20 Must-Read Books for Anyone Who Does Customer Service (UPDATED!)
These books will change the way you look at customer support.
It’s been nearly two years since we first published our first list must-read customer service books.
The original list had ten books, and they’re as valuable today as they were then.
I’m always on the lookout for books that can help people get better at customer service (hint: most of these wins are not found in books with “customer service” in the title), and since the original post, I’ve found a lot more great reads.
So below, you’ll find an updated list of 20 must-read books for anyone who does customer service.
The first ten are the original ten recommendations. Below them, you’ll find ten brand new additions, never published on this blog before.
Enjoy, and share your own suggestions in the comments!
Why Read Books to Get Better at Customer Service
When it comes to improving ourselves and our lives, there’s no single better investment of your time and money than books.
What other investment gives you access to an expert’s knowledge that took them years — and sometimes, a lifetime — to gather and distill for you? All for less than $15 and a few hours (or days).
If you want to do anything better, finding the best book on that topic is a great way to start.
One thing you may notice about the list below is that there aren’t many books with “customer service” in the title.
That’s because most of those books (at least the ones I’ve read) are not very good. They’re usually either dense, hard to follow and lose their effectiveness in too much jargon, or are clearly written solely to land the author more consulting clients.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t books that can help you get better at customer service.
In fact, there are books that, on the outside, appear to have nothing to do with support, but that can completely change the way you approach working with your customers.
Here are 20 of those books.
Must-Read Books: The Original 10
1) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This is the book on dealing with other people in work and life, and should be required reading for anyone in a customer service role. Carnegie’s insights on what drives people — and how to use that to make them happy and get what you want — are just as relevant now as they were when he first published them in 1937.
Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ”Wouldn’t you like to have that?“ Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?
2) Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
If you want to learn how to influence your customers’ choices and help them get more value out of your product, read this book. Thaler and Sunstein go deep into the psychology of how subtle behavioral “nudges” can completely change the choices people make.
If you want people to lose weight, one effective strategy is to put mirrors in the cafeteria.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
3) Getting Things Done by David Allen
Customer service is a hard job, and managing your time well can make the difference between a smooth support operation and critical customer emails slipping through the cracks. Help desk software can certainly help you manage support, but I haven’t found a better book out there than this one for building a solid foundation for stress-free productivity.
Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.
4) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
There isn’t a more cliche case study of how amazing customer service can lead a company to success than the story of Zappos. It seems like everyone has a story about how been wow’ed by a Zappos employee. I know I have, more than once. This book by the company’s CEO goes into how and why he started it, and shares countless takeaways for how to think about your relationship with your customers.
Over the years, the number one driver of our growth at Zappos has been repeat customers and word of mouth. Our philosophy has been to take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and invest it into customer service and the customer experience instead, letting our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth.
5) The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk
A lot has changed in business over the last 100 years, and when the internet came along, many businesses found that they could simply out-hack the competition to success. Now that the playing field has leveled, that’s no longer the case, and Gary makes the case that the easiest way to grow in today’s market is to out-care everyone else. The book is packed with stories and tips on how to show your customers and prospects that you have their best interest at heart.
It’s still so rare for anyone to be personally acknowledged by a brand that the impact of such a simple, polite gesture on a customer’s buying habits could be huge.
6) Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got
by Jay Abraham
There’s probably no more sought-after expert on growing a business than Jay Abraham, who consults some of the most successful companies in the world for a modest $50,000/day fee (yes, really). Jay knows more than just about anyone about how to take a business from struggling to thriving, and this book contains lessons that are very relevant to those of us who work directly with customers. This book will teach you Abraham’s Strategy of Pre-Eminence, a way to stop seeing yourself as a customer service agent, sales rep, marketing manager or [insert just about any title here], and start becoming a trusted advisor to your customers.
You must understand and appreciate exactly what your clients need when they do business with you—even if they are unable to articulate that exact result themselves. Once you know what final outcome they need, you lead them to that outcome—you become a trusted adviser who protects them. And they have reason to remain your client for a lifetime.
