What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (2024)

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John IwuozorContributor

John Iwuozor is a freelance writer with expertise in the technology field. He has written for a host of top tech companies, the likes of Technologyadvice, Tripwire amongst others. He's an avid chess lover and loves exploring new domains.

John Iwuozor

What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (4)

John IwuozorContributor

John Iwuozor is a freelance writer with expertise in the technology field. He has written for a host of top tech companies, the likes of Technologyadvice, Tripwire amongst others. He's an avid chess lover and loves exploring new domains.

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What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (7)

Kiran AdithamDeputy Editor

With 20 years of experience, Kiran Aditham has navigated the field in editorial and writing, from working with major pubs like Adweek, AdAge and PSFK to now working at Forbes Advisor.

  • What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (9)

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Kiran Aditham

What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (10)

Kiran AdithamDeputy Editor

With 20 years of experience, Kiran Aditham has navigated the field in editorial and writing, from working with major pubs like Adweek, AdAge and PSFK to now working at Forbes Advisor.

  • What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (12)

Deputy Editor

Reviewed

Updated: Jun 13, 2024, 6:52am

Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.

What Is Customer Service? Definition & Best Practices (13) Getty

Table of Contents

  • What Is the Definition of Customer Service?
  • How Does Customer Service Work?
  • Why Customer Service Is Important
  • Key Components of Good Customer Service
  • Types of Customer Service
  • Common Challenges in Providing Good Customer Service
  • Customer Service Best Practices
  • Bottom Line
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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For businesses today, having a great product isn’t enough. You have to market it well, drive sales and retain customers. However, poor customer service can make this an uphill battle. Customers don’t want to wait for ages, get passed around or deal with unresponsive staff. This can only frustrate, dissatisfy and potentially drive them to competitors, which is why understanding customer service and how to provide it is vital to business success. In this article, we’ll dive into what customer service is and what best practices can ensure that it’s up to par.

What Is the Definition of Customer Service?

Customer service refers to support and assistance given before, during and after customers purchase a product or service. It includes a wide range of activities such as:

  • Answering questions and finding solutions
  • Resolving complaints
  • Interacting with customers
  • Following up on customer issues
  • Providing guidance and offering advice

Customer service can be provided through various channels such as phone, email, live chat, social media and in-person interactions.

How Does Customer Service Work?

When customers purchase a particular product or patronize a service, there’s every tendency that they’ll face a problem or get confused at some point. To resolve their issues, they reach out to agents known as Customer Support Representatives to make complaints, ask questions or request things. These representatives ensure that answers and support are provided promptly.

Representatives need to have a working and vast knowledge of the product and must be able to meet expectations. An uninformed representative could only worsen the relationship between the customer and the company.

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Why Customer Service Is Important

No one wants to patronize a business where they are not treated properly or unwillingly subscribe to bad customer service that downgrades their overall experience.

Customer service software company Zendesk estimates that 66% of consumers who often interact with support said a bad interaction with a business can ruin their day, while 73% of those consumers will switch to a competitor after multiple bad experiences.

In the same vein, customer service goes beyond just providing assistance. It’s about creating a positive experience that involves building relationships with customers, understanding their needs and preferences and providing personalized solutions to their problems.

Businesses that fail to prioritize customer experience tend to see adverse effects when it comes to their reputation and revenue. Providing excellent customer service, on the other hand, can help your business to:

  • Improve brand loyalty:
    Your customer service team represents your brand—what you stand for, how you’re willing to assist others or help them get through their difficulties. Great customer service can turn first-time buyers into loyal customers committed to your brand.
  • Retain existing customers:
    Satisfied customers are more likely to return and make repeat purchases, leading to increased revenue. Besides, it’s easier and more cost-effective to retain customers than acquire new ones.
  • Attract referrals:
    Customers who achieve a certain level of satisfaction from interacting with your customer service have no issues recommending your product or service to friends and family. These groups of people are also willing to pay more to keep receiving the same kind of (premium) service.
  • Increase Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV):
    Businesses can increase customer lifetime value and maximize the value of each customer by providing personalized and proactive support.
  • Differentiate from competitors:
    The best way to stand out in this digital age is to provide exceptional customer experiences that’ll keep customers glued to your brand. This will differentiate you from your competitors and grant you a significant advantage in the market.

