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What Is Good Customer Service: A Detailed Guide

Customer service is any interaction, online or off, that a customer or prospect has with your company. It includes the entire experience, from initial contact to final sale and beyond.

In a world where the simple act of a returned voicemail was once considered the hallmark of exemplary customer service, it’s fascinating to see just how much the landscape has evolved, especially over the past decade. 

Gone are the days of basic, one-size-fits-all service. Now, it’s all about customised, quick responses. Businesses nowadays are no longer in a race to be good; they’re in a race to be the best.

The quandary that emerges from this transformation, then, is defining what exactly constitutes exceptional customer service in today’s fast-paced, customer-centric world.

To shed light on the subject we’ve delved deep into the heart of recent research, analysing insights from two major global surveys: the “State of Service”, which includes data from over 3,500 service professionals worldwide, and the “State of the Connected Customer” which brings together viewpoints from over 6,700 customers, blending both consumer and business buyer perspectives.

Our goal is to present a detailed interpretation of their findings, providing definitive answers to these important questions:

  • What is good customer service today?
  • How do we measure customer service experiences?
  • How can businesses provide a service that surpasses customer expectations?

The definition of good customer service and how it’s evolved

Customer service isn’t just about the person behind the counter anymore; it’s the sum of interactions a customer has with your company. Today, every touchpoint matters, from the initial contact, through the definitive sale, and even beyond. Each of these elements collectively addresses the pivotal question, ‘What is good customer service?’.

Technology advancements have forever altered the customer service landscape. Gone are the days when checking an order status required a lengthy phone call. There is no doubt that technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution has made customer expectations higher than ever before.

What’s not quite as easy is actually delivering customer service that lives up to these very high standards.

Today’s Generation Z and the Alpha generation assume they can get that information just by speaking into a device. 

In fact, 67% of customers admit that their standards for a good customer experience are higher than ever before according to a study by Salesforce. 

So, what does it mean to offer great customer service in this fast-paced, tech-driven age?

64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.

Today, good customer service entails:

  • Personalised interactions
  • A seamlessly connected experience
  • Speedy responses (“real-time” or “always on”)
  • Proactive solutions that address potential issues before they surface

Let’s unravel these elements one by one.

Being connected and personalisation: the pillars of customer service

We’ve all been trapped in the maze of customer service phone lines, haven’t we? The frustration of having to repeat our problems multiple times is a universal pain point. 

Customers don’t see your business departments as separate entities; they view your business as one cohesive unit. Hence, their impatience when your service team doesn’t have access to your sales or marketing teams’ databases.

Salesforce showed that 70% of customers emphasise that connected processes are crucial to winning their business, and an equal percentage say service agents’ awareness of sales interactions is essential for retaining their business. 

It becomes evident that when striving to cultivate customer loyalty and maintain client relationships, the significance of establishing personalised connections through service interactions cannot be overlooked.

What’s more, customers expect uniquely personalised interactions. And the demand for personalisation isn’t limited to consumers; 72% of business buyers also expect sellers to tailor engagement to their unique needs. 

Everything from social media to live chat options, chatbots, and AI have become essential parts of customer service. Companies that master these technologies not only stand out but also set a new bar for customer service in their respective industries.

That said, if customer service representatives lack the autonomy to resolve problems themselves, customers can be left feeling unimportant and overlooked. This issue resonates with 26% of consumers who’ve experienced being transferred from agent to agent without a solution!

How much does real-time service really matter?

The customer’s adage has evolved from “the customer is always right” to “the customer is always right now”.

Our research reveals that one of the most highly valued service factors is “real-time messaging when I need service.” 64% of consumers said they expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time. In our connected world, good service equates to always-on customer service.

Customers also appreciate self-service tools like FAQs or account portals, which allow them to find immediate solutions. In this era of constant connectivity, real-time messaging and self-service capabilities are considered the fast track to resolution.

66% of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel they’re treated like a number rather than an individual.

Now, what does personalisation look like in the practical sense? 

Imagine logging onto a website and seeing recommendations tailored specifically to your past purchases or preferences. Or consider reaching out to a customer service representative who already knows your purchase history, sparing you the need to explain. 

Industry giants like Amazon have built their success on such personalised customer interactions. Harnessing the power of customer data and smart algorithms, they’ve elevated personalisation to an art form.

Real-time responses and personalised interactions are no longer luxuries but prerequisites for effective customer service. There is little doubt that by offering these features, bolstered by self-service capabilities, you can significantly enhance customer satisfaction.

The secret sauce to exceptional customer service: customer service channels

Interestingly, there is a considerable gap between how businesses and customers utilise customer service channels. 