7) The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Positivity is one of the essential customer service skills, and can actually change the way your customers feel about your business. That’s why this book by Shawn Achor, the guy behind one of my favorite TEDx talks of all time, is so powerful. It will teach you research-backed methods found by Achor’s team that will actually make you happier and more positive over time, which will spill over into better productivity, better performance, and better relationships with your customers.
Students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers. And people who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative.
8) The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Think you’re helping your customers by giving them lots of options? This book will show you why you may actually be hurting them (and your business). Schwartz dives into his research on how more choice actually leads us to make worse decisions, along with making us more stressed, less happy and less productive. The ramifications of his research on customer success and marketing are not to be ignored.
We give disproportionate weight to whether yogurt is said to be five percent fat or 95 percent fat free. People seem to think that yogurt that is 95 percent fat free is a more healthful product than yogurt that has five percent fat.
9) Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers founded CDBaby, one of the best examples of a company that won by caring more than its competitors (at least until Sivers sold it). CDBaby helped musicians sell their music to fans at a time when faceless music mega-stores made it hard for anyone without the backing of a big record label to break through. This short book is full of stories about how Sivers built the company, and how they won through awesome customer service.
If someone would call, saying, “I’d like to talk with someone about selling my music through you,” we’d say, “Sure. I can help. What’s your name? Cool. Got a website? Can I see it? Is that you on the home page there? Very cool. Is that a real Les Paul? Awesome. Here, let me listen to a bit of the music. Nice, I like what you’re doing. Very syncopated. Great groove. Anyway… so… what would you like to know?”
I can tell you from my own experience of being a self-promoting musician for 15 years that it’s SO hard to get anyone to listen to your music. So when someone takes even a couple minutes to listen to you, it’s so touching that you remember it for life.
10) The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
With lots of customers sending emails of varying priorities being fielded by multiple team members, support can be pretty chaotic. When things get chaotic, chances are high that small details may begin to slip through the cracks. This book by Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, shares some incredible stories about how checklists — such a simple concept — save millions of lives every year in hospitals, airplanes and huge construction sites. But they can be used to “bulletproof” a system of any size, and if you’re not sure how or why you should apply checklists to your support funnel, you’ll get a lot from this book.
We don’t like checklists. They can be painstaking. They’re not much fun. But I don’t think the issue here is mere laziness… It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us — those we aspire to be — handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.
Must-Read Books: 10 NEW Additions
11) Purple Cow, by Seth Godin
Almost everybody starts their business wanting to “stand out.” Yet a few years down the line, most businesses in most markets look very, very similar.
What goes wrong? And why do so many business fail at being different, while a select few rise to the top?
This short book explains that mystery, and makes an important case for thinking differently about standing out. And if you choose to be remarkable (and you should), then your customer service must reflect that at every turn.
In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.
12) Drive, by Daniel Pink
This is one of the best books on motivating people that have been published in the last decade.
Whether you need to motivate your team to deliver amazing customer service (hint: it’s not about money), or you need to motivate your customers to email you for help (hint: it’s not about gamification or referral credits), Daniel Pink will teach you what you need to know about understanding what makes people do things.
The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.
13) Influence, by Robert Cialdini
Godfather, king, wizard… whatever your preferred title for “guy who everybody in the industry looks up to” is, when it comes to persuasion, that’s Robert Cialdini.
This is the most recommended book about how to influence people, and for very good reason: it’s full of specific, actionable tactics that you can use to get the behavior you want out of others (read: your customers).
The principle of social proof says so: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.
14) Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer
Danny Meyer is a restaurateur who operates in New York City, one of the most notoriously difficult restaurant markets in the world.
And yet, he’s managed to build an empire of 10+ successful restaurants that have flourished over decades, including Eleven Madison Park, widely considered one of the world’s best restaurants, and Shake Shack, a burger joint which has expanded to 100 locations on five continents.
How did he do it?
The quote below explains that, and hopefully convinces you to learn from this master of customer experience.
