Good customer service defined: 7 tips for excellent customer service
The best customer service is about speed, convenience and friendliness.
Published January 15, 2020
Last updated December 10, 2020
When you think about your best customer service experience, what comes to mind?
Maybe it was the barista who knew your name and just how you like your caffe latte. Or that time you called customer service and the agent sympathised with you, then went out of their way to fix the issue.
An excellent customer experience can change the way you think about a company. It can also create real customer loyalty.
Why customer loyalty matters
Loyalty can drive the success of a business.
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report:
- 74% of customers report feeling loyal to a brand
- 52% report going out of their way to buy from that brand
Good customer service definition
What is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience?
We surveyed 3,000 people worldwide to pinpoint this answer.
It might not surprise you to learn that the top answer is:
I can resolve my problem quickly
So if speed is the top characteristic of the best customer service, clearly the customer getting their way must be the second highest-rated factor, right?
Not quite. The next highest-rated answer is...
Customer support is available 24/7
... followed closely by...
The agent was friendly
Everyone's definition of good customer service will differ slightly. But the data is clear:
- Customers want fast replies to their questions, on the channel of their choice, any time of day
- They want to take care of problems themselves, using self-service
- They expect support agents to be friendly and helpful
Speed. Convenience. Friendliness. Ultimately, these elements are what really defines good customer service.
Top 7 tips for delivering great customer service
It's one thing to aim to deliver good customer service. But unless your competitors deliver bad customer service, you'll need to go further to stand out. Also, customer expectations are constantly rising.
For many companies, good customer service just isn't good enough.
Here's how to step up your customer service from good to truly excellent:
1. Serve your customers in the channels of their choice
If a customer tweets a complaint, you might be tempted to "take that conversation offline" so it's not hashed out in public.
But it's not always that simple. Maybe they've already tried calling your toll-free number and had a long wait. Or perhaps they just prefer social media for customer service. People pick channels based on how quickly they want a response, and how complex their problem is.
Customers want to connect with you on the same channels they use to talk to friends and family. So being able to help a customer on their preferred support channel is one of the best ways to create an excellent customer service experience.
Your agents need to be able to handle questions by phone, email, messaging, live chat, social media and more.
It helps when your technology can track it all and let agents seamlessly switch between communications channels.
For example, suppose a customer starts with live chat, but the issue becomes too complicated for that. In that situation, you want your agents to be able to easily transition to a phone call.
Omnichannel customer service works
High performing customer service teams are more than twice as likely as underperforming ones to have an omnichannel strategy.
Companies that offer omnichannel support:
- Resolve tickets more than three times faster
- Make customers spend 75% less time waiting for agents to respond
- Handle significantly more help tickets — 5.7 times as many requests on average
2. Have empathy
You really have to be able to relate to a customer to deliver a great experience. That starts with empathy.
It means putting the customer at the centre of everything you do. It's a crucial customer service skill. And, it means being driven to help them - not seeing them as an annoyance to handle, but as the hero of your story.
"The candidates I look for really love helping people or interacting with people. Yes, I need someone who's very technical, but I can train the technical stuff. I can't train you to have a more open heart."
Jonathan Brummel, Senior Manager of Premium Support Engineering at Zendesk
A heartwarming story of customer empathy comes from the online pet company Chewy.
Just before the holidays, a woman lost her beloved dog Zoe. Just a month later, her 15-year-old cat Thor also died.
She was devastated, and contacted Chewy via live chat to ask whether she could return unused food she had purchased for Thor. The customer support agent listened to her story and shared in her grief, and the woman felt heard and understood.
She got a full refund, and the customer service interaction could have ended there. But soon after, she received a large bouquet from Chewy, with a note expressing condolences for her pets' deaths.
She was so moved by the gesture that she shared the story on social media, encouraging other pet owners to support the company. Her post soon went viral, with more than 145,000 shares.
"We don't feel we're talking to customers. We are talking to pets' parents," Kelli Durkin, Chewy's VP of Customer Service told PEOPLE in an interview. "We want to hear the good and the bad. We are feeding their children. We are part of their families."
3. Put customers at the centre of your orbit
Customer-centric companies are on the rise, and they look for people who are driven to deliver a truly great customer experience.
It's a profitable strategy: companies with a truly customer-centric culture are 60% more profitable compared to companies that are not.
Zappos are so devoted to customers that their number one core value is "Deliver WOW through service." The idea is infused into everything they do:
- All new hires - including executive leadership - spend two weeks taking customer calls
- There's no time limit on customer calls - Zappos give their agents the freedom to chat as long as a customer needs them. The current record for longest customer service call at Zappos stands at 10 hours, 51 minutes, and is a major source of pride for the team.
Customer-centricity is a business strategy that puts customers at the centre of everything. And it means more than delivering great customer service, although that is critical.
Businesses who wish to be customer-centric need to commit to putting people first.
Being customer-centric also means hiring with customer focus in mind - staff should see the customer as the hero of the story, not a bother or problem to solve.
Truly customer-focused organisations collect customer feedback in every channel, and share that information across the company to help guide business decisions.
Your customer's experience is just as important (if not more so) than the product or service you're selling them. Even if your product is top notch, you're likely to lose customers to competitors if your user experience is poor.
4. Be proactively helpful
When things don't go as planned, your customer might let you hear about it. And now one customer issue has become two: fixing the original problem and trying to turn an angry customer into a happy one.
Great customer service often means anticipating your customers' needs before they even have to tell you.
What is proactive customer support?
