What Is Customer Service?

The definition of customer service is evolving. Here’s what every service leader needs to know.

August 2023

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, enjoyable experience with your brand. But customer service is more than solving a customer’s problems and closing tickets. Today, customer service means delivering proactive and immediate support to customers anytime on the channel of their choice — phone, email, text, chat, and more.

Customer service is so important that it is now considered a strategic function for organizations across industries. Eighty-four percent of agents say their company views them as customer advocates and brand ambassadors.

Why is customer service important?

In one word: retention. Happier customers are more likely to continue doing business with you. This helps your bottom line. It’s less expensive to keep current customers than to attract new ones.

Customer service is also a differentiator that sets your brand apart from competitors that offer similar products or services. Service teams not only answer questions; they make each experience personalized to the customer. In fact, 88% of customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services.

Meanwhile, subpar customer experiences contribute to churn. Eighty percent of shoppers will abandon a retailer after three bad experiences, for example. Great customer service is important for your brand reputation, too. After all, customers are quick to share negative experiences with the masses online.



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The seven pillars of great customer service

With loyalty on the line, service leaders need to master the art of great customer service. These seven best practices will help you harness the right technology, empower your team, and meet ever-changing customer expectations.

Connect customer service to the broader organization

Eighty-five percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments. It doesn’t matter whether the customer is on self-service channels or chatting with a sales rep. Customers want continuity — not redirects to a different team or having to repeat information.

The key is to connect service to your customer relationship management (CRM) system. This will give you a complete view of a customer’s interactions with your company. When a customer reaches out, the agent has all relevant data on a single screen — demographics, order history, preferences, and more — so they know how to help. And they will know who to pull in from another department to help resolve the issue, if need be.


Offer support on every channel

Today, great customer service happens everywhere — email, social media, text, and, of course, the phone. No matter the channel, customers want fast, convenient, and high-quality support. Here are the channels every service leader needs to scale support:
Voice: While 81% of service professionals say the phone is a preferred channel for complex issues, phone support isn’t what it used to be. Today, voice is as much a digital channel as email or webchat. The key is to connect cloud telephony with your CRM. Call information instantly appears on the agent’s screen. Artificial intelligence (AI) transcribes the encounter in real time. This way, agents stay focused on the customer.
Mobile: The vast majority of service organizations use messaging apps (70%) and mobile apps (68%) to deliver customer service. Mobile options offer asynchronous communication. Customers and agents can access a log of past interactions and keep the conversation going over an extended period.
Social media: Seventy-one percent of service organizations use social media channels. Integrate marketing and customer service data to give both teams a single view of the customer. This will help them to better collaborate and determine the appropriate next steps if a customer reaches out with a problem or complaint.
Email: Email is the second most-used service channel, after phone support. Customers like email for its convenience. It also gives them the ability to see a written record of their correspondence and the option to add attachments, such as a receipt. With the right customer service technology, you can automatically turn an email into a case and route it to the right service team member.
Self-service channels: Your help center, customer portal, and customer community are a first line of defense. Customers use these self-service channels for fast answers to common questions, such as how to recover an online account. This eliminates the need for the customer to reach out through other high-touch channels. In fact, 59% of customers prefer self-service for simple matters.
Chatbots: Seventy percent of decision-makers say their organizations use chatbots (up 67%). Chatbots use AI to analyze data and answer routine questions quickly. Based on the customer’s request, the chatbot shares relevant content. If the case is complex, the chatbot puts the customer in touch with an agent for further support.
Video: Some cases need face-to-face interaction, but not necessarily in-person service. Examples include rebooting a piece of equipment or replacing a part yourself. That’s why 66% of service organizations report using video support. With visual remote assistance, customers have the option to connect with an agent or technician through video. The expert guides them through the steps to resolve an issue on their own.

Strike the perfect balance between quality and speed

Seventy-eight percent of agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality. Omni-channel routing directs cases to the right agent and gives managers a bird’s eye view of contact center activity. This ensures that agents are on the right cases based on their skills and availability

Another way to help agents meet expectations for fast support is through automation. Automated workflows guide agents through the steps to complete an action. You can repurpose these workflows on your self-service channels to help customers complete a process on their own, too. For example, you can walk a customer through the steps to initiate a return.


Train agents on soft and hard skills

Agents today must actively listen, exhibit empathy, showcase product knowledge, and deliver a personalized experience to every customer, all while resolving cases quickly. As a result, 81% of decision-makers say they’re making significant investments in training.

It’s important to provide ongoing training to support agents in their more complex roles. Focus on development of both hard and soft skills including:

  • Interpersonal skills: At the end of the day it’s how you make people feel that matters the most. Teach agents the basics of communication, including listening, positive language, persuasion, and empathy. Express the importance of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.
  • Product knowledge: Update all employees on any new releases or updates. Encourage agents to study company protocols, products, and services. Provide opportunities to shadow and collaborate with experts to improve their product knowledge.
  • Technical expertise: Ensure your technology is intuitive for agents. Train them on the latest features and functions. Ask agents for their feedback so that you can improve the experience for every employee.

Act as one team

Although agents often work one-on-one with customers, they still need a sense of professional support and camaraderie. Maintain open lines of communication and collaboration. This is especially important with a remote workforce. Daily standups are an easy way to keep everyone connected and united.

Encourage collaboration to solve complex cases by adopting case swarming. This approach brings agents and skilled experts together to work through complex cases. Teams log the steps to solve the case for the next time it comes up. As a bonus, junior employees and new hires gain new skills they otherwise would not have been exposed to.


Turn customer service into a revenue driver

Once the agent solves the issue at hand, they can take the relationship further by upselling and cross-selling. AI can help: It analyzes the customer’s data — such as past orders and likelihood to buy — to recommend relevant products or services to the customer.

Beyond adding incremental revenue, customer service can support your business strategy. Agents glean customer insights and feedback every day. Consider inviting your service team to present customer feedback at company meetings. These insights can yield great product innovations or improvements.


Change up how you measure success

Handle time is an important metric, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story. Analyze a range of metrics to better understand the customer and their relationship with your company overall.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind based on five of the most important service metrics today:

  • Customer satisfaction: High customer satisfaction (CSAT) is still the holy grail for service teams. To gauge CSAT, send out quick surveys to get a sense of how happy customers are following their interaction with your service team.
  • Revenue: Review your contact center analytics to determine if quality customer service is contributing to a higher number of transactions or greater sales per customer.
  • Customer retention: Pay attention to what happens after the customer disconnects. Has a frustrating customer service experience contributed to churn?
  • Customer effort: Are you putting too much onus on the customer? Determine ways to reduce customer effort. For example, you may create an easy-to-find knowledge base article, optimized for search, to help customers resolve an issue fast.
  • SLA performance: Most companies have service-level agreements (SLAs) for the contact center, including items such as the most amount of time customers should wait on hold, for example. Compare your SLAs against actual performance according to your contact center analytics. This will help you to identify improvements to meet SLAs.

The meaning of great customer service today

Even though the definition of customer service has changed over time, the sentiment remains the same: It’s the magic behind customer loyalty. Your service team understands the customer in a way that no other department can. They have the power to make customers feel special and understood while meeting their expectations. That’s a win for your team and your entire organization.

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