though overall not as engaging as I hoped.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Toister

    This book has really stuck with me since I've read it. That says a lot for someone who reads a lot of books about customer service. I really like how the core points are presented in a very logical framework. For example, one of the main points of the book is that your business can't be good at everything. Smart companies choose to be great at the attributes their target customers care the most about while spending less time, money, and attention on the things that don't matter. This book has really stuck with me since I've read it. That says a lot for someone who reads a lot of books about customer service. I really like how the core points are presented in a very logical framework. For example, one of the main points of the book is that your business can't be good at everything. Smart companies choose to be great at the attributes their target customers care the most about while spending less time, money, and attention on the things that don't matter.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sid1983

    GREAT SERVICE = DESIGN X CULTURE which is then SCALED UP It’s built into the design of the firm which achieves the goal of superior service on average employees -          Which means deciding what you won’t do well e.g. WMT wont provide high customer service & allocate resources accordingly -          Fund that capital allocation by either charging customers extra (e.g. apple charges for its after care), cost improvements drive improved service (Progressive agents come on site ==> higher custome GREAT SERVICE = DESIGN X CULTURE which is then SCALED UP It’s built into the design of the firm which achieves the goal of superior service on average employees -          Which means deciding what you won’t do well e.g. WMT wont provide high customer service & allocate resources accordingly -          Fund that capital allocation by either charging customers extra (e.g. apple charges for its after care), cost improvements drive improved service (Progressive agents come on site ==> higher customer service, lower incident of fraud leading to lower cost), have improved service lower costs (Intuit product managers man call center) or get customers to do the work (airline self-check-in kiosk) -          Either pay up for the best people, or have superior training that eliminates dead-weight, make the job easier for sales people so they can focus on service (don’t have a cashier sell complex fin products, also means picking the right customers) and have the right incentives -          Manage your customers i.e. select the right ones to serve, train them to use your product (e.g. customers use SBUX lingo to order), reduce the complexity of what the customer has to do to get the job done, reward customers for compliance (not loyalty programs that are mere discounts) and control the degree to which customers influence your operations (at BK you can make your own whopper … but up to a point) It needs to permeate through the culture of the firm which means mgmt. needs to have clarity on their culture, need to signal it to all employees, and signal it across job functions And finally scale up i.e. service model within service model (NOT recreating a new service model) e.g. Best Buy caters to DIY electronics while their own Magnolia brand deals in high end electronics with high customer service … need to make sure back ops are shared else don’t get any scale benefits

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shanky

    Breezy read. Very very practical. Has the answers to most common doubts and questions that you might have while reading the book. I would say the book has achieved the objective of had set out with. If you are a service business owner or an aspiring one or a senior level manager in a service business - definitely do read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Londoño

    Great book, it helps you to discover the value of services.... And give you a framework to design the services Great book, it helps you to discover the value of services.... And give you a framework to design the services

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lukas

    Fantastic nuts and bolts of great service This book expanded my thinking without constantly drilling home things I already know. The experience of the authors comes through over and over.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mithun Sivagurunathan

    Uncommon Service urges one to pick your battles and not go after everything. My biggest takeaway was the existence of an alternate segmentation based on operational feasibility, dubbed as operational segments (on the similar lines of marketing segments based on demographics and psychographics).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Sydnor

    Unconventional wisdom for best of class service and unparallelled competitive advantage

  10. 4 out of 5

    Enrique Martinez

    A solid service strategy book, lot of case studies and ideas.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kris Yonushka

    Great examples and information. Not over complicated. Recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Dnf half way through. Maybe not the right mindset but I found it boring to read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ricky

    my boss made me read this, good stories about...running a customer service team, gives you perspective. would have liked to see more dragons or time travel though.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Synexe

