Customers these days have a lot of options when they go to make a purchase of almost any kind. That means they can be choosier about where they pick up lunch on a weekday, where they purchase a new car, and what company they hire to mow their lawn.
This increase in options means companies are competing on more than just location, price, and quality. Customer service is growing as a differentiator in the marketplace, in all industries.
But providing great customer service isn’t something that just happens. You need to take a strategic and thoughtful approach so that you truly get it right. And if you succeed, you’ll bring in more customers, and they’ll stay more loyal over the long term.
That’s the secret recipe for business growth. How can you make it happen? These top 12 best customer service practices will guide you on the way to exceptional service and happier customers.
What is great customer service?
There’s no one definition of great customer service. It looks different for every industry, and even differs within industries - you have different expectations for service at a luxury car dealership than at a used car lot, for instance.
But in general, great customer service means valuing customer time, delivering friendly and knowledgeable service, and exceeding customer expectations regularly.
These great customer service examples can help illustrate what those principles look like in action.
JetBlue rushed a venti mocha to a customer’s seat before takeoff after he tweeted he didn’t have time for a pre-departure coffee stop
Trader Joe’s doesn’t typically deliver grocery orders, but after receiving a call from a customer worried about her grandfather in a blizzard, they made an exception - and gave him all the food he ordered and more for free as well
An employee at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota noticed guest John DiJulius left his laptop charger behind. Not only did they overnight the charger to his address, but they included an extra one as well and a friendly note
As you can see from these examples, great customer service means anticipating customer needs and exceeding their expectations, no matter what industry you’re in.
Expectations for what makes great customer service has also shifted fairly significantly during the pandemic, as supply chains have frayed and customer behavior has worsened. Deescalation and conflict resolution are increasingly essential customer service skills, as our ultimate guide to customer service in 2022 discusses.
Why is great customer service important?
Great customer service is important because it enables your business to stand out in a sea of competitors with similar offerings. It also gives your business the following benefits.
Improved customer retention
When your business goes above and beyond to provide service and care for your customers, your customers are more likely to stay with your business for the long term. It’s six to seven times more expensive to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one, so retaining your existing customers is great for your bottom line.
Improved customer loyalty
Keeping customers loyal has never been more challenging, but it’s also important. 60% of consumers will stop doing business with a company if their service is unfriendly, and 46% will do the same if their service is not knowledgeable.
Great customer service keeps your existing customers loyal, and helps you hang on to any new ones you acquire as well.
Word of mouth marketing
When you deliver an exceptional customer service experience to someone, they’re likely to share the story with friends, neighbors, and colleagues - and possibly their social media networks as well. Those stories can go viral, providing great word of mouth marketing for your business.
Create a competitive advantage
If your business consistently delivers excellent customer service, it provides you with a significant competitive advantage. 54% of consumers say that the customer experience at most businesses needs improvement, so if your business nails CX, you’re already ahead of the game.
And just because your immediate competition is lagging behind doesn’t mean you can afford to slack. 73% of customers say that one exceptional customer service experience raises their expectations for other companies as well, according to Salesforce research. If you’re not prioritizing great customer service, you risk falling behind.
12 customer service tips and best practices
It’s clear from the data - great customer service is essential to the success of your business. But excellent service doesn’t happen on its own, at least not consistently.
How can you strategically ensure that your customer service is above par and in line with the most current customer service trends? These 12 best practice customer service standards will help you make it happen.
1. Empower employees
Your customer service department and other front-line employees are the face of your brand. That’s why employee experience is tied so tightly to customer experience - you won’t have many happy customers if your employees are disengaged, untrained, and unfriendly.
Empowering your employees begins with the hiring process. You must look for workers who have problem-solving skills, a good work ethic, and a dedication to customer service.
But to hold onto those employees once they’re hired, you need to empower them to act on behalf of customers, in addition to training them and recognizing their hard work and great results.
2. Manage customer expectations
Customer expectations are high for businesses, but that doesn’t mean promising them things you simply can’t deliver is a good idea. Falling short of what you’ve promised customers is disappointing for them, and means they’re likely to look elsewhere next time they need to make a purchase.
Instead, focus on what you can truly deliver, and stick to that messaging. You may need to review those messages with your sales and marketing teams. If they’re promising things your customer service and success teams simply can’t deliver, that makes for a poor customer experience.
Being transparent with customers is a better long-term solution. And you can still work hard to exceed their expectations and go the extra mile, and it will be all the more appreciated.
3. Gather as much information as possible
You likely already have plenty of data on your customers and prospects, but it might not be easily accessible to your customer service team. Ensure that you’re gathering the right data about customer preferences, habits, history, and previous interactions - and then put that into a system your service team can use, like your CRM.
Having this information at their fingertips can help your reps provide better customer service experiences with ease, and avoids customers having to repeat themselves frequently. And it will help you develop a deeper understanding of customer desires and behavior as well so you can make improvements and refinements to the overall customer experience.