Did you know that the average customer uses 10 different channels to communicate with companies, ranging from phone calls to voice-activated personal assistants?

With a considerable gap between how businesses and customers utilise customer service channels, customer service teams are in a race to keep up. 

While businesses are mostly aligned with customer expectations around more established channels like email, to provide good customer service means it is essential to look beyond traditional customer touchpoints.

An astonishing 66% of service professionals have witnessed a significant surge in volume via digital channels, however there are still big gaps in the adoption of channels like mobile apps and voice-activated assistants.

While conventional channels like phone and email remain vital, customer service is witnessing a digital revolution. SMS-based text, Social Media applications like Instagram and Twitter, and messenger apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are already used by a majority of service teams.

In the near future, we anticipate growth in mobile chat and video support. In fact, the use of voice-activated personal assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, in customer service is expected to grow by an impressive 152%.

This digital shift has led 80% of service decision-makers to admit that emerging technology is transforming customers’ expectations of their service organisation. 

But even ensuring customer service availability across all channels might not suffice. Why? Because as well as multiple service channels, you need to deliver proactive service. 

59% of customers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before customer contact.

Proactive service is the new norm

Customers increasingly associate good customer service with proactive services, like receiving notifications about a delayed shipment before the expected delivery window. A previous Salesforce study indicated that 59% of customers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they even contact them. 

Looking to the future, customer service is likely to continue evolving, shaped by advances in technology. From virtual reality that could offer immersive customer support experiences, to blockchain technology that promises secure and transparent customer transactions, the possibilities are truly exciting. 

Forward-thinking businesses are already exploring these technologies to stay ahead of the curve and exceed customer expectations.

More than half (56%) of service organisations are exploring AI technologies that could automate tasks typically requiring human interaction, potentially freeing up customer service reps for higher-value tasks.

Proactive service doesn’t just solve problems; it builds trust and loyalty. When a company takes the initiative to address an issue before it escalates, it shows customers that they are valued and that their satisfaction is a priority. 

Internet service providers like Comcast, for example, often reach out to customers proactively if they detect an issue with their service. When resolving issues before they affect the customer, they not only prevent dissatisfaction but also strengthen the customer relationship.

The importance of assessing customer service experiences

Customer service metrics have evolved, just like the service itself. 

Once viewed as a necessary expense, customer service is now seen as a key driver of revenue and customer loyalty. 

Top-performing companies are redefining and measuring success in new ways. For instance, classic KPIs like case volume and average handle time are still relevant but are increasingly being tracked alongside newer performance measures that account for the broader customer experience. 

The top-tracked metrics for customer service teams include customer satisfaction (net promoter score, CSAT, etc.), employee experience, and average handle time (AHT).

“We are seeing unprecedented customer service transformation from top-performing companies, with top priorities including moving from being a cost-centre to profit centre by changing the role of the agent to a trusted advisor,”

Natalie Petouhoff
VP of Service Innovation at Salesforce

So, what does proactive service look like? 

Consider a streaming service that suggests shows based on your viewing history, or a shopping website that warns you when items in your wish list are about to go out of stock. 

Simply by anticipating customer needs and acting accordingly, these businesses not only enhance the customer experience but also cultivate customer loyalty.

The power of effective communication and empathy

Communication is more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. Effective communication involves active listening, clarity, and empathy, all of which are key to satisfying customers.

In the modern era, customer service metrics have become more sophisticated. They not only include traditional metrics like response time and resolution rate but also track customer emotion, sentiment analysis, and customer effort score. These metrics provide a deeper understanding of the customer experience, helping businesses to optimise their service accordingly. 

For instance, the airline industry might prioritise on-time departures, while a call centre might focus on first-call resolution.

Empathy can make a real difference in customer service interactions. By truly understanding and sharing the feelings of another, customer service agents can build trust, diffuse tense situations, and create a loyal customer base.

But how do we cultivate empathy in a customer service setting? 

The role of training and empowerment

Training customer service representatives to effectively address customer needs is vital.

In addition, empowering them with the right resources and autonomy to solve customer issues independently can significantly enhance the customer experience.

Empowerment begins with training service agents to truly listen to customers, to understand their feelings and respond in a way that demonstrates this understanding. This could involve role play exercises, active listening workshops, or even mindfulness training. 

Customers are becoming more demanding, and businesses must adapt or risk losing customers to competitors. Companies like Apple recognise the importance of delivering exceptional customer service, and have become well-known for training their agents to deliver empathetic customer service, encouraging them to go the extra mile to make customers feel heard and valued.

The pivotal role of AI in customer service

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed the way customer service functions, with a 143% projected growth rate of AI use in service organisations over the next 18 months. 