Key Components of Good Customer Service

To deliver good customer service that keeps your audience coming back, certain qualities and elements must be present. This section highlights and explains these qualities:

Personalization

It’s no secret that people want to be treated like actual humans, not ticket numbers on a queue. As such, you must be able to create a tailored experience for every customer to have them keep you close to their heart. Personalization can be achieved through data analysis, customer segmentation and targeted marketing campaigns.

Empathy

Empathy means that you’re putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. You want to relate to their pains, understand their perspective, listen to their concerns and show compassion when necessary. Customers are savvy and can spot indifferent customer service from a mile away, and, in turn, decide to discontinue the product or service.

Responsiveness

Time is a very valuable currency in the business world. Waiting long hours or days to get a response to a simple issue that could be resolved in 10 minutes can be very discouraging. Promptness is critical—the faster you’re able to resolve your customers’ issues, the better their overall experience.

Product Knowledge

Good customer service representatives have a vast knowledge of their product and as a rep, you should expect to get all types of questions concerning it. Your customers need to be assured that they can access a guide who’ll be able to assist them with any questions or issues regarding the product.

Professionalism

It’s important to maintain a professional demeanor at all times. This implies being respectful, courteous and treating customers with dignity and respect. It also means being calm, patient, composed and constructive, especially when dealing with frustrated or unhappy customers.

Types of Customer Service

There are multiple support options that customers can use to gain access to a representative. This includes mediums such as emails, live chat, social media or even self-service where customers can navigate their experience themselves.

Phone

This traditional but effective medium allows customers to dial and reach representatives through a designated toll-free or business phone number. A phone conversation can provide emotional support to customers through direct, personal interaction that can be reassuring. However, many customers calling just a few available support agents can result in a frustrating, often time-consuming experience. This is why some businesses prefer a cloud-based voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) service to traditional phone systems due to its cost-effectiveness, scalability and advanced features that enhance communication and productivity. Check out our list of best VoIP services.

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Text

With text or SMS support, customers can simply send a text message to a designated number and get a response from a customer service agent. Text support gives customers the convenience of getting help anytime without actually having to wait to talk to someone. However, it can be a more inconsistent form of communication in terms of reliability and timeliness of response.

Email

Emails are typically inexpensive, direct and allow customers to share their issues in an organized manner and attach relevant files to explain their case. Handling complaints or concerns in writing also allows for more time to resolve the issue and respond thoughtfully. However, it can be a bit slow especially in countries with different time zones—unlike phone support, which happens in real time.

Live Chat

Live chat is the modern version of instant messaging with customer service that shows how humans can effectively work with AI and automation. With this method, you can get initial directions from a bot, chat with an actual representative through a chat window on a website or mobile app and get your questions answered in real time. It can be more beneficial to those who are always on the go and want quick answers.

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In Person

This is the classic face-to-face interaction with customers, like when you walk into a store and ask for help finding that perfect pair of shoes. It’s ideal for those who love to shop and prefer human conversation and a social setting at the same time.

Social Media

This is an effective means to get quick and reliable customer service. By tagging brands on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, customers can get quick responses. Addressing inquiries and complaints through social media not only helps the individual customer but also showcases the company’s responsiveness and problem-solving abilities to others.

Self-Service

This medium allows customers to find answers to their problems themselves by leveraging resources such as blogs, knowledge bases, self-help articles, FAQs, forums, etc. While not truly “interactive” customer service, self-service tools can reduce the load on live customer support agents.