4. Personalize the relationship
Customers increasingly expect a personalized customer journey - and their customer service experience is no exception. With the detailed data you’ve collected in the previous step in your CRM, your customer service agents will be able to greet customers by name, see and understand their history with the company, and make recommendations or solve problems more easily.
And personalization is about more than just data. Customers want to feel they have a relationship with your business beyond the transactional. Giving personal touches to each customer (aided where possible by data) can help strengthen that relationship and make them feel they’ve received exceptional support.
5. Create a customer-centric culture
The task of delivering great customer service doesn’t rest solely with your customer service agents. It needs to be a priority for your entire organization. Great customer experience should be at the top of the list for your CEO, your sales and marketing teams, even your HR department.
Moving your company from a product-centric to a customer-centric mindset is no small task. But it ensures that your customer service efforts will be rewarded and maintained through the entire customer journey, not only in direct customer interactions.
6. Provide self service options
Many customers prefer a human touch when they have a question or an issue for your customer service team, but not everyone. Some will prefer to solve their own problems, especially if it’s a small one. Enabling those customers to take the self-service route when they choose gives them a great customer service experience.
These self-service options could be a knowledge base on your website full of helpful blog posts, detailed FAQs, an automated chatbot that can direct them to what they need, how-to videos, and more.
The more options you provide for your customers to help themselves, the happier they’ll be - and it saves your customer service agents time to spend on more complicated issues as well.
7. Be accessible
Of course, there are times when customers will need to speak with a person to resolve their problems. Don’t make them search every corner of your website or jump through multiple hoops to do so - your customer service team must be accessible to be truly effective.
Accessibility means having multiple avenues to get help (more on this below), operating hours beyond the typical 9-5, and being just a few clicks away from reaching your business. Customers who are experiencing an issue want to get help and get on with their day as quickly as possible, and great customer service means making that happen.
8. Reduce customer effort
A great service experience isn’t solely based on how much effort a customer needs to put in to get help - but it’s important. If you have well-trained and friendly customer service reps, but customers must fill out complex forms or describe their issue over and over to get a solution, the overall interaction will feel frustrating.
You can measure where your company currently stands with Customer Effort Score (CES) surveys. Making improvements to your score could require training reps on your products so they’re more knowledgeable, reducing pain points like hold time and transferred calls, and automating solutions where possible.
Your customers shouldn’t need to chase down answers and solutions - your business should be committed to making these tasks as easy as possible for them.
9. Offer omnichannel support
Customers today are accustomed to interacting with the companies they patronize on multiple platforms. They might visit your website to see when you’re open, call you to reset a password, tweet at you to report a poor customer experience, and visit your Instagram to check out new products.
To elevate your customer service experience from good to great, you must invest in meeting all of your customers and serving them on the channels they prefer. And the service they receive on all of those channels should be consistently excellent. Investing in a multi-channel contact center will help your employees provide great service to everyone, no matter how they reach you.
10. Exceed expectations
Meeting the expectations your customers have is not providing great service - that’s keeping your promises, and it’s a basic step. Exceeding expectations, on the other hand, can elevate your customer service experience into a new realm.
This can mean creating surprise and delight campaigns for loyal customers, showing them that you can take it to the next level because you value them. It can also be in the small gestures, like including handwritten, personalized notes in orders for long-term valued customers.
Looking for ways you can regularly exceed expectations will show your customers that you are willing to go out of your way because you value them so highly, and that leaves a great impression of your commitment to customer service.
11. Review the customer journey
Customer service is only one portion of the customer journey, though it’s a very important one. Looking at the customer journey as a whole can tell you where you can make improvements that enhance customer service interactions, or even eliminate them entirely.
For example, when you map your customer journey for the first time you might realize that users are frequently being logged out of their accounts on your website, and they must regularly call in to regain access so they can see their previous orders and place new ones.
You could add an FAQ to your customer service site about this task. But you could also look deeper into the customer journey, and fix whatever bug is logging out customers. Or you could remove the need to create an account to place an order, making the purchase process easier.
Often when you look at customer service problems in the context of the entire customer journey, you’ll come up with solutions for not only that issue, but ones that improve the entire customer experience.
12. Be consistent
Customer service that is sometimes exceptional - and sometimes not helpful - is not a good experience for your customers. Whether it varies by channel or simply as a result of uneven training and experience in your customer service reps, inconsistent customer service is disappointing and frustrating for your customers.
You can increase consistency by creating procedures and protocols for all of your reps to follow each time they help a customer. Investing in regular training and development for your reps, and encouraging them to share wins and best practices as well, makes it easy for customers to receive consistently great service from your company.
You should also ensure that your customer service standards are clearly defined and shared widely, not only across your front-line teams but across your entire organization. And give your customer service teams the tools they need to do their job effectively, no matter what channel they’re using.
There’s always room for improvement in your customer service - and these best practices can help you get from ok to good or even great. They require focus and hard work, but the results you’ll receive in increased customer loyalty and satisfaction make it worth everyone’s while.
The very first step in creating great customer service experiences is knowing how your customers feel about your current service, and why they feel that way. Then you can make targeted, effective improvements that tangibly affect the customer experience.
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