What is customer service? (2024)

Customer service definition

Customer service is the support you offer your customers, from the moment they first contact your business to the months and years afterward. Providing good customer service means being a reliable partner to your customers, going beyond helping them troubleshoot, use, and make informed decisions about your product.

The customer service journey is different for everyone. Some buyers may quickly make their purchase and move on, while others may return with a customer complaint or question. Either way, the objective of customer service is to make the most of every interaction and develop long-term relationships with your customers.

There are many types of customer service, and keeping the quality consistent can mean the difference between a buyer returning repeatedly or leaving for good. In this guide, we detail the importance of customer support in providing an excellent customer experience (CX), key traits your support team should possess, and more.

  • Why is customer service important?
  • How to deliver excellent customer service
  • Types of customer service channels
  • 12 key customer service traits
  • 4 examples of good customer service
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Exceed your customer service goals with the right CX software

Why is customer service important?

Customer service is important because an adept support structure can boost customer retention, help attract new business, increase sales among your existing customer base, and improve your customer experience.

The difference between average and good customer service can be razor-thin, but it’s a distinction businesses must realize and achieve. Customers who don’t feel taken care of by your organization can easily look for greener pastures, while those who feel attended to will likely stick around long term.

Benefits of great customer service

Customer service is the foundation on which you build a home for your buyers. Beyond what we covered above, great customer service experiences result in several benefits:

  • Positive word of mouth: Customers who feel supported are more likely to recommend your brand to family and friends.
  • Reduced costs: Acquiring a new customer costs more than keeping an existing one. With great customer service, you can focus less on new customer acquisition and prioritize customer loyalty.
  • Marketplace advantage: Individuals want to do business with organizations that take care of their customers. You can organically win new business when you achieve a reputation for great customer service.

Providing excellent customer service keeps consumers happy and can make a big difference in your operations.

How to deliver excellent customer service

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Whether you are building a support team from scratch or already have your team up and running, we’ve identified a few key tips from our Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2024 to help you provide better customer service.

1. Prioritize agent training

A well-trained support team can handle customer interactions more effectively, improve customer service key performance indicators (KPIs) like average resolution time, and contribute to a positive brand image. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize periodic training programs so your agents always operate to the best of their ability.

While agent training may seem obvious, only some organizations follow through. According to our CX Trends Report, 65 percent of agents indicate that more training can help them do their job better.

2. Utilize AI

The use of AI and automation in customer service is quickly becoming standard. As a result, companies are increasingly shifting focus to bring this technology to every customer interaction. From automating tedious tasks to deploying AI-powered chatbots to help with agent workflows, AI is integral to any company’s ability to create an immersive CX.

Companies that invest in AI see a huge impact on their overall operational efficiencies. Per our 2024 CX Trends Report, 70 percent of CX leaders believe that automations (like chatbots) are becoming skilled architects of highly personalized customer journeys. This indicates just how important an investment in AI can be for customer service teams.

3. Personalize every experience

Today’s consumers expect personalized experiences. You can achieve this through targeted promotions, product recommendations based on purchase history, tailored support interactions, and more.

That said, personalization isn’t just beneficial for consumers. According to our CX Trends Report, 62 percent of support agents believe having access to data that allows them to personalize interactions can help them perform better.

4. Evaluate existing customer service channels

Consumers are demanding more omnichannel experiences—a CX strategy that creates connected and consistent interactions across channels like chat, email, and phone. So, take stock of your current service channels and ensure you’re offering support on the mediums your customers are most active on.

5. Focus on business impact

Excellent customer service isn’t just about live customer interactions—it influences every aspect of your business. Align your customer service strategy with overall business goals to identify trends and opportunities for improvement.

For example, our CX Trends Report found that 75 percent of organizations believe a lack of transparency in data collection can lead to future customer churn. In situations like this, organizations should be proactive and educate customers on their data collection methods to improve trust and the CX.

6. Ensure your systems can integrate

It’s critical to break down information silos between your teams. Ensure your customer service tools can seamlessly integrate with your other systems, like customer relationship management (CRM) software, to create a unified and efficient workflow. This can lead to greater access to customer information when agents need it most, resulting in fast and effective service.