Policies are nothing more than guidelines to be broken for the benefit of our guests. We’re here to give the guests what they want, period.
15) The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh
Want to ensure that your customer service team doesn’t deliver amazing customer service?
All you have to do is simply say “deliver amazing customer service,” and never say or do anything to back it up.
It’s a recipe for failure, and yet so many businesses issue mandates from the top like the one above, and expect the team to simply follow through.
Success takes great leadership. Great leadership takes making the people around you want to succeed together, and it takes setting a powerful example for them.
This book—written by one of the most legendary coaches in NFL history—will make you a better customer service agent, teammate, manager and entrepreneur.
(Thanks to Spencer Lanoue for recommending this book to me.)
Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.
16) The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
Writing well is very important in customer service. Writing with clarity makes life easier for your customers, and making life easier for your customers leads to more loyal customers.
While there are some very good books about writing well, I prefer to get better reading great writing.
And when it comes to writing that’s clear and energetic, there’s nobody more recognizable to study than Ernest Hemingway.
He’s known for delivering plenty of oomph in short, fast-moving sentences, and for using forceful, beautiful, positive language.
While there’s a book called Ernest Hemingway on Writing that’s a collection of his quotes, I think that his short stories are much, much better teachers.
You may talk. And I may listen. And miracles might happen.
17) Hug Your Haters, by Jay Baer
One of the most common topics that we get asked to cover on this blog are about dealing with complaints. It’s a question that has come up more and more frequently as social media lets complaints be louder and louder.
It’s a tough, complex issue, but I always encourage businesses to see complaints as opportunities, not outcomes.
In this book, Jay Baer makes that case far, far better than I have. He shows us exactly how to deal with “haters” in a way that improves your relationships with your customers and helps you grow your business.
Haters are not your problem. Ignoring them is.
18) Harvard Business Review on Increasing Customer Loyalty
We quote Harvard Business Review articles often on this blog. It’s a publication that frequently and consistently shares great research, sound insights and actionable takeaways.
This book is a collection of some of their best customer loyalty content, covering everything from understanding who to listen to and who to ignore, the best support metrics to track and how to increase retention and customer lifetime value.
According to conventional wisdom, customers are more loyal to firms that go above and beyond. But our research shows that exceeding their expectations during service interactions (for example, by offering a refund, a free product, or a free service such as expedited shipping) makes customers only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs.
19) The Amazement Revolution, by Shep Hyken
Great customer service isn’t about creating an out-of-this-world “wow” experience for a single customer (or handful of customers) with the hope that they’ll go and share it on Twitter.
Great customer service is about consistently and predictably creating a better-than-average experience for all of your customers.
Shep Hyken is a customer service master, and this book shares actionable tips on how to create that consistent experience for your own customers.
“By putting that ‘member since’ date on our cards,” Bush told me, “we create membership, and membership is something that our cardmembers treat as a badge of honor. It’s not elitist. It’s inclusive. It means they are appreciated, that they have the right, and expect, to be served in a premium fashion. As long as we treat them like members in high regard, we believe cardmembers will maintain their relationship with American Express. Our job is to continue to service the needs of all our customers who rely on us as a premium service experience organization.”
“In fact,” he continued, “we don’t really think of ourselves as a credit card company at all. We actually view ourselves as a premium service company. We are really in the services business. We happen to facilitate payments. But it’s the experience around those payments that makes what we do unique and special for our cardmembers.”
20) The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
Customer service is a rapid-fire world.
Messages are coming at us from all angles at all times, and it’s rare to have a few minutes to step back and breathe.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand how to manage our energy and focus to be the very best we can be, whenever we’re on the clock.
This is one of my favorite books on focus and productivity, because it’s not about to-do lists or timers; it teaches you how to think about using your energy for maximum performance.
We live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognize that both are necessary for sustained high performance.
Your Turn: What Are Your Customer Service Must-Reads?
I hope you find these books as valuable as I have. If you’ve read them, let me know what you thought, or add your own in the comments!