    THE MAIN IDEA In order to provide really great customer service you need to choose what aspects of customer service you’re going to really excel at and, this is the clincher, what aspects you’re going to put less attention on. Or, in the words of the authors, choosing where you’re going to be bad! The choice to be made is what type of service design you’re going to implement in you organization – and trade-offs will always have to be made. INTERESTING TIDBIT The authors argue that the time has com THE MAIN IDEA In order to provide really great customer service you need to choose what aspects of customer service you’re going to really excel at and, this is the clincher, what aspects you’re going to put less attention on. Or, in the words of the authors, choosing where you’re going to be bad! The choice to be made is what type of service design you’re going to implement in you organization – and trade-offs will always have to be made. INTERESTING TIDBIT The authors argue that the time has come for this book as: The primary driver of our economy is no longer what we make, but how we serve each other. Eighty percent of jobs in the U.S. are now in service, and service represents eighty percent of the gross national product. WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW There are four key ‘truths’ for amazing service. These are: (1) you need to choose what aspects of service you’re going to focus on and which parts you’re not; (2) understand where the resourcing for this extra service will come from; (3) understand that your employees can only ever be as good as the system you establish allows them to be; and (4) you ought to proactively manage your customer’s engagement with your organization. The final point is that it is your organizational culture that allows this to come together as a whole. THE GENERAL OVERVIEW This is a really interesting book which isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. While much of what the authors advocate could be considered common sense it is often the things that are the most obvious that we don’t notice. What the authors do – and they do it well – is lay out a number of structural decisions that an organization can make to create a service design within the organization to help differentiate your organization from your competitors. These four structural aspects – which the authors call the four service truths – are then made real through the operation of the organization’s culture. And, they do a very good job of both explaining how culture impacts on the operation of an organization’s service design as well as how an organization can work to create the ‘right type’ of culture for success. In the author’s word: Service Excellence = Design x Culture The real strength of the book is the very practical way in which they outline what an organization needs to do to put into practice their ideas while all the while backing it up with evidence from a range of different companies working in a number of different sectors. Part of the interest in the book is the use of examples you wouldn’t normally think of being successful because of service excellence such as their use of case studies from businesses like ‘Bugs Burger Bugs Killers’ – a pest extermination firm! We’ve followed their advice in the creation of modifying the service design model we’re using in our firm and there isn’t a better recommendation of the utility of a book like this than using it ourselves! Definitely a recommended read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mikal

    This book has useful elements of service design but falls short of meaningful advancement in favor of a standard 'customer service' approach. The book sometimes strays from its thesis "putting customers at the core" and at various times adopts the banner of "doing less to get more". Fundamentally this book is as if blue ocean strategy was re-written specifically for services. (Choose the dimensions you will excel in, others not so much). This approach while valuable falls apart with the inconsiste This book has useful elements of service design but falls short of meaningful advancement in favor of a standard 'customer service' approach. The book sometimes strays from its thesis "putting customers at the core" and at various times adopts the banner of "doing less to get more". Fundamentally this book is as if blue ocean strategy was re-written specifically for services. (Choose the dimensions you will excel in, others not so much). This approach while valuable falls apart with the inconsistent rigor applied to selecting the highlighted companies. At various times the book recommends Best Buy as a notable example, when their shortcomings should have been obvious by the time this book was written. Overall this book inspired my thinking but is a 'nice to read' not a definitive contribution to service design or management.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Girish

    Normally, It is a sin to compare business books against fiction. For a business book this had one of the most coherent story all through without repeating itself. And fit enough to be the bible for designing customer service. The authors have not polished theories, but build a more empirical logic on what works and what doesn't. The first chapter in a gist gives the entire book and each chapter explains with anecdotes and case studies. The core idea that service organizations must resign to the f Normally, It is a sin to compare business books against fiction. For a business book this had one of the most coherent story all through without repeating itself. And fit enough to be the bible for designing customer service. The authors have not polished theories, but build a more empirical logic on what works and what doesn't. The first chapter in a gist gives the entire book and each chapter explains with anecdotes and case studies. The core idea that service organizations must resign to the fact that they can't be good at everything is hard hitting. It follows through the logic with each chapter exploring the various dimensions such as Customer, Employer, Culture, Structure, Strategy and Scaling up in crisp concise fashion with Uncommon Takeaways at the end of each chapter. Absolutely loved it!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim Tincher

