KANA’s enduring mission is service experience management. And, like most companies, we occasionally change the marketing tagline associated with that mission. Recently, we adopted the phrase:

“Good Experiences. On Brand. On Budget.”

Precisely as we intended, we’ve had many, many comments that boil down to: “Are you crazy?  We want great/delightful/amazing/unbelievable/world-class/dazzling customer service experiences! We’re better than good!”

So, is “Good” good enough?

Believe me, when you are in a marketing conversation, the superlatives come naturally. Our Marketing folks combed guru blogs, leading e-books on customer service, the thesaurus and their own massive vocabularies in search of ever more florid descriptions for the fan-tabulous. “KANA: totally awesome-azing experiences!!!!”  But, just as our search for multi-syllabic, exclamation point adorned slogans spiralled out of control, so, has the idea that good is not good enough in the world of service delivery.

The most important concept of Service Experience Management is that the Customer Service organization does not exist to make customers happy – that’s right NOT. The goal of customer service is to deliver optimal service outcomes for the enterprise:  balancing cost, short-term revenue generation, long-term loyalty and process compliance.  The right service experience is the experience that reinforces THE BRAND, and reflects the brand promise at the heart of the customer relationship.

Looked at this way, there is not only no point in trying to deliver what might be called “excess” service, there is positive harm. Imposing costs on the enterprise that don’t drive value for customers inevitably sucks resources from activities like manufacturing, packaging and design. Over-engineering service experience is as destructive to the business model as over-engineering any other business process.  And, high cost service is inherently out of step with the most common strategy for competitive differentiation: selling at low-cost. For Walmart, being the low-cost leader means the only gold-plated business process is supplier management.

Sadly, there are many “thought-leaders” who have made a career excoriating customer service managers for refusing to understand that dazzling service is the only “good” service.  Failing to go above and beyond, they say, is just failure. In a world where service is generally terrible, it’s tempting to make fun of management for just ‘not getting it’, even though common sense says otherwise (confession: I do it too!).  The implication is that excellence requires gold-plating every service interaction for that moment of truth when you can create a customer for life.

Well, bad service is truly unforgivably dumb. However, the notion that ‘anything less than delightful service is bad service’ is flat wrong.  Fortunately, managerial common sense regarding the need to balance cost and satisfaction is now reinforced by science.

Last year, the Harvard Business Review published the largest study of consumer behaviour ever conducted: Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers. The research, studying 50,000 people, showed pretty indisputably that folks want pain-free touch points, not frills. Instead of seeking ever more ‘amazing’ service, most  customers just want zero friction. “In-out and onto the next goal on the to-do list of our ever busier life”, says the science about customer attitude. So, if you’ve been lured by the gurus into the Cult of Service Ecstasy:  pause and consider what’s truly right for your brand.

There is an important caveat to the rule that good experiences are good enough. If your brand differentiation depends on great service, then you had better deliver great service. This might be termed the Zappos Exception. Great service is ‘good’ when extraordinary service is your chosen strategic value-add.  The second most important concept of Service Experience Management is that good experiences are a reflection and projection of your unique brand promise – every brand promise being different.   When a brand depends upon rave-inducing service, it is worth every penny and every ounce of managerial sweat to leap over the bar of greatness. For Ritz-Carlton, Singapore Airlines, Zappos, Walt Disney, etc., anything less than the best is poor service. If you aren’t dazzled by the service at a Ritz, you are deeply disappointed. These “Powered by Service” brands are the exception that proves the Good Enough Rule. (Note:  Service-differentiated branding is an incredibly powerful and under-used business strategy, and, yes, more companies SHOULD follow in the footsteps of these great service leaders.)

Bottom-line: the customer service organization is not a tail that can, or should, wag the strategic dog. Unless everyone, from the CEO on-down, is working to a strategy based on customer experience differentiation, then forget about knocking their socks off.   The job of the customer service manager is to conform the quality and nature of service to the brand promise.

The service experience you want is the service experience that’s good (read: appropriate) for your brand. Delivering brand-appropriate experiences may not be sexy, but it is good business. At KANA, we work with brands as different as Tiffany and Target, jetBlue and Delta , the City of San Francisco and USPSSky and HMRC hence:  Good experiences. On Brand. On Budget.