Best efforts

Just one of the things that annoys me is when someone (e.g. BT plc) offering a "best efforts" service as a way of saying "yeh, well, it can be crap some times".

"Best" has a meaning, and if there is any way that the service could possibly be "better" then what we have is not "best". Adding "efforts" to the end does not really add much to the meaning. "Best efforts" should mean the best they can do.

So why is it that a "best efforts" service is not as good as a "committed rate" service at a higher price?

Heck, when doing QoS stuff over BT, "best efforts" is one of the lower settings, with "guaranteed" being higher. How can "best" not be, well, the best? What is better than best?

Then we get to phrases like "Your order has been acknowledged and BT is aiming for provisioning it as soon as possible." which is the normal response on a standard DSL provision with BT.

But hang on, if I give them around £100 more for an "expedite", it will be sooner. How the hell can it be "possible" for them to provision the service sooner than "as soon as possible" exactly?

It is all blatant lies!

It is not so much that there are different services for different prices - that makes perfect sense. It is that they lie about it - they claim to be providing "best efforts" but there is better, or "soon as possible" but there is sooner.

Why lie? Why make up crap?



  1. You hit the spot with the QoS stuff. It's just a rather poor choice of words because as you said, it's not best at all. It's really lowest effort which means that by default, all your BT orders are discard eligible. They will put it in the normal queue for orders, but when something more interesting comes along, they will dump you.

    You should at least call it default effort.

  2. The trouble is that these specific cases of trade jargon are in use practically everywhere. They are impossible to fix and alternative terms are commercially difficult to adopt.

  3. I mis clicked and zapped Phil Reynolds post:
    "Best {efforts,endeavours}" seems to mean "we'll try, provided you agree there's no comeback if we fail" - at least, that's my experience with a few companies. I have even offered to pay more to get things done better and been flatly refused - in one case I even wrote to one of the companies in question and told them it was not good enough to offer a service in such an unreliable way with no alternative - not that it really got me anywhere. Where it is possible to pay for at least a chance of better service I am often minded to.

  4. To be fair "best effort" seems to be defined by the IETF to mean something 'default priority'. Interestingly though it also seems to be defined in law: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=6a4c20dc-594d-4756-b710-7a2dc213e8c0
    to be somewhat stronger.

  5. "Best efforts" is contractually a very different concept from an absolute obligation to deliver. Where you go wrong in your analysis in your blog post is this part: "Adding 'efforts' to the end does not really add much to the meaning."

    Yes it does! Adding "efforts" changes everything. It means that legally what is owed is not the outcome (the service) but just an effort to produce the outcome. That is a much weaker legal obligation. The qualification "best" then describes how much of an effort one has to make to fulfil the legal obligation. "Best" would appear to mean the best one can do. The legal interpretation of "best efforts" is "everything that can be done should be done, but not to the point of that party bankrupting itself, although the 'best efforts' qualifier must be set against the context and purpose of the contract." However, the legal interpretation must also take account of the common understanding of a term of trade in the relevant industry. In the telco industry, "best efforts" is commonly understood to mean that there is no guarantee of a certain service level or quality. This industry specific understanding must be taken into account in the legal interpretation. As such, I would say the telco industry specific legal interpretation of "best efforts" is likely to be along the lines of "making efforts that could be expected from a diligent telco service provider but with no guarantee that a specific service level or quality will be achieved"

  6. What bugs me about DSL line install lead times, which they claim to do "as soon as possible", is that for years we had lines working in 24 hours as the norm. It was not until BT introduced a charge for expedite that they deliberately slowed down the installation times. The 24 hours was not guaranteed, but was routinely the case. BT themselves were surprised by it when they found out what we were doing, and we can to send them their own documentation that stated we could order by XML on 3 day lead time and that they arranged jumping 2 days before CRD (i.e. next day). It is not as if it costs them extra as they have jumpering to do every day, it was just a matter of which day they did the jumpering for the line.

  7. I think "best efforts" means "we'll do our best after taking into account restrictions placed on us by the infrastructure and other "guaranteed" services that use the same infrastructure".

  8. As part of the induction training at a firm I used to work for, we were told never to commit to "best efforts" as it meant that the firm had to do everything in its power to achieve the result, including committing every employee to it! If you think about it, that is the best effort the firm can make. Anything less is not "best"! "Reasonable efforts" was the thing we were allowed to commit to, as it has a limitation on what has to be done (it isn't reasonable to expect everyone in a 10,000 emloyee form to try to fix a software bug).


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