    When a CEO gives you a book, you read it! I interviewed Rhoda Olsen, CEO of Great Clips, for my blog (post coming out next month). As we discussed books she reached into her bookshelf and gave me this one, and I'm glad she did. This book, by two Harvard business profs, lays out the secrets to a good service strategy. One of them particularly resonated with me - to be good at something, you have to decide what to be bad at. If you're going to offer great service you either need to charge more, or When a CEO gives you a book, you read it! I interviewed Rhoda Olsen, CEO of Great Clips, for my blog (post coming out next month). As we discussed books she reached into her bookshelf and gave me this one, and I'm glad she did. This book, by two Harvard business profs, lays out the secrets to a good service strategy. One of them particularly resonated with me - to be good at something, you have to decide what to be bad at. If you're going to offer great service you either need to charge more, or sacrifice something else to pay for it. Commerce Bank was one example - great service paid for by offering the worst rates in the industry. If you're running a service, I highly recommend this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jim Serger

    This book does a "service " to all who want too know what the payoff is of excellent customer service...it is understanding and looking into yourself as to what a company can be on the customer service side of business. Excellent stories, superb insights and they hit hard the responsibility of keeping employees engaged in making service a priority. Fun, energetic, spontaneous, fulfilling, weird and of course uncommon service -- that is what separates the good from the great. This book does a "service " to all who want too know what the payoff is of excellent customer service...it is understanding and looking into yourself as to what a company can be on the customer service side of business. Excellent stories, superb insights and they hit hard the responsibility of keeping employees engaged in making service a priority. Fun, energetic, spontaneous, fulfilling, weird and of course uncommon service -- that is what separates the good from the great.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    This was a good book with lots of good stories about how customer service expresses itself as a cultural value in different corporations. Lots of good anecdotes that gave me new things to think about. Not particularly rigorous in terms of science, so it is hard for me to put a ton of credence into some of the more generalized conclusions that the authors try for, but that doesn't take away from the value that I got out of reading it. This was a good book with lots of good stories about how customer service expresses itself as a cultural value in different corporations. Lots of good anecdotes that gave me new things to think about. Not particularly rigorous in terms of science, so it is hard for me to put a ton of credence into some of the more generalized conclusions that the authors try for, but that doesn't take away from the value that I got out of reading it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Uncommon Service should be mandatory reading for any manager in a service business. Frances Frei, the world authority on creating excellent customer experiences, brings her theories to life with vibrant examples and crisp writing. The best business book since The Innovator’s Dilemma.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed Marwan

    An important book for service models decision making. Great clarity in explaining different models and the consequences of their implementation. Packed with different examples from the industry. Could have been better by adding more field service examples instead of only focusing on back-office services and tele-customer management. In short, a Must-read for anyone in the Services Industry

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    More theory than practical tips, but I enjoyed the case studies. Because the focus is customer service, it was more immediately relevant to librarianship than other business books. (I especially need to learn more about Zipcar's customer management!) More theory than practical tips, but I enjoyed the case studies. Because the focus is customer service, it was more immediately relevant to librarianship than other business books. (I especially need to learn more about Zipcar's customer management!)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Donovan

    A number of great takeaways, but for me the best piece was the focus on companies having to choose what they will focus on - so easy for us to want to be great at everything. Good stuff - highly recommend for any business leader.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vikram Chalana

    The first chapter gives the full summary of the book. The rest of it was just examples. Some good questions are asked by the author -- your service org cannot be great everything so what do you deliberately choose to be bad at and how to do you intend to pay for service excellence?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    An amazing speaker in person, I am excited to get more in depth as I am starting Dr. Frei's book. An amazing speaker in person, I am excited to get more in depth as I am starting Dr. Frei's book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I skimmed it and overall, some good points hit home. To revisit when time allows.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stefanie

    I really wanted to enjoy it, but it's just way too dry and drawn out. I really wanted to enjoy it, but it's just way too dry and drawn out.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Bornstein

    This gave me a lot of information about what to do when working in different services and how to treat your employees and supervisors and everyone you work with.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pradeep Badatiya

    It is full of real examples of corporates with their uncommon service at brilliance. A good read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Toshihiro

    Somehow the way it involves customer in their business process sounds similar to agile process. Maybe those services have started as lean, quick to adujst the course and grow rapidly but reasonably.

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