How Rackspace Wins With ‘Uncommon Service’

Fanatical Support. It’s what we hang our hats on. You don’t become one of the world’s great service companies – which is our mission – without delighting customers.

There are a host of other business that have made service their missions. Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, Zappos and others have dug in their heels to offer an incredible service experience.

In the new book, “Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” co-authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss examine some of the secret sauce required to deliver a stellar customer service experience and showcase how service makes a huge difference in the customer experience. A section of the book, “The Growth ‘Flywheel’ at Rackspace” is a case study on how Rackspace earns its service stripes.

“We’re really captivated what you guys do,” Morriss said in an interview. “It’s a really beautiful example of the principles and models that we teach.”

According to Morriss, we live in a word where great service is rare, and it shouldn’t be. She and Frei lay out four key ideas that comprise a great service company. First, excellence is a combination of design and culture, and involves the realization that a company can’t be good at everything, and instead should focus on being good at what customers demand most. “You have to be bad at some things,” she said, noting that Southwest is known for great prices and friendliness, but presents a no-frills flying experience. Rackspace, the book notes, offers slightly higher prices in order to deliver a “high-touch, high-service experience.”

Second, companies have to figure out how to fund excellence, which isn’t cheap. Third, companies must figure out how to get employees to excel and create an environment where that occurs organically. And, finally, companies should manage customers they way they manage employees.

“Some of these, if not all of them, can be counter intuitive,” Morriss said, especially the first suggestion, which often means that a company has to be explicitly bad at something.

Morriss said Rackspace embodies each of these principles, nailing the culture element by bringing aboard fostering a culture that may appear “a little unhinged” but enables employees, or Rackers, to bring their whole selves to work each day.

“Rackspace’s most remarkable assumption, which informs almost every decision the company makes, is the belief in the capability of the workforce,” the pair wrote in “Uncommon Service.”

Morriss said Rackspace creates an environment where exception performance is both possible and expected and that makes its way to the customers, who in turn are willing to pay for excellence and for service.

“Fanatical support is not just possible, but it is a realistic output of the culture,” she said. “Rackers are treated as a precious resource that can do anything they put their minds to.”

“Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business” (Harvard Business Review Press, February 2012) is available from most major book sellers. Download the PDF excerpt of “The Growth ‘Flywheel’ at Rackspace.”

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