What Is Customer Service? A Guide To Improving Customer Satisfaction
In 2023, customer service can be the distinction between long-term success and brand loyalty and failure as a business.
Seem extreme? Think about it: customers have endless options to choose from, so if they have a negative customer experience, they don’t have to stick around. (And research shows that they don’t—86% of customers would leave a brand they loved after just a few bad experiences.)
With so much riding on customer experiences and expectations, businesses can’t afford to let customer service fall to the backburner. But how can you ensure your organization delivers customer service that delights your audience at every turn?
Our experts—with over 40 years of experience in CX—have developed this complete guide to improving customer satisfaction through customer service. In this guide, you’ll find a complete definition of customer service, as well as expert strategies to improve your customer service process.
Customer Service Defined
Customer service may seem straightforward, but it’s a complex and multi-faceted process. It’s more than just offering technical support for your product or answering customer questions about their orders. Instead, customer service encompasses any 1-on-1 interactions between your customers and your company (or your company representatives).
Customer service is the individualized support and interactions you provide to customers on behalf of your company. Good customer service requires organizations to be a trusted partner and advisor for customers, with everything from purchasing decisions to technical support to personalized recommendations.
There are a number of different kinds of customer service, including:
- General Customer Service
- Technical Support
- Field Support
- Help Desk
- Omnichannel Support
In addition, customer service is not limited to just one channel or medium. Customer service can happen in-person—at a store or another location—or it can happen virtually. Phone is the most common customer service channel, but today, many more options exist, such as email, live chat, text messaging, social media channels, video chat, and even self-service and automated “chatbot” options.
In 2023, customer service is more important than ever. Once a tangential portion of business operations, customer service is now a key lever in maximizing customer loyalty, satisfaction and retention. In fact, 81% of executives believe that customer experience is now a key differentiator between brands.
For good reason—the data on customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue backs up this belief. For example:
- 89% of companies who have exceptional customer experience reported higher revenue growth compared to competitors who did not have strong customer experiences.
- 68% of customers will pay more for products and services from companies who consistently offer better customer service.
- 83% of customers feel more loyal to brands who provide them with excellent customer service.
As a result, creating exceptional customer service processes should be an essential part of business strategy in 2023.
10 Tips To Create Your Customer Service Process
Although the importance of exceptional customer service is difficult to ignore, it’s also difficult to prioritize effectively. While business leaders agree that customer service is an important strategic element, just 16% of North American business leaders rate their own customer service as exceptional. In other words: customer service is easier said than done.
Whether you’re just beginning to develop a customer service process or looking to strengthen an existing one, our team of customer experience experts has pulled together ten tactics and strategies to prioritize as you create your customer service process.
Value the Customer
First and foremost, to create exceptional customer service experiences, you must start with the customer. After all, the customer is the heart of your business. Your customer service processes should reflect this, putting their needs and desires first. Expectations from customers are high—73% of customers expect businesses to understand what they want and need.
As a result, companies must focus on creating a customer service process that is customer-centric and always directs back to the needs and desires of the customer. Whether that’s offering self-service options or omnichannel support, or providing 24/7 service, understanding—and valuing—the needs of your customers is an essential first step.
One way to begin this process is simply by taking a look at your existing or proposed processes and evaluating each step by asking the question:
“How will this decision or process make things easier or better for our customers?”
Too many companies get caught up in optimizing their customer service process for internal metrics without truly considering how the process improves things for the customer. As a result, companies who commit to taking a customer-focused view will give themselves a lead in this space.
Address every question in a timely fashion
Ensure your customer service process is designed so that you are able to address every customer question or inquiry in a timely fashion. While this small tactic seems obvious, it’s more important and less frequently accomplished than you might imagine. Recent customer research only highlights the need for speed in the customer service process:
- Almost 80% of customers cite speed and convenience as “the most important elements of a positive customer experience”
- 57% said “long phone hold times” were the most frustrating part of their customer service experiences.
- 90% of customers said an “immediate” response to customer service inquiries was “important or very important”
With the vast majority of customers saying speed and immediacy of service are crucial elements of good service, companies would do well to emphasize this in their approaches. However, the question becomes—what exactly is “speedy enough?”
According to research from Hubspot, 60% of customers “define immediate as ten minutes or less,” which means you don’t have much time to make a good impression. Of course, this can vary based on channel—customers expect a faster response via phone than they do via email. As a result, brands should measure their average speed of response on each channel individually, and aim for improvement until their speed of response aligns with channel-specific expectations.
To do so, customer service teams should focus on tracking and improving metrics such as average handle time, average time in queue and first response rate.
Use automation and templates where they make sense
In 2023, AI and automation processes are essential for customer service. If you’re not currently using them in your customer service processes, now is the time to create processes that implement them. Contact centers who aren’t using these tools will lack some of the data processes and capabilities that other support centers have—and that customers are coming to expect.
