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10 ways to deliver good customer service: examples, principles & definition

The key to good customer service is to meet customers' expectations. Great customer service means doing that every time a customer reaches out.

By Courtney Gupta, Staff Writer

Last updated March 6, 2024

Illustration by Jo Zixuan Zhou

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.

A guide to the customer service resources below

  1. Good customer service definition
  2. How to provide great customer service
  3. Benefits of good customer service
  4. Good customer service examples
  5. Principles of good customer service
  6. What does great customer service mean to you?

What is good customer service?

Good customer service means consistently meeting customers’ expectations. Great customer service is quick, easy, personalized, and empathetic. Companies that deliver excellent customer service take the time needed to understand the needs of their unique customer base.

10 ways to deliver great 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. Channel choice
  2. Empathy
  3. Customer-centricity
  4. Proactive support
  5. Personalization
  6. Speed
  7. Self-service
  8. Empowered agents
  9. Collaboration
  10. Agility

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.

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.

great customer service

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 Ben Motteram, CX expert and founder of CXpert. “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.”

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 excellent 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.

Excellent 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.

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.

The Zendesk 2024 Customer Experience Trends report

With 70% of CX leaders rethinking their entire customer journey, this is the year of massive transformation. Zendesk is revealing ten trends pushing the customer experience towards a smarter future.

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.

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.

What is an excellent customer service?

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.

Best practices for speedy customer 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.

Best practices for customer self-service

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.

good customer service

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.

How important is good customer service?

Good customer service is a key differentiator in the eyes of customers and companies alike. 61 percent of customers would defect to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience. Make it two negative experiences, and 76 percent of customers are out the door. And customer expectations have only increased since the pandemic. Over 60 percent say this past year’s crisis has raised their customer service standards.

This means there is more pressure on businesses to deliver exceptional customer service. But it also means companies have an opportunity to drive growth and prevent churn through great customer service. For instance, 74 percent of customers say they will forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service.

Benefits of good customer service

73 percent of business leaders report a direct link between their customer service and business performance.

  • 64 percent of business leaders say that customer service has a positive impact on their company’s growth.
  • 60 percent of business leaders say it improves customer retention.
  • 47 business leaders report an increase in their ability to cross-sell because of customer service.
  • 70 percent of customers say they have made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service.

*The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022

Good customer service examples

1. Feed

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 live 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.”

2. Stitch Fix

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.

3. Klook

Klook, an online travel agency founded in Hong Kong and with a global presence today, was one of the many businesses that faced challenges during the pandemic. Klook added new support channels, including Facebook Messenger, to help the support team process thousands of tickets and effectively manage customer expectations. Even as ticket volume soared above 78,000 per month, the team at Klook was able to increase productivity by 35 percent and reduce ticket handling time by 20 percent. In addition to adding a new messaging channel, it also created a comprehensive knowledge base that gets upward of 6,000 hits per month.

“Customer experience is key,” said Colin Au, vice president of Klook’s Customer Experience Group.

4. Siemens

As Europe’s largest manufacturing company for industry, energy, healthcare, and infrastructure, Siemens has a large and diverse client base. With all its customer data living in one place, the team can easily analyze and create reports on ticketing spikes, which allows the executive team to make better data-informed decisions on how to respond in the future to better serve its customers.

“We’ve become a source of feedback for the rest of the business in terms of what our customers want, trends in the marketplace, and really key innovations—whether that’s moving to paperless, responding to the [COVID19] lockdown, or improving the service we provide,” said Steven Franklin, global head of customer service.

5. Chupi

Chupi is a heirloom jewelry company with a devoted following—both in person at their flagship Dublin store and online. With a dedicated customer care team that has insight into the customer journey, Chupi’s agents are able to recreate the in-store shopping service experience online and turn customer inquiries into sales revenue.

During the pandemic, Chupi launched a virtual jewelry consultation service to enable customers to get the same one-on-one care they were used to while shopping in person. “When our customer care agents feel they’ve nearly got a sale over the line, but that customer needs to see the jewelry, they escalate the ticket in Zendesk, book a virtual consultation, and follow up with a post-consultation package. Those sessions have a successful conversion rate of 65 percent.” Chupi’s customer care team is able to seamlessly track, nurture, and follow up with their potential sales leads at every stage of the customer journey.

“When we had an outsourced call service, there were customers ringing up saying, ‘Can I get that in size X? How much is this? Is there a discount on this wedding ring?’ But they were going to a call center that had no idea about our product,” said Brian Durney, now Chupi’s chief technology officer. “So, my big sell for the customer care team was these guys will sell. They’ll sell quietly, and they’ll sell with kindness.”

Principles of good customer service

According to Motteram, most customers have 7 basic needs, and meeting them is the secret to amazing customer service. Use these needs as principles to help you deliver the best customer service.

  1. Friendliness: The most basic customer need that’s associated with things like courtesy and politeness.
  2. Empathy: Customers need to know the organization understands and appreciates their needs and circumstances.
  3. Fairness: Customers must feel like they’re getting adequate attention and fair and reasonable answers.
  4. Control: Customers want to feel like they have an influence on the outcome.
  5. Alternatives: Customers want choice and flexibility from customer service; they want to know there is a range of options available to satisfy them.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

What does great customer service mean to you?

Terms like great customer service and amazing customer service get thrown around, but what do they mean? Motteram weighs in.

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.

Excellent customer service impacts the bottom line

Now is not the time to settle for mediocre—especially when the quality of your customer service may earn you repeat customers or be the reason you lose out to competitors. By taking the time needed to understand what great customer service means to your unique customer base, you can make the changes necessary to ensure that middle-of-the-road experiences don’t hold you back.

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