What is the 80/20 Rule of Customer Service?

The 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, is a very widely known rule, which simply states, 80% of your outcomes are decided by 20% of the causes.

This applies to almost everything in life. For example, you’ll wear 20% of your clothes, 80% of the time. 

It also applies to Customer Service. Within our own company, we have all the data from every single interaction we have with customers. And the 80/20 rule comes into play in a very obvious way:

20% of customers are responsible for 81.3% of all support requests in the last 3 years. 

And of those, 5% of customers are responsible for 52.1% of all support requests. 

So what does this mean for us, and for those customers? 

We had to do some digging. Were we responsible for these support requests? Is there something we can do about them? Is there a customer segment we are not serving properly?

All of those are true, and there is also one more reason: some customers just cannot be helped. 

While going through our data, it was obvious some of the bigger problems we had were “How do I login?” and “How do I get my site up?”

Those are fixable scenarios, and we put time and energy into making those scenarios way more seamless. That definitely reduced the impact on our support teams. 

At some point, we ran into a problem. We were able to cut into the data, iterate our service and support to reduce the amount of requests that came in, but we rapidly ran into diminishing returns. There was always the 2 biggest categories of all: “Unsupported” and “We can’t do this for the customer”

As a service provider, it’s our job to help our customers. However, there is a financial view to be had as well. If 20% of your customers open 80% of requests, does that mean you should focus on keeping them happy, or the 80% who are not opening requests, or all of them? Our answer is all 3 options work, within limits. 

To provide amazing customer service, you need to be able to triage, focus and fix problems in a short amount of time. If the same customers open up request after request, especially if the question is not related to the service, you have a choice to make. 

This is not to be confused with tough but fair customers. Tough customers are gold for your support team and company, because they will find holes that you would never think about. They will come across scenarios and situations where their expectation of the service isn’t being met. And truthfully, a tough but fair customer will be right.  And these customers should never be confused with those who will ask any question that comes to mind. 

To offer the best service, there needs to be guard rails. Be kind to all of your customers. Treat them well. But do not let a small minority take up all of your support resources. Your other customers will end up paying the price, and in the long run, your support team will burn out, and your company will be wondering what’s going on. 

Be smart about providing support and customer service. In the long run, it’s always worth it.