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Want to Provide Great Service? Start by Making Promises You Can Keep

What lessons from internet hosting company Rackspace can you apply in your own businesses to achieve a similar level of service excellence?

Odds are, you have heard of Rackspace, one of the internet’s largest hosting companies. What you might not know is that the company is widely cited by experts as a model for what it means to provide extraordinary customer service. I discovered this recently after picking up a copy of The Service Culture Handbook by Jeff Toister, a customer service author, trainer, and consultant.

Reading about the company’s remarkable dedication to service, you have to wonder, what is it about working at Rackspace that inspires employees to go above and beyond, and what lessons can you apply in your own businesses to achieve a similar level of service excellence?

The Rackspace Way

Toister kicks off the first chapter of his book with a fascinating anecdote that perfectly highlights the team’s dedication to taking care of clients (you can read it for yourself in a free sample chapter that Toister provides here). 

When a major system failure took down all of the company’s internal servers, including the entire phone system, several employees took the extraordinary step of tweeting out their personal cell phones so customers would have a way to reach them. For a support team that typically handles about 250 calls an hour, these measures surely prevented a significant problem from turning into an outright catastrophe.

What makes this story so interesting is that the employees took these steps on their own initiative. Nowhere was this policy of tweeting personal phone numbers documented in a handbook. Neither had it come as a directive from above. Rather, what happened that day was a reflection of culture; it was an ingrained attitude that drove employees to put the care of their clients above any concerns for personal privacy or adherence to predefined protocols.

The Fanatical Support Promise

Entire books, such as Toister’s, have been written about how to implement this sort of cultural change within your organization. However, a quick lesson that you can apply right away lies in two sentences summarizing what Rackspace calls their Fanatical Support Promise:

“We cannot promise that hardware won’t break, that software won’t fail, or that we will always be perfect. What we can promise is that if something goes wrong, we will rise to

the occasion, take action, and help resolve the issue.”

The beauty of this statement is two-fold. First, from the perspective of a Rackspace employee, it provides a goal that is both meaningful and achievable. By separating what cannot be controlled (i.e. hardware and software failures) from the equation, this promise avoids the trap of imposing unrealistic or vague expectations on employees. Instead, it pushes the team to focus relentlessly on what can be controlled — namely, a dedication to taking full ownership of the service experience.

It is equally important that, from the client’s perspective, Rackspace does not over-promise. No one, Rackspace notwithstanding, can prevent 100 percent of technology issues from occurring. By stating this right up front, the company avoids one of the most common pitfalls to providing an excellent service experience — mismanaged expectations.

Only after setting expectations properly does Rackspace go on to highlight what they can deliver — a promise to step up and own the service experience when things do go wrong.

What are You Promising?

Reading the Fanatical Support Promise for the first time, it struck me that the exact words could be applied to an integration company with great effect. Reticent to talk about the need for service and support to a new prospect, many salesmen sadly go the exact opposite route. I have witnessed it first hand — carried away by the scent of a deal and looking to differentiate their offering, they begin making unrealistic promises about how “bulletproof” their systems are.

This is a dangerous game to play. While technical expertise, product selection, and craftsmanship do play a role in increasing system reliability, all systems fail eventually. It is only a matter of when and how often. Grandiose promises might help land a new project here and there. However, in the long run they set the service team up for failure and the client for disappointment, rendering any notion of excellent service in your mission statement as little more than words on a piece of paper.

Make it Your Own

It is worth noting, and probably not a surprise, that the the values reflected in Rackspace’s promise were crafted by the employees themselves. They were not crafted by leaders locked away in a boardroom. In fact, according to Toister’s book, the leadership at Rackspace was not even allowed to spell check the values created by the team.

As the actions of those Rackspace employees who tweeted out their personal phone numbers demonstrate, a service culture is not something that can be created from a handbook. It stems from a deep-seated belief and sense of purpose. If you are looking to instill this sort of drive into your client service efforts, you would be well served to engage your entire service team in the process. Perhaps most importantly, if you want your team to embrace a service culture, follow the lead of Rackspace and start by making promises you can keep

For more information about service and using it to create a sustainable, scalable, service-first business, visit