Common Challenges in Providing Good Customer Service

Here are some of the most common challenges customer service agents face along with potential solutions:

  • Poor communication:
    Representatives might fail to listen carefully to customers, lack empathy or speak in an impersonal manner. To combat this, companies should train representatives on active listening skills, empathy and using a friendly and personal tone. The reps should ask open-ended questions, summarize what the customer said to show they were listened to and speak in a warm and friendly voice.
  • Slow response times:
    Customers expect quick answers to their questions and resolution to issues so, in turn, businesses need to set clear response time targets for emails, calls and other inquiries. They should also provide representatives with the tools and resources needed to quickly find answers and resolve issues. Automating some routine tasks can help speed up response times.
  • Product knowledge:
    Customers rightfully expect representatives to be experts who can answer detailed questions. Companies must provide thorough, ongoing training to representatives on all aspects of their offerings. Knowledge bases, FAQs and quick references can also help representatives find answers easily when they don’t immediately know them.
  • Representative empowerment:
    When representatives don’t have the authority to make decisions, it can frustrate customers. For instance, when reps have to escalate issues to managers, it often slows resolution. Giving representatives more decision-making power within clear guidelines can speed up the process. However, managers should be available for escalated issues that representatives cannot resolve themselves.

Other challenges reps face include handling difficult customers, managing high call volumes, maintaining consistency across channels and keeping up with changing customer expectations. To effectively address these, organizations should invest in customer service training programs, be proactive about customer service strategies and adopt an integrated omnichannel approach.

Customer Service Best Practices

Here are some best practices to adopt to deliver exceptional customer service:

Prioritize Clarity

Most content service mediums require one-on-one interactions. You should be able to convey your message in a brand-friendly manner that makes it easy for the customer to reach out and listen actively to solutions.

Invest in Automation

The rise and popularity of generative AI shows that this sector should not be ignored, but leveraged properly. Customers expect quick response times and efficient problem resolution, so companies can achieve this by investing in technology, such as chatbots and automated responses that can handle routine inquiries. This’ll help reduce the workload of the brand and increase customer satisfaction.

Provide Omnichannel Support

Customers expect to be able to interact with companies through a variety of channels, including phone, email, chat and social media. Companies must be able to provide seamless support across all channels. This requires investing in technology that can integrate customer data across channels and provide a consistent experience.

Engage in Continuous Improvement

Brands must regularly evaluate and improve their customer service processes and strategies. This requires collecting and analyzing customer feedback, monitoring key performance metrics and implementing changes based on data-driven insights. Training should also be provided for representatives to widen their knowledge of the product, and develop needed emotional intelligence and empathy skills.

Outsource Your Customer Support

Call center outsourcing involves transferring customer support tasks to an external team that handles calls and other customer service operations on behalf of your company. This allows you to focus on your core business while the outsourced team takes care of customer calls. It saves you time and resources, enabling you to prioritize product development, marketing and sales. The cost for this varies from country to country and can range from $6 to $50 per hour.

Bottom Line

Customer service is a fundamental component of any business and is crucial to its success. While automation has certainly made the process easier, the human element of “one-to-one” interactions cannot be replaced as people still want to connect with other people. While there are challenges to be faced, companies must strive to put customers first by adopting and adhering to key best practices in order to exceed expectations, build brand loyalty and positive word of mouth and drive business for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some best practices for providing good customer service?

Some best practices for providing good customer service include being responsive, patient with customers, knowledgeable about the product and maintaining professionalism at all times.

Why is customer service important?

Customer service is important because it helps build customer loyalty and trust, differentiate your business, improve your brand reputation and increase overall revenue.

What are some common types of customer service?

Customer service can take place through a number of channels: in person, phone, email, live chat, text and social media.

How can businesses measure the effectiveness of their customer service?

Businesses can do so by tracking important metrics such as customer satisfaction, response time, resolution time, conversion rate, net promoter score, customer retention rate and customer churn. They can also gather customer feedback through surveys or reviews to identify areas for improvement.

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