The term customer service is actually pretty self-explanatory. Basically, it means the help a company provides for its customers and how it prepares and educates employees to help those customers.
Where it gets confusing is when people talk about customer service in relation to customer experience. Because… aren’t they the same thing?
No. No they are not.
Customer service is actually just part of the customer experience as a whole. If you’re looking for a dress online and the website is beautifully designed and easy to navigate and you get free shipping, that’s a good customer experience. If the package then gets lost in the mail, but the service rep you speak with about the problem is super pleasant, helpful and ships another dress free of charge that arrives the next day, that’s good customer service.
While customer experience does include customer service, it also encompasses all other interactions a customer has with a company.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, there’s one more thing to clarify about customer service. Most people think it’s just what happens when a customer reaches out and interacts with a service rep, but there’s a little more to it.
The customer service definition also includes when people are shopping for a solution and they find your business or when they are on your knowledge base answering their own questions.
Why is customer service important?
What is a business without customers? Nothing. That’s why it’s so important to attract and grow your customer base — and providing great service is one of the best ways to do that. Here are just a few ways customer service can significantly impact business growth:
- You can spend less on acquiring new customers: Happy customers often become repeat customers. And research shows that repeat customers are more likely to spend more time with your brand. A decrease in churn means a decrease in overall operating costs, since you don’t have to spend as much on acquiring new customers.
- Your customer service team represents your overall brand: Interacting with service reps is often the only direct communication a customer has with your business. The impression a customer gets from an interaction with your front-facing teams will greatly influence how they feel about your brand when compared with competitors.
- Word of mouth is a highly effective marketing tool: Good service creates happy customers who then tell the people they know all about how much they love your business. This includes spreading the word through online reviews and social media.
- Customers will pay more for good service: 67% of customers say they would pay more to get better customer service. That means you can be priced higher than your competitors but still attract more customers if you offer a better experience.
- Your customer service team can provide valuable insights: Since they talk directly with your customers, your customer service team can find out how your brand is being perceived, what’s working and what isn’t. Instead of surveying people, just have your reps ask a few questions. These insights can then help you improve your products, marketing, goals and employee training.
- Good customer service grows customer lifetime value: Customer lifetime value (CLV) measures the total revenue a business can expect from a single customer and is an important metric in measuring the success of a business.
- Customer expectations are high: With so many businesses now understanding the importance of customer service and how to improve it, customers are getting used to positive experiences. They aren’t pleasantly surprised when a service rep goes above and beyond for them — they expect it. And any experience that falls short of these expectations will negatively impact their impression of your brand.
Important qualities of customer service
Speaking of customer expectations, it’s important for your business to learn exactly what those are. When you understand what your customers want, you can figure out where you can improve your customer service strategy to avoid falling short of those expectations.
While specific needs vary across different industries, there are some basic qualities of a service experience that are desired by customers across the board.
- To feel heard and appreciated: Customers want to be treated as human beings, not just numbers contributing to your bottom line. They’re giving you their hard-earned money, and in exchange they want to know you understand their value.
- For things to be easy: When customers encounter too many hiccups or roadblocks, they may give up altogether and jump ship for a competitor in search of a more frictionless experience.
- To see you take action — quickly: People usually reach out to customer service because they have an issue that needs to be resolved. They expect that service reps will be able to help them immediately. If a problem can’t be solved by the rep, customers want to see action being taken, such as providing alternative solutions and forwarding their feedback to the proper department.
- To communicate using their preferred channel: As businesses increase their presence across a number of channels, customers expect to be able to get assistance in the way that’s most convenient for them. Customer service strategy should encompass chat, email, social messaging, knowledge bases, SMS and more. Chris Strub, guest on the Voices of CX Podcast and our favorite social media and streaming expert, has some top advice for how to be available on every channel without overextending yourself.
What is good customer service?
Essentially, good customer service means making sure customer needs and expectations are met in a timely, attentive manner and in a way that reflects positively on your business. In order to make that happen, you need to train your staff to listen and be helpful, transparent, and courteous. Make it easy for customers to contact your service reps and to get their issues resolved quickly. Make going the extra mile the norm — because that’s what your customers expect.
Customer service skills
Customers communicate directly with customer service. That makes your service team the face of your business, so it’s extremely important to hire the right people and train them on how to best represent your brand and meet customer needs. Data from Salesforce shows us the most valuable skills your team can have:
- Persuasive speaking skills: Reps need to know how to speak confidently, solve problems and make compelling arguments that lead to conversions.
- Empathy: Emotions plays a big role in purchasing decisions, and reps need to be able to see things from the customer’s point of view.
- Adaptability: Your customer service team needs to be able to respond effectively to all different types of people via multiple channels.
- Positivity: Customers may be upset when they contact your business, but it’s important your team stays upbeat and focused on the solution, while still empathizing with the customer.
- Communication skills: This one seems obvious, but it’s also among the most important. Customers will naturally get frustrated if they have to deal with someone who mumbles, talks too fast, rambles nonsense or otherwise just can’t be understood.
- Patience and self-control: Working in customer service can be stressful, but reps absolutely must keep their cool no matter what attitudes or curve balls are thrown at them. Appearing calm and collected can even diffuse the customer’s emotions, de-escalating the problem.
- Willing and able to take responsibility: When a customer has a problem, the last thing they want is to be transferred to multiple departments before they find someone who can help. Service reps who are empowered to take responsibility and initiative to solve problems will have a huge impact on customer satisfaction.
- Attentive listener: Teach your team to be good listeners and to show that they are listening. Sometimes it helps to repeat the customer’s problem back to them and use canned responses as guides instead of word-for-word scripts.
- Good time management: Responding directly to customers isn’t the only thing your reps have on their plates, but it should be their priority. Help them out by streamlining systems and making sure they have plenty of time to complete other tasks so they aren’t tempted to put customers on the back burner.
- Willing to improve: Because of changing technology and customer expectations, your service team has to be willing to learn how they can adapt and be better.
- Knowledge: Make sure your reps understand your business. You want them to be able to expertly answer your customers’ questions, and the only way they can do that is if they know what they’re talking about. They can also use service inquiries as an opportunity to sell something else, as long as they know enough to make the right offer at the right time.
- Thick skin: People who contact service personnel most often have a problem and can feel frustrated, impatient and angry from the start of the interaction. Your team needs to be able to brush off the bad attitudes and insults and not take them personally.