Think back to when you had a great customer service experience. Maybe a call center agent went above and beyond to solve your problem, or a store employee provided you with exceptional care during a time when you needed it.
Those kinds of experiences stay in your mind long after they happen. They’re powerful engines of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and business growth.
But providing excellent customer service is difficult for many companies, even if they’d like to. Many factors go into offering customers an exceptional experience every time, and those experiences look different depending on your company, industry, and customers.
However, there are certain elements that almost every business can stand to improve in their customer service. This guide will tell you what you need to know and how you can strengthen your customer service offering to delight your customers every time.
What is customer service?
Customer service is how your business supports your customers and meets their expectations. This can include answering questions about the products and services you sell, helping to troubleshoot problems, and ensuring customers get the maximum value out of their purchases.
Customer service helps you deliver value and assistance to your customers throughout the customer journey, from when they first become aware of your business to their initial purchase and beyond.
Why is it important?
Why is customer service important? Because it helps your business to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships with your customers - at least, when it’s done correctly.
Good customer service has many advantages. It can even lead to higher revenues and profits. Customers are willing to spend 17% more with companies that offer good customer service.
In an increasingly crowded competitive landscape (with heavy levels of marketing noise as well), great customer service provides a way for your business to stand out from the rest of your industry and win over customers.
And once those customers have purchased from you once, they’re more likely to return and to stick with your business over the long term. Since gaining new customers is much more expensive than retaining existing ones (anywhere from 5 to 25 times more costly), your business needs to retain customers to grow sustainably.
Excellent customer service helps you find new customers too. A customer who has an excellent experience with your customer service team or other employees is likely to tell their network about it, giving you free, highly effective word-of-mouth marketing.
On the other hand, bad customer service can cost your business significantly in several ways. Customers who have a negative service experience are also likely to tell their networks about it, and they might even amplify those complaints on social media.
And customers who are unhappy with the customer service your business provides are likely to look for a competitor to purchase from next time, even if it costs them more. Nearly 50% of customers say they’ll switch to a different brand after one bad experience. That number jumps to 80% after more than one negative interaction.
Bad customer service makes it harder to gain and retain customers, so it’s vital to invest in providing excellent customer service instead.
What does great customer service look like?
There’s no single definition of great customer service. It will look different for every company. And what is good customer service varies significantly by industry.
For example, great customer service at a five-star hotel includes turndown service and an on-call concierge, and that wouldn’t be expected or needed from a SaaS company or a burger restaurant.
But there are qualities of good customer service that apply across most industries and businesses.
Friendliness: Greeting customers with a smile, being courteous and respectful, and generally being friendly is always a part of what makes customer service great.
Empathy: Understanding what customers think and feel, especially in difficult situations, is essential to meeting and exceeding their expectations.
Fairness: People like to feel they’re being treated fairly, so it’s essential to treat all customers with fairness no matter how much money they spend.
Control: Allowing customers to get help in the way they prefer, whether using self-service resources, a chatbot, or with live support, helps them feel in control.
Information: Giving customers access to information they need, like how to set up their new product or get in touch with your customer service team, is vital.
Time: Your customer service team should respect the customer’s time and work to resolve issues and answer questions promptly.
So what does this look like in practice? Here are a few great customer service examples from the real world.
Adobe proactively informed customers about an outage before receiving any complaints and provided a cute puppy stampede video as a distraction.
Zappos responds to every customer email they receive - even if you email the CEO.
Glossier has a customer service department called the gTeam that responds to social media comments and sends engaging emails - they’ll even email customers to ask how their new shade of concealer is working for them.
JetBlue went above and beyond to deliver a customer his Starbucks order in his seat on the plane because he tweeted he didn’t have time to grab one before he boarded.
14 ways to provide great customer service
What is great customer service? Well, there are lots of ways to provide it - but these 14 items are essential to your success. Here’s what you need to know about each area and how you can improve them to enhance your customer service.
#1 Know your product or service
Being knowledgeable about your product or service is a key part of providing great customer service. Your customers expect you to be the expert on what you sell - if they have to explain simple issues to your team, they’re not going to be happy.
Having extensive knowledge of your product, the features, use cases, troubleshooting, and optimizing shows them that you are the expert and here to help them. If you can help customers feel like they’ve gotten the most value out of their money, that’s an excellent customer service experience.
#2 Keep a positive attitude
Even when things get challenging or heated with a customer, it’s crucial to maintain a positive tone and attitude. Responding to an upset customer in a careless or cold tone can turn the interaction more negative for everyone.
Instead, focus on conveying warmth, care, and positivity, no matter how you communicate with customers. This can require additional thought if you talk with customers exclusively through chat or email - don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some exclamation points or emojis to get the right tone across.
#3 Be creative when problem-solving
This is one of the top customer service skills that every rep needs. Your customers will often see the same issues, and you’ll know how to solve them. But the real test comes when an unusual problem arrives.
Getting creative when faced with a challenge helps you to go above and beyond for customers in an unexpected way. This can create wow moments that customers are eager to share with their friends, colleagues, or social media networks.
#4 Be timely
When a customer has an issue, they want it solved as quickly as possible. Even a delay of a few hours - or minutes, in some cases - can cause dissatisfaction and churn. This is especially true for minor issues, as customers expect these to be solved right away.
