Good customer service: 10 ways to deliver great customer service
The key to good customer service is to meet customers' expectations. Great customer service means doing that every time a customer reaches out.
Published January 15, 2020
Last updated January 3, 2022
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 latte. Or that time you called customer support and the agent sympathized with you, then went out of their way to fix the issue.
An excellent customer experience can change the way customers think about a company. It can also build loyalty.
What is good customer service?
Great customer service means meeting customer expectations—from interacting with customers over messaging channels because they expect convenience to investing in your knowledge base because they expect to find answers on their own.
Secrets to good customer service
- 77 percent of customers report being more loyal to a company that offers a good customer experience when they have an issue.
- 75 percent of customers are willing to spend more to buy from a company that offers good customer experiences.
- 80 percent of customers will go to a competitor after just one bad experience.
- Half of customers say that CX is more important to them now compared to a year ago.
"Many businesses talk about great CX using terms like 'wow,' 'amaze,' and 'delight' when it comes to the impact they need have on customers. But there's so much bad CX out there, that to stand out, all you need to do is meet customer expectations," says Ben Motteram, CX expert and founder of CXpert.
"There's so much bad CX out there, that to stand out, all you need to do is meet customer expectations." Ben Motteram, CX expert and founder of CXpert
Customer expectations have been rising for years, so meeting their expectations isn’t an easy task. A good place to start is by understanding what customers expect—in 2021, that's speed, convenience, and friendliness.
The 3 important principles of good customer service
What are three important qualities of good customer service? We surveyed 3,000 people worldwide to pinpoint this answer and found that the key principles revolve around speed, convenience, and empathy.
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 next highest-rated factor, right?
Not quite. The second most-popular answer is:
Customer support is available 24/7.
This is followed closely by...
The agent was friendly.
10 ways to deliver good 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. Plus, customer expectations are constantly rising.
For many companies, good customer service just isn't good enough.
Here's how to take 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 time. Or maybe 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 communication channels.
For example, suppose a customer starts with live chat, but the issue becomes too complicated to hash out via chat. 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 percent less time waiting for agents to respond.
- Handle significantly more tickets—5.7 times as many requests on average.
2. Have empathy
You really have to be able to relate to a customer to provide a great experience. That starts with empathy, which means putting the customer at the center of everything you do and being driven to help them—not seeing them as an annoyance to handle, but as the hero of your story. It's a crucial customer service skill.
"Many organizations raised the bar in terms of their empathy for customers during 2020—from bank loans getting frozen for customers undergoing financial hardship to insurance premiums being drastically reduced because people were in the middle of lockdown and not driving their cars enough," says Motteram. "In 2021, we will see customers expecting companies to continue to be more empathic and flexible than they’ve been in the past. Organizations need to invest in empathy training and empower agents with well-defined delegations that allow them to go outside of policies to deliver satisfactory solutions."
"In 2021, we will see customers expecting companies to continue to be more empathic and flexible than they’ve been in the past."Ben Motteram, CX expert
3. Put customers at the center 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 percent more profitable compared to companies that don't.
Zappos is so devoted to customers that its number-one core value is to "Deliver WOW through service." The idea is infused into everything the company does:
- All new hires—including executive leadership—spend two weeks taking customer calls.
- There's no time limit on customer calls. Zappos gives its 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 center of everything. And it means more than delivering great customer service (although that is critical).
Businesses that want 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 organizations 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 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.
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.
An example of good customer service
Parisian smartfood startup Feed delivers nutritious, well-balanced food to its customers.
As the company grew, it became 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, the company hosts more than 100 live chat sessions per day (up from 10 to 15 per day). Each chat is a sales opportunity—generating over €180,000 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," says 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 keeps your customer satisfied.
- If you can use customer data to learn about their preferences, 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. Personalize the experience
Sixty-seven percent of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.
In order to create a connection, you need to use data to personalize 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—they don't want to have to repeat themselves.
Another example of good customer service
Online clothing retailer Stitch Fix creates a completely individualized 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, customers are sent images of outfits, which they can rate based on their 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 percent, 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 personalized service. And while consumers are often reluctant to share personal information, 83 percent of buyers are willing to give companies their data if they think it will lead to more personalization, 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 didn't intend, you'll break 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 and Gen Z, 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 percent of respondents expect a response in less than five minutes on the phone, and 28 percent expect the same on live chat.
Exceeding expectations means keeping pace with customers. That might entail creating something like an automated response for messaging or email to say, "We got your question and we're looking into it." Similarly, it means quickly calling back a customer who leaves a message. If they have to call you twice, it's already poor service.
Customers want fast service. That much is clear. So how can you meet this expectation? There are some ways to boost your response time and create more satisfied customers:
Invest in agent training. Give your agents a customer service training program 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 receive a lot of complex questions.
Get on the phone. If an agent keeps going back and forth with a customer or if there are long delays between replies, find a time to give the customer a call. Sometimes, this is the quickest way to reach a resolution.
7. Make it easy for customers to help themselves
Customers don't always want to ask someone for help. Sometimes, excellent customer service means letting people help themselves. Sixty-nine percent of customers want to resolve as many problems as possible on their own, and 63 percent 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 out an easy way for customers to self-help, you'll relieve pressure on your support team and create happy customers.
Create a help center. Track the top issues and customer complaints that come in through tickets. Then, write help center articles based on those questions.
Don't stop there, though—keep building out your knowledge center 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 that means fast, efficient resolutions to their issues.
