What is a customer service specialist?

Published April 6, 2022
Last updated April 12, 2022

A customer service specialist is one of the people a customer will interact with when they make a purchase of a product or service from a company. The role requires many skills, but perhaps the most important are interpersonal skills and a thorough knowledge of the company’s customer care policies.

In this article, we’ll look at what customer service and customer experience are, how they interact, and then go into more detail about the typical tasks of a customer service specialist.

What is customer service?

Customer service (CS) is an act or process whereby a product or service provider interacts with a customer in order to assist them. Specifically, we define it as supporting and advocating for customers in their discovery, use, optimisation and troubleshooting of a product or service.

To explain the value of customer service, it’s perhaps useful to describe a situation where there is no CS. Let’s say a customer walks into a store to buy a food mixer. He asks the assistant which one they recommend for baking cakes and the assistant says she has no idea. The customer chooses one and takes it home, only to find the bowl is missing. He returns the mixer to the shop, and the assistant says there’s nothing she can do about it – caveat emptor and all that – and tells the customer not to bother asking for the manager or looking for a manufacturer’s helpline as they don’t exist.

This is clearly a preposterous situation and falls below the minimum service any shop could offer while keeping any customers (let alone staying on the right side of the law).

However, while reputable retailers help with customers’ returns, queries, or setup instructions, and good manufacturers offer product care beyond the basic instructions, there’s a sliding scale when it comes to the quality of CS on offer. Some go the extra mile to keep customers happy; others will just about achieve the bare minimum of customer service. Most customers would, however, expect a better level of service from a well-known department store than they would from, say, a bargain basement store. They might even be willing to pay extra for the privilege. 

What is customer experience?

Customer experience (CX) is a reflection of the ease with which a customer can research, find, purchase, return, and query products in a retailer’s store or on their website. A frictionless, quick, and fulfilling experience before, during, and after purchase would be considered a good experience.

Customer service forms part of the customer experience. However, the latter also covers marketing, website and physical store navigation, accessibility, returns, and so on. The CX is studied and optimised through digital monitoring, surveys, questionnaires and experience.

Is customer experience specialist a technical role?

Customer experience is a vital profitability tool. This is why the CX specialist is a sought-after role, whether it’s performed by individuals, teams, or third party companies. In competitive or high-volume sectors it can require some serious analysis of numbers and customer behaviours, which can get pretty technical. 

So despite their similar names, customer experience specialists and customer service specialists are two quite different jobs, although they are both working towards the same end goal. While most CX happens in the retail sphere, however, CS takes place in all industries, whether it’s B2B, B2C, international sales, service industries, transportation, healthcare, and more.

What does a customer service specialist do?

In summary, a customer specialist acts as a bridge between the organisation they work for and the members of the public or professional clients who use it. There’s no single definition, however, as different organisations have different policies on what roles the customer service specialist can perform.

For example, a junior call centre representative might only be able to work through scripts and elevate customers’ queries to more senior members of the team, despite having expertise in dealing with specific queries. A more senior member might be able to pay refunds, negotiate contracts (e.g. on an insurance renewal) or reject customer demands without having to consult with senior management on a case-by-case basis.

Today, communication with customers tends to take place on multiple platforms so the customer can use the one they are most comfortable with. So modern specialists will be adept at phone, SMS, online text chat, video call, email, and in-person interactions, depending on the sector and the products or services.

Additionally, as customer relationship management (CRM) software is a crucial part of the delivery of good customer service, so companies should provide full training about the system to their operatives. While CS specialists might be able to get by with a basic understanding of their CRM, a more thorough knowledge of the system in use will give them more power over the decision-making process when dealing with a complaint or upgrade request. They will have more information on the customer at their fingertips, which should help them to build up a more detailed picture of the caller in real-time. 

Although all customers are valuable, some are more valuable (or potentially more valuable) than others. So with the help of the CRM, the customer service specialist will be able to identify those who would be more costly to lose and better to win or retain, and perhaps make concessions that they would not offer to an infrequent, troublesome, or low-spending customer.

The Society for Human Resource Management says the customer service specialist will interact with the company’s customers by addressing inquiries and resolving complaints, generally providing a higher level of customer support on a specific product or service. This sums up the difference between a specialist CS employee and a junior CS role, which is more likely to be focused on a very narrow range of products or services, with little autonomous decision-making power when it comes to customer interactions.

Customer service specialists play a crucial role in any business’s customer experience. Sitting between the senior CX team and the junior CS operatives, they help keep the service running smoothly and enact the company’s customer care policies. However, their overarching role as part of the team is to keep customers satisfied and coming back for more. Moreover, they help minimise bad publicity through social media and review sites, an increasingly important factor in these highly competitive times. 

If you’re looking for more inspiration, why not read our study on how eight companies deliver exceptional customer service at scale