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What is customer service?

Customer service can be a tricky concept to define. On the one hand there is the straightforward execution of a service or the provision of goods. On the other hand there’s the customer service that only becomes apparent when something goes wrong; when the waiter spills the soup or deliveries to retailers are hit by bad weather.

In both cases, it’s important to understand the difference that your actions can make to the overall customer experience. By taking customer service seriously you can transform your relationship with both new and repeat customers.

Why customer service can’t be an afterthought

The aim of customer service should be clear: the customer should be satisfied to their expectations or beyond. This outcome can manifest itself in a range of ways, from multiple long-term repeat business to not posting a bad review on TripAdvisor.

Achieving this is in large part a matter of having systems in place to ensure as little as possible goes wrong, but that when it does there is an established response that ensures customers believe you did everything to help.

Developing a customer-focused organisational culture takes time, but having the right technology in place can make the task easier by supporting your team’s day-to-day operations and giving you accurate management information.

The value of customer service

In a typical business, a large proportion of renewal or repeat business will depend on the customer experience. What’s more, positive customer service experiences represent some of your best opportunities for profitable upsells. Can you afford not to take it seriously?

For the business-to-business sales team the better the relationship with the customer, the greater the expertise they can deliver in routine and troubleshooting situations, the more likely it is repeat business will ensue.

In the consumer space, the nature of service delivery can vary widely. Ensuring a speedy and pleasant purchase process or an honest and clear response to a customer complaint can make the difference between repeat business and recommendations or refunds and bad-mouthing your brand.

If you don’t yet have a dedicated customer services team – and many SMBs don’t – consider seriously whether you are at the point where you need one.

Measuring customer service

The assumption we make is that good customer service leads to repeat business or renewals, but most companies don’t actually measure that directly. Instead they use proxy measurements such as customer satisfaction, customer sentiment or Net Promoter Scores (NPS). Each metric has its own value: customer satisfaction surveys give you results focused on individual buyer experiences, for example, while NPS gives a wider aggregated picture of your business.

A comprehensive CRM system enables you to use a range of new metrics, driven by the ability to collect data in incredible detail based on actual records of customer interactions – though of course that data still needs to be interpreted with a degree of judgment.

Here are some of the basis contact centre metrics you should be using:

Average handle time (AHT)

This metric shows how long an agent spends working on each case. It’s the most commonly used measure of a contact centre’s efficiency. With the right CRM system you can measure AHT extremely accurately, by tracking the time an agent spends editing an active case screen.

In this case a lower number is better - it means that an agent can handle more cases in a given period of time.

First contact resolution (FCR)

A case that’s resolved the first time a customer contacts you is about as good as customer service gets. First contact resolution measures the number of cases that are resolved to the customer’s expectation without the need for a second call or contact through another channel. A cross-platform CRM can track a case across contact channels, giving you a customer’s eye view of the case and meaningful FCR data.

An increase in your FCR numbers shows that you’re delivering a better experience to your customers while also minimising the load on your customer service team -- a win for both you and the customer.

Deflection rates

One interesting recent development is the use of deflection rates as a metric – the number of enquiries that are able to be answered by the customer self-servicing through online FAQs, website searches or virtual agents rather than by (comparatively expensive) telephone contact centre agents.

By helping customers to help themselves and increasing deflection rates, you can reduce the pressure on your call centre and ultimately improve customer satisfaction.

Case study: Canon

See how Canon uses Salesforce to track customer engagement.

Read the full case study ›

Customer Service and Technology

Delivering excellent customer service takes the right organisational culture and trained, knowledgeable staff. But add the right technology platform and you can exceed customers’ expectations.

First let’s look at organisational culture. A company that treats its customer service staff poorly is also likely, in the end, to find those staff treating its customers the same way. Some of the best customer service experiences can come from staff who are motivated and empowered to find the right solution for the customer, even if it means extending a phone call or doing some product research themselves.

Second, you need to train your staff to have the necessary skills. This isn’t always a matter of giving everybody the same technical skill – although vacuum cleaner company Dyson famously claimed that every member of its staff could disassemble and rebuild its product, this very specific type of hands-on training isn’t usually necessary. Rather, it’s about giving people the right skills to fulfil the role you need them to do.

Technology can build on these two positive foundations to improve both the quality and efficiency of your customer service, helping people to help themselves while giving customer support agents useful information about what a customer already knows.

Take the example of an online knowledge base, collecting support content from FAQs to community posts together in a searchable, accessible format. This doesn’t just enable customers to self-help – it’s also available to your staff, who can find the answers to previous customer queries when dealing with their own cases. Supported by the right CRM system, an online knowledge base can be a powerful tool for tracking and resolving queries more effectively, even using Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) to direct customers to appropriate internal expert for their query based on which knowledge base articles they have read.

An online knowledge base can of course connect to – and be populated by – an online community where customers can discuss your product and advise one another. Building the community within your CRM platform keeps the whole interaction in the same environment, giving you a consistent, continuous view of your customer interactions.

Find out more about Service Cloud and Community Cloud from Salesforce.

Watch Demos Now ›

The future of customer service

Technology is changing the way we talk to customers. Mobile technology allows taxi and bus companies to let customers know when transport is due, and logistics providers can provide real-time parcel tracking information. IT vendors alert their customers’ IT staff to impending issues, such as servers running out of capacity. Meanwhile, mobile platforms and social media integration offer a near real-time feedback mechanism for customers, with multiplatform support communities an increasingly important resource for customers and support agents alike.

And customers need not even be aware that they’re giving feedback. Millions of devices are equipped with mobile internet connections that can provide data on their user’s location, physical activity, patterns of data usage and more. This “Internet of Things” is an opportunity to interact with customers in completely new ways. It’s likely to be a key element in the future of customer service.

CRM systems are already becoming an ideal partner in the journey towards customer service excellence. Customers are tracked through the lifetime of their relationship with the organisation, providing you with knowledge of the customer’s journey so far and insight into the next stages of that journey. This insight enables you to schedule touch points when they will be most useful to the customer, or (in concert with marketing automation tools to know when a customer is ready for sales approaches about a new product line.

So the future for customer service is an environment where:

  • more customer data is available than ever before, thanks to the Internet of Things and increasingly sophisticated data collection and storage;
  • this customer information is shared across your business in common data structures that can be plugged into multiple systems and channels;
  • customers expect ever higher standards from you in terms of both the speed and quality of your customer service;
  • you can anticipate your customers’ needs rather than having to react to them.

The key to all these changes is technology. Choose well and you could be ahead of the wave rather than struggling to catch up.

Next Steps

Perhaps your organisation is just reaching the size where customer service should become a separate function; or maybe you’re looking to turn your existing customer service activity into a serious competitive advantage.

Sales, production and marketing functions worldwide are trying to reorient themselves around customers: technological advances such as cloud computing and big data are helping them to do so. As businesses wake up to the fact that “know your customer” is a vital maxim throughout the organisation, customer service is coming in from the cold.

Learn more about CRM and customer service with Service Cloud

Watch the demo ›

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