7 ways to deliver great customer service

The key to good customer service is delivering speed, convenience, and friendliness.

By Erin Hueffner, Content Marketing Manager, @erinhueffner

Published January 15, 2020
Last updated November 9, 2020

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 service, and the agent sympathized with you, then went out of their way to fix the issue.

An excellent customer experience can change the way you think about a company. It can also create real customer loyalty.

Why customer loyalty matters

Loyalty can drive the success of a business.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report:

  • 74 percent of customers report feeling loyal to a brand
  • 52 percent report going out of their way to buy from that brand

What is great customer service?

Great customer service means solving a customer's question quickly and effectively, which requires a quality tech stack. But the human elements are just as important as the technical ones. Good customer service also involves building authentic relationships between a business and its customers.

In fact, Deloitte discovered that 60 percent of brand-loyal consumers describe their favorite brands with the same emotional language they use to describe personal relationships—words such as “love,” “happy,” and “adore.”

In other words, if a business views its relationship with customers as merely transactional, customers are less likely to remember the experience as a positive one.

What are 3 important qualities of good customer service?

We surveyed 3,000 people worldwide to pinpoint this answer.

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 second highest-rated factor, right?

Not quite. The next highest-rated answer is...

Customer support is available 24/7

... followed closely by...

The agent was friendly

Principles of good customer service

What does great customer service mean to you?

Everyone's definition of outstanding customer service will differ slightly. But the data is clear:

  • Customers want fast replies to their questions, on the channel of their choice, any time of day
  • They want to take care of problems themselves, using self-service
  • They expect support agents to be friendly and helpful

what does great customer service mean to you?

Speed. Convenience. Friendliness. Ultimately, these elements are what really defines good customer service.

Top 7 tips for delivering 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 step up 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 communications channels.

For example, suppose a customer starts with live chat, but the issue becomes too complicated for that. 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 help tickets — 5.7 times as many requests on average

2. Have empathy

You really have to be able to relate to a customer to deliver a great experience. That starts with empathy.

It means putting the customer at the center of everything you do. It's a crucial customer service skill. And, it means being driven to help them - not seeing them as an annoyance to handle, but as the hero of your story.

"The candidates I look for really love helping people or interacting with people. Yes, I need someone who's very technical, but I can train the technical stuff. I can't train you to have a more open heart."
Jonathan Brummel, Senior Manager of Premium Support Engineering at Zendesk

A heartwarming story of customer empathy comes from the online pet company Chewy.

Just before the holidays, a woman lost her beloved dog Zoe. Just a month later, her 15-year-old cat Thor also died.

She was devastated, and contacted Chewy via live chat to ask whether she could return unused food she had purchased for Thor. The customer support agent listened to her story and shared in her grief, and the woman felt heard and understood.

She got a full refund, and the customer service interaction could have ended there. But soon after, she received a large bouquet from Chewy, with a note expressing condolences for her pets' deaths.

She was so moved by the gesture that she shared the story on social media, encouraging other pet owners to support the company. Her post soon went viral, with more than 145,000 shares.

"We don't feel we're talking to customers. We are talking to pets' parents," Kelli Durkin, Chewy's VP of Customer Service told PEOPLE in an interview. "We want to hear the good and the bad. We are feeding their children. We are part of their families."

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 aren't.

Zappos is so devoted to customers that its number one core value is "Deliver WOW through service." The idea is infused into everything they do:

  • 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 customer 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 customer's needs before they even have to tell you.

What is proactive customer support?

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 start-up Feed. delivers nutritious, well-balanced food to its customers.

As the company grew, they found it 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, they host more than 100 live chat sessions per day (up from 10-15 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," said 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 saves your customer a hassle.
  • If you can use customer data to know what their preferences are, 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

67 percent of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

In order to truly 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 of this information, and 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, serves up images of outfits you can rate based on your 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 consumers 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 be breaking 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 5 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 mean something like an automated response for messaging or email to say "We got your question and we're looking into it." Similarly, it means a prompt return phone call to 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 have a lot of complex questions.

Get on the phone. If an agent is having a lot of back and forth with a customer, or there are long delays between replies, find a time to give them a call. Sometimes, this is the quickest way to get to a resolution.

7. Make it easy for customers to help themselves

Customers don't always want to ask someone for help. So sometimes, excellent customer service means letting people help themselves. 69 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 it means fast, efficient resolution 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 into their account and be able to access whatever they need without giving you more details, making the process much easier for everyone.

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 vs. last.

It's vital to be able to deliver exceptional customer service, every time.

How 8 companies deliver exceptional customer experience at scale