Proactive customer service is what happens when a business takes the initiative to help a customer before the customer contacts them for help. It means trying to resolve problems at the first sign of trouble.
How proactive customer support grows the bottom line
Parisian smartfood start-up Feed. delivers nutritious, well-balanced food to its customers.
As the company grew, they found it challenging to keep up with customer requests, which came in mainly via an email ticketing system.
Since implementing Zendesk Chat, Feed. has been able to improve support through proactive chat. By implementing proactive chat triggers, they host more than 100 live-chat sessions per day (up from 10-15 per day). Each chat is a sales opportunity — generating over £164,000 in revenue.
"By engaging with customers as they browse the store or read on the blog, we're able to provide targeted support and solve their problems in real time," said Aurore Galland, Customer Support Happiness Manager at Feed. "For example, if someone is reading a blog about losing weight, we can point them to our lower-calorie items."
There are big benefits to delivering proactive customer service:
- You can often head off problems before they start. Instead of waiting for a customer complaint, you're doing something to help them now. That saves your customer-care team time, and it saves your customer a hassle.
- If you can use customer data to know what their preferences are, an agent can recommend products in real time. That kind of 1:1 service can lead to higher customer loyalty and more upsell opportunities.
5. Personalise the experience
67% of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.
In order to truly create a connection, you need to use data to personalise the customer experience. The truth is, most customers today expect a highly tailored experience: they want a company to know who they are, what they've purchased in the past, and even what their preferences are. They also expect you to remember all this information, and they don't want to have to repeat themselves.
A real-life personalisation example
Online clothing retailer Stitch Fix creates a completely individualised experience for everyone, and it starts from the beginning of the customer journey:
- Customers start with a style quiz, answering questions like "How do you feel about shopping?" and "Do you like to try new trends?"
- Based on those answers, it serves up images of outfits you can rate based on your style preferences
- Stitch Fix's in-house team of personal stylists look at user profiles and provide their expert recommendations
This approach is working. "In a time period where the broader apparel and accessories market saw sales decline 80%, we delivered $372 million in net revenue," Stitch Fix Founder and CEO Katrina Lake said in a statement to investors.
The truth is, your customers already expect highly personalised service. And while consumers are often reluctant to share personal information, 83% of consumers are willing to give companies their data if they think it will lead to more personalisation, according to research by Accenture.
Of course, you need to be careful here - protecting customer data is a top priority. If you share their data without explicit permission, or use it in a way they did not intend, you'll be breaking your customer's trust. And once broken, trust is hard for brands to regain.
6. Provide quick customer service
Customer expectations are sky high: they want you to respond quickly.
Millennials (born 1977-1995) and Gen Z (post 1995), in particular, often prefer channels that lend themselves to immediate responses:
- Social Media
- In-app messaging
- Social messaging apps
With older generations, it's no surprise that consumer preference leans toward more traditional methods like phone, email and in-store interactions. But patience for response times is shortening: 51% of respondents expect a response in less than 5 minutes on the phone, and 28% expect the same on live chat.
Exceeding expectations means keeping pace with customers. That might mean something like an automated response for messaging or email to say, "We got your question and we're looking into it." Similarly, it means a prompt return phone call to a customer who leaves a message. If they have to call you twice, it's already poor service.
Best practices for speedy customer service
Customers want fast service. That much is clear. So how can you meet this expectation? Here are some ways to boost your response time and create more satisfied customers:
Invest in agent training. Give your agents a customer service training programme that truly sets them up for success. They should know your products well, have access to a robust knowledge base, and be able to handle difficult customer issues.
Improve processes that slow things down. Getting tickets to the right teams as quickly as possible is key. One way to do this is creating a "customer service triage" team to manage each ticket that comes in, especially if you have many complex questions.
Get on the phone. If an agent is having a lot of back and forth with a customer, or there are long delays between replies, find a time to give them a call. Sometimes, this is the quickest way to get to a resolution.
7. Make it easy for customers to help themselves
Customers don't always want to ask someone for help. So sometimes, excellent customer service means letting people help themselves. 69% of customers want to resolve as many problems as possible on their own, and 63% always or almost always start with a search on a company's website.
But there's a noticeable gap: many companies aren't taking advantage of this opportunity. Only a third of companies offer a knowledge base or community forum, and less than one in three offer social messaging, chatbots or in-app messaging.
By building an easy way for customers to self-help, you'll relieve pressure on your support team and create happy customers.
Best practices for customer self-service
Create a help centre. Track the top issues and customer complaints that come in through tickets. Then, write help centre articles based on those questions.
Don't stop there, though - keep on building your knowledge centre to make it easier for customers to find answers on their own.
Consider a chatbot. Customers want to take care of problems themselves, and they're open to bots and artificial intelligence (AI) if it means fast, efficient resolution of their issues.
Make sure customers can ask for human help. End your FAQs and help centre articles with, "Did this answer your question?"
If the customer's response is "No, I still need help," then it's time to offer live chat with an agent. They've already tried to solve the issue on their own, so it's time to escalate to the next tier.
Don't add unnecessary hurdles. When you make customers enter a lot of personal information before they're able to get help, it's more likely they'll abandon it altogether.
Ideally, they can log into their account and be able to access whatever they need without giving you more details, making the process much easier for everyone.
Excellent customer service means putting people first
Your customers are comparing you to the best customer service experience they've ever had.
What's more, 46% of customers say they have higher expectations from the companies they do business with this year than last.
It's vital to be able to deliver exceptional customer service, every time.