What’s the most important mission of your business?
It’s not making a profit (though that’s certainly important) - it’s serving your customers well. If your business doesn’t achieve this, it won’t succeed.
But for many companies, customer service is just a department to refer customers to when something goes wrong for them. The term can conjure up visions of long hold times on the phone, repetitive emails, and problems left unresolved.
That’s because those companies are treating customers and their problems as numbers and transactions, not as people. Customers are forced to go through lengthy processes when they’d really rather use the communication channels they prefer and get a helpful response quickly.
If your business can offer exceptional customer service, you can stand out in this increasingly competitive world and build a base of highly loyal, profitable customers.
But how do you create a customer experience that lives up to those expectations? By focusing on the six main areas of customer service.
To begin, it helps to define the term: exactly what is customer service? Quite simply, it’s how businesses serve the needs of their customers. This can be done by teaching customers how to use products, helping them to solve problems, and responding to their questions - and it can take many other forms as well.
Businesses should provide customer service throughout the customer journey - that means before, during, and after they make a purchase. It requires supporting and advocating for your customers during their complete lifecycle with your business.
And customer service is not only limited to front-facing employees on a specific team - it’s also the internal processes that support those teams and improve the customer experience. The whole organization plays a role in providing excellent customer service.
Why is customer service important?
Great customer service sets your business apart from your competition. It’s not simply an option - 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor when deciding whether to do business with a company.
The quality of your customer service also impacts how likely customers are to stay loyal to your business over time. 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer them great customer service.
And customer service quality has a strong bearing on how likely your customers are to spread word-of-mouth recommendations. People who rate a company’s service as “good” are 38% more likely to recommend that company.
We could go on, but the numbers make it clear - offering excellent customer service is vital to the success of your business.
Customer service best practices
There are many different types of customer service, and best practices can vary widely by industry. (You wouldn’t want your car dealership to leave chocolates on your pillow, and you don’t expect a hotel to leave you a free car air freshener.)
But there are common principles in customer service that apply to every industry and business, and they can help you to uplevel your company’s customer service experience.
Customers today want to feel that they have a relationship with the businesses they patronize. While personalizing everything at scale isn’t possible, providing more personalized customer experiences is important.
Truly personalized service is not just adding the customer’s name to marketing emails - it is providing experiences that are tailored to the individual needs and preferences of customers.
This can also mean using customer data to provide targeted recommendations or celebrate customer anniversaries, or to target communications according to an individual customer’s journey.
Your customers do not want to explain the basics of your products or services to your customer service reps. They expect your team to be knowledgeable and competent professionals who are well-trained and offer real assistance.
As products become increasingly complicated, this can be no small task - but it can make a difference in the brand image your company presents.
Customers are accustomed to having many choices in how they communicate with businesses, and so they expect to have options in talking with your customer service team as well.
Instead of offering only a phone line for questions that operates weekdays from 9-5, which is inconvenient for customers who have busy full-time work schedules, it’s a best practice to give customers multiple channels for seeking and getting help.
Depending on your business, this could mean adding chatbots, in-person assistance, round-the-clock call lines, an email option, self-service resources, social media accounts, or other channels.
Responding to customers when they reach out with an issue is essential. But customers are especially pleased when a company offers proactive service as well. This means anticipating their needs, and learning to identify when a customer takes an action that indicates they might need assistance, and reaching out before they do.
Providing proactive service doesn’t need to be complicated. It can mean creating detailed FAQs and other self-service resources so customers can get help with common questions without needing to call or email.
It can also be a thorough onboarding process to allow customers to learn about your product and how to use it right away, instead of waiting until they ask a question.
How customer service relates to customer experience
Sometimes customer service and customer experience are used interchangeably - but while they’re related, they’re not identical. Customer service is a part of the overall customer experience, which is the sum of touchpoints and experiences your customers have with your business.
Customer experience includes the important touchpoints of customer service, such as customers asking questions or reporting problems. Customer service is a vital part of the customer experience because customer service can make - or break - the perceptions your customers have of your business.
Want proof? It’s in the numbers. A customer is four times more likely to switch to a competitor if the problem they're having is service-based. And customers are more likely to forgive mistakes when customer service is top-notch. If a company’s customer service is excellent, 78% of consumers will do business with it again after a mistake.
Customer service might not be the entire customer experience - but it is one of the most important parts of it. Getting your customer service up to an exceptional level can significantly improve your overall customer experience and increase customer retention.
Six areas of customer service
What are the different areas of customer service? Knowing them allows you to focus on mastering and improving the most impactful areas of customer service.
Each area is valuable on its own - but it’s when they’re combined that your business will really see exceptional results and your customers will receive excellent service. Here are areas of customer service examples and explanations so you can develop a strategy for your own business.
Responsiveness is how quickly your company responds to questions or problems from customers.
Customers dislike waiting a long time to hear back when they contact your company. And it doesn’t matter what channel they use to contact you - whether it’s via email, a phone call, or a social media comment - they expect a timely response.
With omnichannel experiences becoming the norm, companies can struggle to achieve fast response times to each customer on every channel. But it’s important to have a strategy to get this key area right if you want to have happy customers.
For example, your customers might leave comments on your Instagram posts with cheerful responses and heart-eyes emojis most of the time. But you’ll also need a plan (or technology) to sort out when customers drop a comment reporting an issue or problem that requires a response, determine who is responsible for the response, and ensure timely follow-up.
