Customer service can make or break a business. But not everyone agrees on what it is or how to do it well. We’ll walk you through the top skills to have in your customer service and showcase strategies to improve your customer experience.
What is good customer service?
Most people think about customer service as something that happens when people reach out to a business with a problem. That’s only half the story, though.
Customer service isn’t just what happens when a customer calls or emails you. For example, it also happens when:
- People are shopping for a solution and they find your business. Customer service is happening, even though that person isn’t even a customer yet.
- People are on your knowledge base, answering their own questions. That’s customer service, too.
The human elements are what really defines good customer service. Customers expect fast replies on the channels of their choice—but that's just the beginning. A great customer experience is all about how a customer feels they are being treated. If a customer has to repeat themselves while being bounced between different departments or waiting on hold, they’re not going to feel heard or that their time was respected.
Excellent customer service is when a company exceeds their expectations. This might include delivering proactive support or anticipating a problem before it happens. It can also mean going the extra mile to build deep customer connections.
Why is good customer service so important?
When your support teams provide great service for your customers, it creates an excellent experience. Taking the time to build customer relationships sets your business apart from competitors. It can build customer loyalty, ensuring people come back to buy your products or services for years to come.
But this is only possible if your business makes customer service a top priority, and customers have made it clear that they’re not willing to compromise if you don’t. Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 revealed that roughly half of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In the case of more than one bad experience, the number snowballs to 80%.
On the other hand, those who feel they’ve had a positive experience with a brand are willing to tell others about it. Consumers who rate a company’s service as “good” are 38% more likely to recommend that company.
Examples of good customer service
Customer service looks a little different at every company, but it always follows a simple rule: it should be customer-centric and add value for the people who use your product or service. Your product could be the best thing since sliced bread, but it won’t be the total package unless good customer service comes with it. That means your customer service representatives are one of the most important assets for your business.
Three of the most important customer service skills that allow you to deliver customer satisfaction every time are:
For support teams, staying calm, using positive language and relating to the customer is one of the key communication skills for a good customer experience. This can mean:
- Reaching out on your customers' choice of channels to create an effortless experience. According to Zendesk’s 2020 Customer Experience Trends Report, 42% of customers say that 24/7, real-time support is vital. Companies should meet their customers where they are, so they can connect however and whenever they want.
- Putting yourself in an angry customer's shoes
- Utilising strong listening skills to take on customer feedback, using it to get better
Equip agents with the tools they need to solve customer issues
Customer service software is key for equipping a support team with the tools they need to deliver excellent customer service. For instance, the Agent Workspace within Zendesk’s Support Suite equips support teams with context that moves from channel to channel.
Agents need access to context, such as contact information, preferences and account type, so customers don't have to repeat themselves or wait on hold while an agent looks up the details.
Plus, when agents have collaboration tools, such as the ability to send and view internal notes without leaving a conversation, or integrations with email and Slack to share best practices across departments, they can get customers the best answers to their questions with speed.
Similarly, workflows, triggers and automation streamline customer-facing interactions, saving support resources and decreasing time-to-resolution.
Customer experience strategy
So now we’ve established what good customer service looks like, how can you use that to improve your customer experience strategy?
Don’t leave customers in the dark
Give customers a heads-up about how the customer service process will play out to avoid frustration further down the road. Without any guidance, a customer might expect to hear back straight away and become more annoyed the longer they have to wait.
As part of your customer strategy, you should send automatic emails (or an automatic message on social media) establishing clear timelines for a response, and tell callers on hold how many customers are ahead of them.
Talk to the people who know your customers best
There are a lot of customer service metrics that you can (and should) track and analyse to improve the overall customer experience. But it’s also a good idea to regularly ask your staff for qualitative feedback. After all, they have first-hand knowledge of the most common complaints from customers and this knowledge can really help to improve your CX strategies.
Of course, you need to follow through – either by acting on your agents’ advice or letting them know why you’re not able to implement changes at the moment. Remember to update your team about what you're doing with their insights. Otherwise, they'll think you're not interested in what they have to say about customer experience optimisation.
Embrace a 'next issue avoidance' strategy
Want a simple way to save your customers and agents a bit of time? Reduce the number of necessary follow-ups with the 'next issue avoidance' (NIA) strategy – a good tactic for predicting and addressing likely customer problems.
At Zendesk, our NIA system involves proactively sending customers additional articles about topics related to their original problem. A good NIA strategy shows customers that you're engaged in getting them all the help they need to provide a great experience.
Get your priorities straight
One small change that’s had a big impact at Zendesk? Switching from a 'first come, first served' support process to one that prioritises complex issues over simple ones.
Holly VandeWalle-Gore, Director of Training and Quality Assurance at Zendesk Global compares it to self-service checkout queues at the supermarket. If you’re only buying some cereal, you don’t want to get stuck waiting behind the customer with vodka and limes who needs a member of staff to come over to weigh her produce and check her ID.
'That’s how a lot of our tickets used to be – we had a lot of people with relatively simple issues waiting behind somebody who had a much more difficult and challenging problem,' says Holly.
So instead, Zendesk now prioritises support issues via our most popular customer communication channel: live chat.
Zendesk now has a system in place for determining what tier of support is required for each ticket. The system guarantees that every customer receives an initial response at the same speed. Then, the customers who have more complex problems are routed to a second layer of support. Customer feedback shows that people generally don’t like being transferred or having multiple touchpoints, so it’s important to explain that they’re being transferred to solve their query with the right expertise.
Don’t take customers' loyalty for granted
If you’re serious about retention, it pays to find simple ways to recognise and reward customers for their brand loyalty. This can be anything from a financial incentive to just a simple thank-you.
If a customer’s support issue is especially time consuming or frustrating, just sorting it out for them may not be enough. A free gift card or a discount on their next purchase may be what they need to forget the problem.
One way to improve your CX strategy
If you’re still looking for the one thing that will make all the difference, you may want to consider a comprehensive software solution that helps manage every aspect of the customer experience.
Zendesk Support is a simple and streamlined solution for tracking, prioritising and solving your company’s customer support tickets. Businesses that use the Zendesk Explore add-on to measure and improve their CX solve 3.4 times as many tickets as companies that don’t – and their customers spend 53% less time waiting for agents to respond.