Sometimes, I think we get customer service wrong. We try to create outstanding experiences. We survey people about the experience and how it can be improved. We sell the value of our outstanding customer service.

Frankly, to me, the very best customer service experience is to have no customer service experience at all! Not having the need to engage customer service, in the first place, makes me more satisfied with the product or service I’ve bought than the most sophisticated customer service process in the world.

Let me explain myself. To put in a customer service request, whether through the web or by phone, means that something has gone wrong. Somehow I’ve had a problem and the product or service I’m using isn’t fulfilling my expectations. It may be my fault, I may be doing things wrong, but still I need help.

I’ll pause for a moment, I think the reason I’m on this rampage is that last week, I spent hours trying to resolve a problem with a piece of software. It ended up being a very simple fix, but I had spent time on the vendor’s web site searching their “knowledge base,” called the support center–agreed to a $99 fee, got into all sorts of queues, described my problem to all sorts of people, and when I got to the final person, re-described my problem a final time, it took us a few minutes to solve. Along the way, everyone was very polite, each person was “managing” me as effectively as they could. There were the appropriate sympathetic responses, “We understand your frustration…..” In the end, it was a software setting in our configuration that was changed.

Capping all this off, this morning in my email, I get the survey, “Please tell us about your customer service experience, we want to make sure we serve you well……” I patiently—OK impatiently—completed the survey. Yes everyone did their “job.” My problem was managed. Was I happy? Absolutely not. It should have never happened in the first place! It was a problem with the software set up, but should never had occurred. Then the inconvenience I went through–not being able to find the answer at the knowledge base, talking to person after person after person. Paying for support for what ended up being an installation issue–supposedly qualifying for free support. But I don’t have the time to chase that down and try to get a refund of my $99.

The problem with the survey is this company was looking at the wrong thing. They wanted to measure whether everyone in the line did their jobs correctly and handled me well. They didn’t pay any attention to my effort or my time. So we had a complete disconnect. Everyone I talked to executed well. But it took me too much time, too many transfers, too many polite and soothing conversations. In the end I’m angry–even though my problem has been solved.

Let me give another example, a few months ago I bought a new car. (No this isn’t a car salesman story). He had done a great job, we were closing the deal, and he added this comment: “And if you have any problem, you always have me to help you.” My response was, “I’m sorry. You are a great guy, I’m happy with the deal, you’ve been a good salesperson. But I never want to see or talk to you again. If I have a problem that causes me to need to call you, it will be a huge issue–I’m more likely to go to the Owner of the dealership.”

So I think we sometimes get customer service experience wrong. We design the great processes, we train everyone to do their part, we look at optimizing our processes to solve customers’ problem. We make sure we train our people to say the right things, to always ask, “Is there anything else,” and so forth. We focus on “delighting” the customer. But what we forget is the customer effort.

We need to think about customer service in a different way.

First, we need to think about developing our products and services that require no customer service. That sounds like an impossible task–things break, customers need help. But so much of customer service has nothing to do with things breaking. Much has to do with the customer has the wrong expectations, they can’t get the information they need the way they want, as quickly as they want. We need to first focus on customer effort, then focus on delighting customers with minimal effort.

My friends, Matt Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi have written a great book on this, The Effortless Experience, Conquering The New Battleground For Customer Loyalty. It will change the way you think about customer service and customer service experiences.