Customer service is the support you offer your customers — both before and after they buy and use your products or services — that helps them have an easy and enjoyable experience with you. Offering amazing customer service is important if you want to retain customers and grow your business. Today’s customer service goes far beyond the traditional telephone support agent. It’s available via email, web, text message, and social media. Many companies also provide self-service support, so customers can find their own answers at any time day or night. Customer support is more than just providing answers; it’s an important part of the promise your brand makes to its customers. 

Customer service is critical to competing effectively.

In the past, people chose which companies they did business with based on price, or the product or service offered, but today the overall experience is often the driver. 

89% of companies now expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience.”

— Gartner Research
Great customer support drives an amazing customer experience, especially when your support team moves beyond just reacting to problems and toward anticipating customers' problems. When support agents are empowered to go above-and-beyond with customers, or have a help desk solution that makes it easy for them to upsell or cross-sell relevant services, they can create winning experiences that help you stand out from the competition.
It’s often said that it’s cheaper to keep existing customers than to find new ones. (It’s even been estimated that acquiring customers costs 6–7x more. ) And it’s true: Bad customer service is a key driver of churn. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 68% of customers leave because they’re upset with the treatment they've received. Don’t let that happen to you. Prioritizing customer service support helps you attract and retain loyal customers, and can have a big impact on your company’s bottom line.
It’s no surprise that as today’s social, mobile consumers have grown accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it, their expectations have risen accordingly. In fact, in a recent poll, 82% of CEOs reported that customer expectations of their companies were “somewhat” or “much” higher than they were three years ago. What’s more, today’s customers are quick to share negative experiences online, where they can quickly reach large audiences. It’s more important than ever to support customers on every channel from day one and establish what good customer service looks like internally and externally.
The line between products and services is blurring, and customer experience has become part of the product or service itself. (Think Amazon Mayday button — it’s a totally seamless way for customers to get help.) It may seem like only a big technology company thing, but even small companies are building product into their customer experiences. Some online businesses start by integrating their support centers into their website’s headers and footers or by adding links to relevant support articles to specific pages on their site. And many app companies are adding a way for customers to log tickets within their product experience. In-product support is the wave of the future for customer service.
Focusing on the customer experience isn’t just the latest trend — it’s also smart business. It turns out that making every touchpoint great doesn’t just make customers love you; it can also increase your profits. Surveys have shown that 86% of consumers would pay more for a better customer experience. You may decide to tier your customer base if some are willing to pay more for premium experiences, including premium support, early access to features, or other benefits. Either way, good customer service experiences will benefit your bottom line.

Since customer service is a key driver of business success, it’s time for businesses to stop thinking of support as a cost center, and start recognizing customer service for what it is: an opportunity waiting to happen.

Every person or company will have their own definition of what good customer service means. No matter how you define it, these eight tried-and-true customer service principles can help you transform your support operations and deliver the best customer service experience every time.

Customer service is a team sport — and not just for your customer support team. Accept that you'll never have a perfect grasp of every issue coming into the support center. Keep up with the big picture by maintaining open lines of communication with your team. And train every employee on your help desk software so they can all pitch in during busy times. Sure, you’ll want to pass highly technical cases to the experts, but everyone needs to be able to help out. Successful startups can tell you that when everyone spends time on the front lines, it’s easier to stay aligned around customers and maintain service levels when things get busy.
There's nothing like talking to a support agent who really listens on all cylinders. Take time to understand issues and how they affect the customer's business. When people know you value their needs, they're more likely to stay with your brand. Encourage service agents to ask questions when interacting with customers. The more your agents know about your customers and their needs, the more of an asset those agents are to both your company and your customers. Your customer support team can also be an amazing source of product innovation. Some successful startups have the customer support team present customer feedback at every company meeting.
Robots are cool, but people would rarely choose to have a conversation with one. Show customers you aren't a machine. At the end of the day it's how you make people feel that matters the most. Don’t be afraid to add personality to your service, and encourage agents to add it to their emails. Or to fill the quiet time when they need to pull up account information by asking customers how the weather is or who their favorite sports teams are — basically anything that adds a personal, friendly face to your support operations.
Nobody likes being lied to. A customer can't expect anything more than the truth. When you maintain an open dialogue and keep your customer informed at all times, you'll earn their commitment to your business. If your agents aren't sure how to troubleshoot a problem, it's okay for them to let the customer know they’ll get in touch with the right person and circle back when they have an answer. Maintain an open dialogue with your customers and keep them informed at all times; it’ll earn your customers’ respect and commitment.
Put yourself in the customers' shoes, especially in tough situations. Not only will customers appreciate it; your empathy will become a competitive advantage. A company cannot be successful with a culture of apathy. Your service agents especially must master the lost art of empathy to deliver effective customer service. Ask agents to put themselves in the shoes of the customer when working on a case. Their empathy will show, and customers will appreciate them for it.
The more your customer support team knows about your product, the better they’ll be at servicing it. Make training a key part of your customer support operations. Some companies onboard every new employee — not just their sales reps — with a one-week product boot camp to ensure they know their products inside and out. Be sure to prepare them for every new release, too.

Customers hate to wait. They gain confidence when you respond quickly and solve their problems for good, and then are more likely to have an ongoing relationship with your brand.

So give your agents the tools they need to support customers as efficiently as possible. After all, reducing the time it takes to assist a customer directly reduces the time other customers must wait, too. At the same time, be sure to motivate agents to solve each problem completely; speed is important, but resolution times should never trump customer satisfaction.

Seeing the same issues time and again? It may be that there’s an issue with your product or service, and you need to alert other teams to fix it. Or it may be a problem with your manuals or support content. Dig into what's unclear and update your knowledge base or FAQs. By clarifying your messaging, you can reduce contacts for many repetitive issues and improve customer satisfaction. Be sure to track any drop in service load and share your results.
 
Use Trailhead — Salesforce’s free e-learning platform — to learn about hiring, coaching, and empowering service agents for success.