Customer Service — How Much Is Enough?

Seth Godin challenges me on a regular basis with his leadership and communicating advice. His simple piece, Spare No Expense!, actually is a piece challenging folks to consider sparing some expense on customer service. Consider the following graph:

costs -vs- # customers served
costs -vs- # customers served

Seth describes the graph this way:

    In the chart, for example, (a) represents the cost of good signage at the airport, or clearly written directions on the prescription bottle or a bit of training for your staff. It pays off. Pay a little bit and you help a lot of people to avoid hassles. The utility per person isn’t huge, but you can help a lot of people at once.
    (b) is the higher cost of a bit of direct intervention. This is the cost of a call center or a toll free number or an information desk. You’re paying more, you’re helping fewer people, but you’re helping them a lot.
    (c) is where it gets nuts. (c) is where we are expected to spare no expense, where the CEO has to get involved because it’s a journalist who’s upset, or where we’re busy airlifting a new unit out to a super angry customer. The cost is very high, the systems fall apart and only one person benefits.

Here is where it gets tricky. The “spare no expense” desperate attempt to satisfy one can kill the whole enterprise. We often think that if we “spare no expense” we can make a problem or a problem customer go away. And here’s the killer, once we have done this for one person we have set a standard that now must be met for all customers. Organizations need to think this one through. Seth suggests we learn to say internally, “we need to be disciplined and help more people, even if that means that some special cases will fall through the cracks.” It hurts when some people walk away disappointed, but “spare no expense” may ultimately mean destruction.