For manufacturers, customers are the open wallets at the end of the supply chain. But for most service businesses, they are key inputs to the production process. Customers introduce tremendous variability to that process, but they also complain about any lack of consistency and don't care about the company's profit agenda. Managing customer-introduced variability, the author argues, is a central challenge for service companies. The first step is to diagnose which type of variability is causing mischief: Customers may arrive at different times, request different kinds of service, possess different capabilities, make varying degrees of effort, and have different personal preferences. Should companies accommodate variability or reduce it? Accommodation often involves asking employees to compensate for the variations among customers--a potentially costly solution. Reduction often means offering a limited menu of options, which may drive customers away. Some companies have learned to deal with customer-introduced variability without damaging either their operating environments or customers' service experiences. Starbucks, for example, handles capability variability among its customers by teaching them the correct ordering protocol. Dell deals with arrival and request variability in its high-end server business by outsourcing customer service while staying in close touch with customers to discuss their needs and assess their experiences with third-party providers. The effective management of variability often requires a company to influence customers' behavior. Managers attempting that kind of intervention can follow a three-step process: diagnosing the behavioral problem, designing an operating role for customers that creates new value for both parties, and testing and refining approaches for influencing behavior.