Types of customer service channels

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An omnichannel customer service approach enables you to meet your buyers where they are and provide connected, consistent communications across channels. A few of the most popular customer service channels include:

  • Phone
  • Mobile messaging
  • Social media
  • Email
  • Chatbots
  • Self-service

No matter which channels you use, delivering comprehensive support and a seamless communication journey for your customers is important.

12 key customer service traits

Customer service skills are the qualities and abilities a customer service representative needs to deliver good customer service. They include a mixture of technical and soft skills.

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1. Empathy

Empathy goes a long way in improving customer relations. If a customer is upset, for example, being defensive in return can fuel the fire. Instead, let them know you understand where they’re coming from and will do whatever you can to help. Empathy breeds connection.

Example: A customer is angry about a recent price increase. Instead of just telling them, “There’s nothing I can do,” show empathy by saying, “I understand that price increases can be upsetting.” Then, explain why the price increased, explaining that price hikes often add value to the product.

2. Good listener

Active listening can help you better understand what your customer feels, wants, and needs. To practice active listening, pay close attention to what the customer is saying and take note of their tone and body language (if on a video call or in person). Wait until they finish speaking to come up with your response.

Example: A customer calls to complain about a product they purchased that doesn’t meet their expectations. By carefully listening to their comments, you can determine that they meant to purchase a different offering and help them make an exchange.

3. Transparency

When customers reach out for support, the last thing they want is to wait on hold for an hour. If your customer service team is busy, make sure customers know how long they can expect to wait. You may also consider implementing a callback system, where an agent will call or message a customer when they are available, so the customer doesn’t need to wait on hold.

Example: Deploy an AI chatbot that tells customers how many people are ahead of them in the queue and how long they will likely wait for help.

4. Strong communicator

When your job revolves around dealing with the public, you must ensure you can interact with them effectively. Good communication is crucial to creating a winning relationship between you and the customer.

Being a strong communicator often combines the other traits on our list. Agents must be able to listen, understand customers’ frustrations, and empathize with their situation. But that isn’t all—skilled communicators also must assess what the customer needs and explain it to them in a way the customer will understand and appreciate.

Example: When you hop onto a phone call with an aggravated customer, you can clearly and calmly explain how to resolve their issue. Pro tip: Humor also helps.

5. Ability to multitask

Live chat support agents are expected to handle more than one conversation at a time, listening to each customer while finding an answer. Great multitaskers feel comfortable interacting with multiple people at once and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, even when they’re bombarded with questions.

Example: You’re chatting with two customers—one has a question, and the other has a complaint. You manage both conversations without getting overwhelmed or distracted, enabling you to answer the customer’s question quickly while easing the other’s worries.

6. Calm under pressure

Sometimes it’s difficult for customers to express themselves in writing. Other times, customers are tense because they’re frustrated. Customer service agents should be well-tempered enough to remain calm and pleasant in any interaction, even when they perceive a customer is being short with them.

Example: A customer is making rude comments via your messaging system. You don’t take this personally, and you’re able to stay positive during the interaction.

7. Responsive

Even if you can’t address a customer’s needs right away, you can still make them feel seen and heard by acknowledging their request and telling them you’ll assist them when you can. This could mean emailing them back and saying you’ll respond more thoroughly later or replying to an angry customer on social media and asking for more information via direct message.

Example: You work for a travel booking agency and get a customer complaint on X (formerly Twitter) from someone who arrived at a hotel to find their room double-booked. You respond immediately, asking for more information via private message so you can resolve the issue.

8. Collaborative

Answering a customer’s question often involves working with other teams or departments. For example, if your marketing team manages your social media accounts, make sure they connect with the customer service team for help with incoming support requests. Agents must have strong collaboration skills when working with other colleagues to ensure customer needs are addressed.

Example: A customer service inquiry comes in over Instagram DM regarding a legal issue. In response, the support rep tags the legal team for their point of view and uses that guidance to draft an appropriate response.

9. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive and handle your and other individuals’ emotions. This can mean recognizing when you or someone else is about to get angry, sad, scared, or flustered before adjusting or responding. Strong emotional intelligence is critical for customer service agents because it can help them stay level-headed and recognize other people’s emotional responses.