Responsiveness on its own isn’t enough to satisfy customers - a fast but unhelpful response is not great either. But without good responsiveness, customers will be left feeling ignored by a company they wanted to or did make a purchase from - and that can be damaging to your brand reputation.
Customers are more informed than ever before. That’s because they can do much of their own research on a product, or an industry, or an issue, before ever talking to a company to make a related purchase.
And the same applies when fixing problems. Many customers of tech companies, for example, are now fairly advanced tech users and know quite a lot about the products they’re using.
That’s why it’s essential for your business to offer competent, knowledgeable customer service. When a customer calls in for help with an issue, reps shouldn’t struggle to understand simple issues or give the same basic advice to every caller. Customer service reps should be trained to be experts in the products they service, or have resources they can call upon to help them.
Consider the classic tech helpline advice: “Have you tried turning it off and then on again?” While that may fix issues for some less tech-savvy callers, your more experienced customers will find an insistence on this step irritating. And the typical linear service script that forces reps to walk every customer through the same steps can have the same effect.
Not only does this way of providing customer service frustrate some customers, it can also make them feel like they know more about your products than your employees do. And that doesn’t inspire trust in your business or your brand.
Can customers rely on your business? That question is at the heart of this area of service.
To deliver on this area of customer service, your business needs to be more reliable than your competitors. And you especially need to be reliable in the areas that matter most to your customers.
For example, if you run a taco shop, your customers need to rely on your delivery of safe, fresh, delicious food. They’re probably less concerned with receiving proactive, white-glove service. On the other hand, at a five-star hotel, that kind of service is paramount, as is actually having the proper rooms on hand that your customers have booked.
And software companies can’t afford even minutes of downtime - see the chaos that ensures every time Instagram or Facebook goes down for just an hour.
If customers don’t feel your company’s customer service is reliable, they may grow to feel that your company as a whole is unreliable. Examples of unreliable service include overlooking some customer comments or questions, a lack of proactive response when a big issue arises, or having the same problem occur again and again.
Customers don’t expect that your business will never make a mistake or encounter an issue - they’re not expecting perfection. But they do expect that when problems happen, your company will be a reliable source of help and resolve issues effectively.
In today’s fast-paced world, customers are impatient. They know that when they send an email or leave a comment on your company’s Twitter post, it’s received instantly - no more waiting for a response to an angry letter.
So they expect that your company will respond in a timely manner. There’s no one definition for how quickly you should respond to any request. That depends on factors such as:
The urgency of the problem
The size of the issue
Timeliness doesn’t mean solving every issue on the same day you hear about it - customers know that fixes for complicated problems take time. But you need to, at minimum, acknowledge the complaint or question as quickly as possible.
A simple “we’ve received your problem and we’re working on a solution” puts the customer’s mind a little at ease - they know someone has seen their comment, at the least.
However, if issues consistently take your customer service reps or your company as a whole a long time to solve, that indicates a larger issue. And to ensure you’re delivering excellent customer service, you need to find what’s behind this lack of timeliness and set it right so customers get the service they need promptly.
Value is a subjective but important part of the customer service equation. Customers expect to get a certain value from the items they purchase and the companies they patronize. That expected value depends on your brand messaging, place in the competitive landscape, and pricing.
And it has different meanings for different companies. A burger joint needs to have customer service that is pleasant and fast, and for the low prices they charge, that meets the value expectations of customers. Patrons are fine clearing their own tables and using a paper napkin in these places.
A fine dining restaurant, on the other hand, comes with significantly raised service expectations as a result of their higher prices and more refined brand positioning. Customers here won’t find value in informal, swift service - they’re paying for an elevated dining experience, not just a quick bite to eat.
These different expectations come down to fulfilling your promises - does your customer service match what your branding promises? If it doesn’t, customers will feel let down or even cheated.
On the other hand, if you can offer service that exceeds your competitors while keeping prices reasonable, that can be an excellent differentiator that keeps customers coming back. Trader Joe’s grocery chain is a great example of this approach - their prices are low, quality is high, and their customer service is friendly and efficient.
And that last quality brings us to our final area of customer service.
Interacting with customer service should be a pleasant experience for your customers. You want them to leave feeling heard, valued, and happy - even if they’re reporting a serious issue.
Friendliness can make a significant difference in how customers perceive your brand. Training your customer service teams to speak to customers in a warm, personal, engaging way can diffuse difficult situations and leave customers feeling welcomed as a person, instead of treated like a case number.
It’s also important to note that the degree of friendliness expected in customer service situations depends heavily on the culture of the country where your business operates. American customer service, for example, carries much higher expectations for friendliness than most European countries. Keep that in mind when developing international training protocols.
But ensuring your customer service reps are friendly as well as competent and quick makes for an all-around excellent experience for your customers - and that will keep them coming back again and again.
Getting all of these different areas of customer service right can take significant effort. But the results in customer loyalty and profitability ensure the return on your investment of time and resources more than pays off.
To deliver truly exceptional customer service, it’s important to excel in all six areas. And it’s equally vital to know what your customers think about your current customer service offering, and where they think you could improve. With clear customer feedback, you can work to deliver exactly what your customers need and value, instead of wasting time focused on the wrong elements.
Looking for a comprehensive way to start gathering this customer feedback? You can have your customer experience platform set up in days, not months, when you use GetFeedback.