Make sure customers can ask for human help. End your FAQs and help center 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 in to their account and be able to access whatever they need without giving you more details, making the process much easier for everyone.
8. Equip agents with tools to work more efficiently
A good customer experience and a good employee experience are like peanut butter and jelly—they're inextricably linked. So much so, companies with the most engaged employees enjoy 81 percent higher customer satisfaction, experience half the turnover of their peers, and have a decisive competitive advantage, according to a Forrester report.
Supporting your support team means equipping them with the tools and processes they need to do their jobs well. Our CX Trends Report found that higher-performing teams are making structural changes to workflows that better suit employees’ needs.
Businesses can eliminate friction for agents as well as customers by:
- Arming agents with a unified workspace, so they have customer context at their fingertips and don't have to toggle between different tools to help your customers.
- Improving agents' workflows by automatically routing customers to the agent with the right skills for the task and providing agents with prepared answers, so they don't have to type out your reimbursement policy.
- Passing on repetitive requests to a bot so agents can focus on the more engaging parts of their job.
9. Empower agents to collaborate
Resolving customers' issues often requires agents to work with each other and other departments, and customers expect businesses to collaborate on their behalf. In fact, 31 percent more agents said they need tools that enable them to collaborate across teams internally this year compared to last, according to our research.
With tools like Slack and Zoom inside their workspace, agents can collaborate inside and outside the CX organization.
10. Use your analytics to improve
To keep up with customer needs, support teams need analytics software that gives them instant access to customer insights across channels in one place. This enables them to be agile because they can go beyond capturing data and focus on understanding and reacting to it. Yet 40 percent of managers don’t have the right analytics tools to measure success for remote teams, according to our Trends Report.
With real-time and historical analytics built inside their CX solution, support leaders can take action on what’s happening at the moment and understand past trends. They can identify areas of development for their team and learn how customers interact with them so they can improve the overall experience.
Skills for good customer service
Here are the top customer service skills representatives need to provide good customer service.
- Empathy—our Trends Report revealed that 49 percent of customers want agents to be empathetic
- The ability to identify customer needs
- Listening and effective questioning
- Clearly and concisely presenting options and solutions
- Anticipating customer needs
- Listening to customer feedback and acting on what they tell you
- Resolving issues with speed and efficiency
- Relationship building—something as simple as addressing a customer by their name or following up on a previous issue can go a long way
- Being a cross-functional collaborator—resolving customers' issues often requires working with other agents or departments
- Customer appreciation—customers want to feel valued when they reach out to support agents
An expert reveals: What makes customer service great
Terms like good customer service and great customer service get thrown around, but what do they mean? What's the difference? Ben Motteram of CXpert weighs in.
Good customer service encompasses the seven qualities that I've mentioned in this post. Customers expect service these days to be things like friendly, empathetic, fair, and respectful of their time. For service to transcend good and become great, organizations need to exceed customer expectations. And even though these expectations are constantly rising, here are three ways you can do it that will apply to any industry.
- Number one, create an emotional connection. This can be done by using the information you have about customers. Use their first name or ask them how they found a previous purchase. Personally, I received a pleasant surprise the other day when I went into my local bank branch to withdraw some money and was wished a happy birthday by the teller when she noticed on her screen that my birthday had been just a few days before. Companies need to look at what they know about customers and then think about how that information could be used to create an emotional connection. Just be aware that it's a fine line between creating that connection and coming off as creepy if customers feel that you've overstepped the mark and invaded their privacy.
- Number two, make it easier than the customer expects. This could be as simple as offering queue callback in your IVR so customers don't have to wait on hold, or pre-filling out application forms with data that you already know about customers so they don't have to do it. Put yourself in your customers' shoes and look for ways that dealing with you could be easier.
- Number three, anticipate customer needs. Use what you know about customers to anticipate their future needs with you. Amazon does this really well with the algorithm that tells you that you bought this or that. But you don't have to have a fancy algorithm to look at your data and pick out what your most commonly purchased items are and then train your frontline staff to offer both items when one is purchased or to be aware of specific customer scenarios and then offering products or services that other customers have needed when in those scenarios. These will, of course, differ between industries, but some might include moving or buying a new car, a birth or death in the family, or a stay in hospital.
The 7 qualities of good customer service
Most customers have a set of seven basic needs when they interact with an organization, according to Motteram.
- Friendliness: The most basic customer need that's associated with things like courtesy and politeness.
- Empathy: Customers need to know the organization understands and appreciates their needs and circumstances.
- Fairness: Customers must feel like they're getting adequate attention and fair and reasonable answers.
- Control: Customers want to feel like they have an influence on the outcome.
- Alternatives: Customers want choice and flexibility from customer service; they want to know there is a range of options available to satisfy them.
- Information: Customers want to know about products and services in a pertinent and time-sensitive manner; too much information and selling can be off-putting.
- Time: Customers’ time is valuable, and organizations need to treat it as such. Put customer context at agents' fingertips so customers don't have to wait on hold while the agent looks up the details, for example.
A good example of excellent customer service
Our 2020 CX Trends Report shows that fast resolutions and replies continue to be most important to customers.
- 72.5 percent of respondents said “they resolve my issue quickly.”
- 58.9 percent said “they respond quickly.”
We asked, “What matters most to you when you want to resolve a customer service issue with a company?”
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 percent of customers say they have higher expectations from the companies they do business with this year versus last.
It's vital to deliver exceptional customer service, every time.