Example: Several complicated requests come in simultaneously. You recognize your heart is beating faster, and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. So, you spend a couple of minutes practicing deep breathing to calm down before tackling the tasks in front of you.

10. Creativity

Try as you may to prepare for everything, a customer will inevitably have a specific need or question you haven’t heard before. Sometimes, there might not even be an exact answer or solution. In these circ*mstances, creative thinking is key. Agents must be able to think on the fly and discern what the customer truly needs before coming up with a unique solution that meets those needs.

Example: A customer asks a question you don’t know how to answer because it hasn’t come up before. Instead of panicking, you take a moment to think of a solution that adheres to company guidelines. You’re able to respond quickly and effectively, resulting in a positive customer experience.

11. Customer-first mindset

The customer isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but their perception of events shapes their experience. A customer-first mindset helps agents prioritize the customer experience and tailor their service to meet each customer’s individual needs, even in cases when they don’t agree. This mindset also allows agents to offer proactive service. Anticipating buyer needs can change the customer’s perception of events from bad to good.

Example: When an angry customer reaches out about an incorrect order, you anticipate they’ll want a replacement and check your inventory so you can send it immediately.

12. Digital literacy

Today’s consumer demands natural, conversational experiences no matter where they are—whether that’s a phone call to your support team or a form of online customer service like chatbots. Additionally, they expect anyone they interact with to have the full context of their situation. Agents should be well-versed in the technologies and solutions used in customer support to ensure a positive CX.

Example: You need to explore your company’s internal knowledge base to get an answer for a customer. Because of your digital literacy, you know exactly how to log on and find what you need, leading to a fast resolution.

What is customer service? (4)

How CX savvy is your team?

Use our simple customer service team evaluation score card to determine where your team shines and areas for improvement.

4 examples of good customer service

Good customer service comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples of companies using Zendesk to hit their CX goals.

1. Provide fast first response times

Customers want immediate service. If you can’t resolve an issue immediately, connect with customers as soon as possible to give them a timeline.

Example: Udacity used Zendesk to create automations based on their ticket data. This helped team members track, optimize, and streamline their response times and the overall CX.

2. Meet customers where they are

Customers want to connect with businesses on the same channels they use to talk to friends and family. So, helping a customer on their preferred support channel is one of the best ways to create an excellent customer service experience.

Example: Accor Plus uses Zendesk to create an omnichannel conversational experience over email, the web, the help center, and social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.

3. Help customers help themselves

Customers don’t always want to speak to someone, especially if their inquiry is straightforward. Ideally, you should provide self-service resources to help customers find answers independently.

Example: Spartan Race used chatbots and other self-service automations to empower customers to solve problems and find answers independently. The organization saw a 46-percent increase in self-service and a 40-percent increase in help center views—plus a 90-percent customer satisfaction (CSAT) score—as a result.

Enabling customers to be self-sufficient allowed agents to spend more time on complex problems, increasing both customer satisfaction and engagement.

4. Be proactive

Reactive support used to be the standard: Agents wait for a customer to reach out with a question or issue and then respond accordingly. But now, companies must also provide proactive support—anticipating and addressing customer issues before their customers notice them.

Example: In Good Taste uses data to get a comprehensive view of all the different tickets that may come in. This helps the business determine what to focus on next and fix problems before they arise.

Frequently asked questions

Good customer service means meeting customer expectations time after time. It’s quick, empathetic, helpful, and tailored to understand the needs of the business’s unique customer base.

Some benefits of good customer service include increased customer loyalty, reduced costs, positive word of mouth, and more.

There are many different approaches when dealing with a difficult customer, but some of the most important include having a good customer service voice, showing empathy, and listening to the customer’s concerns completely.

There are several important aspects of customer service. Three of them include being a good listener, staying calm under pressure, and having a customer-first mindset.

Exceed your customer service goals with the right CX software

Good customer service is an attractor in the marketplace. Organizations with good customer service will win new business organically, while those with poor customer service will lose business to competitors. That said, you don’t need to work on your CX alone.

At Zendesk, we provide a host of features like a unified agent workspace, messaging, and reporting and analytics to help you deliver an outstanding CX every time.

Try us for free today.

What is customer service? (2024)
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