But speed isn’t always everything - if you rush to solve a problem that requires more creativity, you might miss out on a chance to impress a customer even more. Balancing speed and diligence is a constant balancing act in the customer service world.
To impress customers experiencing a more significant issue, you can get back to them immediately to let them know you’re working on a solution and continue to update them frequently. They won’t feel ignored or forgotten, and you’ll have more time to get creative.
#5 Tailor the service
Nobody likes to feel like just another transaction or ticket number. Personalizing and tailoring the customer service you provide, even when it’s just a small matter, can make customers feel that you value them as a person. That helps to strengthen the relationship with them further.
To improve here, you can begin by addressing customers by name wherever possible. Maybe you know their birthday and can send an ecard or add other personal touches during an interaction. Your company likely has lots of data available on customers, so use it in providing better customer service where possible.
#6 Enable customers to help themselves
Not every customer wants to call in and talk to a person when they have a problem. Maybe they’re busy, or they’re simply the type of person who likes to figure things out themselves. Giving them the option to help themselves can make these customers happier.
This can mean bulking up the self-serve resources on your website, creating how-to videos on your YouTube channel or TikTok, or providing a detailed onboarding guide when a new customer buys your product. Always ensure that these are easy for customers to find and use so they can get right to what they need.
#7 Serve the customer in the channel of their choice
Much like customers have different preferences when they’re troubleshooting, they also like to contact your customer service team in many different ways - and these days, they expect to have multiple options.
Providing omnichannel customer service means enabling your customer support team to handle questions across different platforms, such as phone, email, messaging, live chat, social media, and so on.
Meeting customers where they’re spending time helps you to serve them faster and with less effort on their part.
#8 Actively listen and ask for feedback
Assuming that you know how your customers feel is a common mistake. You won’t truly know until you listen to them actively. What are they telling you in your customer service surveys, in social media comments, and when they’re talking with your reps? You need to find out and then act on the feedback you receive.
Customer service is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor - every customer wants and expects something a little different. Tuning in and paying attention to all kinds of feedback helps you do better in the future and deliver excellent customer service every day.
#9 Deliver on your promises
One of the most basic tenets of good customer service is delivering what you promise every time. If you’re not living up to the expectations your sales and marketing teams set, you need to adjust.
Customers will feel disappointed when what you promise isn’t what you deliver, and they may take that frustration out on your customer service. If you promise two-day shipping, for example, but it often takes three, or you don’t deliver promised refunds when the item arrives late, customers are going to get irritated or angry.
Instead, ensure that customers trust you and take you at your word. This shows your respect for them. And if you occasionally slip up, take accountability and offer the customer something for their trouble. This can help you keep a loyal customer even after an issue.
#10 Be proactively helpful
Want to deliver truly exceptional customer service? Then you can’t simply react to your customers. You need to anticipate their needs proactively. Going the extra mile by figuring out what they need can win you a customer for life.
Being proactive ensures that customers feel valued and known by your company and helps you provide for their needs better. You may even find that customers ask for one thing but need something else, and determining these wishes ahead of time offers a great customer experience.
#11 Think long-term. A customer is for life
Providing great customer service can cost you money in the short term. You need to ensure your reps are well-trained, provide thoughtful extras like gifts or discounts to loyal customers, and sometimes give refunds when things go awry.
But these expenses are no comparison to your customer lifetime value. Thinking long-term can help you realize how small these investments create a base of highly loyal, satisfied customers who will stick with your business for years or decades.
#12 Invest in human and automated service channels
One of the best investments to make when improving your customer service is having both human and automated service channels—choosing only one or the other means that some customers will always be left dissatisfied.
If there’s no option to get a person on the phone to solve a significant, timely issue, that will fail some people. But making everyone call in and go through a phone tree to reset a forgotten password will have the same effect.
Instead, ensure you have both options available - and that both are state-of-the-art. That can mean training your call center staff better on the top customer service tips or investing in a highly advanced IVR or chatbot solution.
#13 Fix your mistakes
Customers know that sometimes, issues will come up with your products or services that are no one’s fault or are a simple error. What makes that minor issue a big problem is when your company doesn’t acknowledge or fix the mistake.
It can be an instinct. No one likes to admit to making an error. But customers won’t be pleased if they’re dealing with a mistake and an unrepentant company at the same time, and that can be enough to cause them to churn.
#14 Provide consistency in your customer service
Your customer service needs to be reliable to be truly great. Suppose customers receive very different experiences when they talk to different reps, or your phone service is dismal compared to your chat help. In that case, customers won’t feel they can rely on your company to fix problems or answer questions every time.
You can improve your customer service to make it more consistent by ensuring your reps are trained regularly on the best customer service practices and encouraging teams to share their own best practices.
You can also measure the consistency and effectiveness of your service by creating a closed-loop feedback system to identify under-performing or excellent teams or reps to determine exactly which areas need improvement.
And your customer service technology should be consistent and reliable as well - make sure you’re not regularly experiencing dropped calls or broken links to resources on your website.
What makes great customer service? Many factors go into providing an exceptional experience for your customers every time they reach out to you - you must be friendly, reliable, knowledgeable, and proactive to start.
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