High-performing service teams are 3.2 times more likely than underperformers to have a defined AI strategy, showing that AI is becoming a vital component of a high-performing customer service strategy.

Looking ahead, 82% of service decision-makers say their company’s customer service must transform to stay competitive.

As customer expectations continue to evolve, companies that place a high priority on customer service and adapt to new technologies will likely lead the way in customer satisfaction and retention.

Other tips to improve customer service

While effective communication, empathy, and AI integration play crucial roles in delivering high-quality customer service, there are other strategic steps that can be leveraged to elevate the customer experience. In this section, we’ll dive into additional key strategies and practical tips to enhance your customer service, further fostering trust and loyalty amongst your clientele.

1. Customer service is like a clear lake: transparent and inviting

Imagine your customer navigating your online shop. 

Can they understand why that sitewide sale isn’t reflected in their cart? 

Do delivery times and return policies shine bright, clear, and accessible? 

How about the information on discounts? 

Are they a treasure hunt, or easy to stumble upon? 

If any of these answers come up in the negative, we might be faltering in customer service, letting potential sales slip through our fingers. 

In a study by Forrester, almost half of online customers—45%, to be exact—said they would abandon a transaction if their questions remain unanswered!

That’s why in customer service, it’s always wise to err on the side of too much information rather than too little. 

An FAQ page is so important to have, but remember that the best e-commerce businesses guide their customers every step of the way, hiding nothing that could be of use. 

Physical stores operate differently. Here, clear signage and open communication are key to exceptional service. Avoid situations where your customers make wrong assumptions. If certain items are non-returnable, make it clear before they hit the checkout counter. 

Remember, no one likes to squint at the fine print—keep it clear, keep it transparent, and both you and your customers will steer clear of unwanted surprises. 

2. Extend a helping hand to your digital diners

In this e-commerce age, many businesses expect online shoppers to be self-reliant. 

While it’s true that customers have become more independent, not everyone is a tech wizard, and even those who are may sometimes want a little hand-holding. 

eConsultancy showed that a whopping 83% of online shoppers need some customer support. 

Whether it’s a conversation with an agent, in-person or online, or a slower-paced email exchange for less urgent queries, many customers crave human interaction to save time and ensure smooth transactions. 

To prevent an ocean of abandoned shopping carts, make sure you meet your customers halfway. 

Live chat can be a lifesaver, known to significantly reduce abandonment rates. But if that’s out of reach, ensure your customers can easily find email support and a 24/7 toll-free number on every page of your site. 

Make it simple for your customer to find quick answers. 

If they feel lost, they might abandon their cart, whether out of frustration or lack of time. 

Remember, the easier you make it for them to reach out, the higher the chance of completing a sale. 

3. Trust: the magic ingredient for customer loyalty

Does your company pick up the phone before the first ring has ended? 

Is it honest with all important purchasing information, offering personalised experiences when customers need them? 

If so, congratulations! You’re weaving the magic ingredient into your business: trust. Sure, your product or service might bring customers to your door, maybe even twice. 

But the secret to having them come back over and over again lies in trust. If customers believe they’ll have a good, hassle-free experience with you, that trust will blossom into invaluable loyalty. 

In a nutshell, if you can offer customers what they want when they expect it, the bond of trust between your company and your customer will grow into loyalty that’s hard to break.

Harmonising service and trust: a symphony of customer loyalty

Let’s recap.

Placing your customer at the heart of all your business operations and earnestly working towards enhancing their experience essentially encapsulates the concept of “What is good customer service?”

Exceptional customer service is all about being proactive, consistent, accessible, personalised, and empathetic. It’s about valuing your customers and putting them at the heart of your business.

It’s also important to remember that these qualities aren’t just abstract ideas. They are critical business strategies that can and should be measured, evaluated, and improved upon continually. 

Customer service was once a 9-5 affair, but today, customers demand round-the-clock service. Companies that can deliver this level of service will see significant improvements in customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Remember, you’re not just providing a service or selling a product, you’re also delivering an experience. A delightful, memorable experience that leaves your customers eager to come back for more. 

It’s about embracing technology but never forgetting the importance of human connection. 

It’s about putting your customer at the heart of your business and doing everything in your power to make their experience with you fantastic.

If you can provide the customers with what they’re looking for, when they need and expect it, then that trust built between your company and the customer will evolve into invaluable customer loyalty.

And you don’t have to do it all alone! Your team is your most valuable asset. Train them, empower them, and make them part of your customer service journey. Together, you can create a customer service experience that’s not just good, but exceptional.

Remember, every interaction you have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. Your business’s success depends on it. 

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Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organisational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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