AI and automation can help your customer service by:
- increasing the efficiency of scheduling and staffing
- analyzing conversations and completing call logging
- measuring and tracking metrics and providing more granular data and analytics
- optimizing processes and workflows
- saving time for your agents and support teams
- offering self-service for basic questions via AI chatbots
These automation and AI processes can optimize almost every part of your customer service process—from estimating the right number of agents to improve efficiency and speed of response while still maximizing your budget, to analyzing your conversations, messages and data to provide greater business insights.
In addition, as more and more customers come to desire self-service options, AI chatbots can provide support for basic questions, direction to where to find answers and increased support to improve the immediacy of your service.
Finally, all of this AI analysis can be used to develop templates for workflows and conversations. After analyzing conversations and interactions, you can draw threads and insights from successful conversations to create templates. Templates can then be used to train new agents, speed up processes, and implement successful strategies more frequently.
Display empathy and create consistency in tone
Alongside speed, customers cite friendliness of service as an important quality for good customer service. As such, organizations need to hire and train agents for soft skills as well as hard ones. While speed of response and automation are essential, it’s also important not to lose sight of the human element in your customer service.
After all, customer service is all about providing support for, and connection with, your customers. This is something that customers want too. In a recent study, 69% of customers said that speaking to a human agent directly over the phone was still one of their most preferred methods of customer service, and 54% rated “pleasant to talk to” or having a “compassionate attitude” among the most important qualities of those representatives.
As such, it’s important to prioritize emotional and relational connections with your customers. One way to do so is by training agents to display empathy, allowing customers to feel heard and valued. In addition, agents that can provide consistent, calm service even when customers are getting frustrated or heated are essential in reassuring the customer that you are there to support them.
All of this is at the heart of how we at Global Response structure our support and create standout customer experiences. We bring a customer-obsessed mentality to everything we implement, and use the best tools in the industry to scale and optimize customer support, without losing the human touch. It’s customer experience that’s powered by technology and perfected by people.
Focus investment on training and support
Despite the vast majority (78%) of business leaders agreeing that their customer support agents are essential for customer retention, fewer than 30% of agents say they “feel empowered to do their jobs well.”
What’s more, less than a quarter of customer service agents feel satisfied with their workloads, the training they’re given, or their ability to make changes. So where’s the disconnect? Companies are attempting to invest in customer service without also investing in their customer service representatives—which is a mistake. Agents are the foundation of your customer service experience—so prioritize training and treating them well!
After all, satisfied agents do better work and churn less frequently. Reducing agent churn will also lead to increased agent experience in the long run, thus leading to better service.
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Companies should increase their investment on training and support for current and new agents, with a focus on skills-based training and training for advancement opportunities within the organization. Not only will this help agents be more satisfied with their jobs, but it also directly improves the quality of your customer service, so it’s a win-win. Measuring agent churn rates and retention rates over time, as well as gathering honest feedback from your agents, can help you see how and where to make improvements.
Generate constructive feedback
Speaking of quality feedback, generating constructive feedback is an essential tactic to improve your customer service process. Ideally, you should design feedback loops to cover every stage, as well as different stakeholders, of the customer service process. For example, aim to generate feedback from:
- customers— feedback on their experience
- managers—on agent performance and overall metrics
- agents—on processes, workflows and performance
While many companies generate feedback from customers through CSAT surveys, online reviews and so on, many miss the opportunity to generate constructive feedback internally.
Implementing a Quality Assurance (QA) process is the best way to consistently gather, and more importantly, implement feedback. A QA process should be carefully documented so it can be repeated consistently over time. It should also collect both qualitative and quantitative data to be most useful.
Use data and analytics to improve service
Of course, all the feedback in the world doesn’t help if you don’t use it to improve your service. However, using data and analytics to improve should be a major staple in your customer service process and strategy. Your data will be unique to your company, so it gives you the most targeted areas for improvement.
In addition, data and analytics can help you improve service by:
- increasing personalization
- helping you understanding successful interactions
- implementing key success strategies more widely
- finding the most important channels for your customers
- uncovering common problems and complaints
- providing support for agents through automation
- improving metrics tracking
Each of these could be its own tactic or strategy to improve your service. For example, by finding the most important channels for your customers, or the channels customers use most frequently to contact your brand, you can double-down on improving your support and accessibility on those channels.
Similarly, by uncovering common problems and complaints through conversation analytics, you can fix common customer problems at the source, reducing ticket volume while improving customer experiences.
Many modern CX softwares can help you gather data and analytics all in one place. By creating dashboards for different teams or KPIs, you can keep everyone on the same page while increasing your business insights. If your team doesn’t have the capacity or budget for top-of-the-line software, you might want to consider outsourcing your customer service, at least in part, to gain access to improved service and analytics. Alternatively, you could consider a CCaaS (Contact-Center-as-a-Service) option that allows your team to access high-quality software without the initial purchasing costs.
Align budget to customer experience design
Above, we talked about taking a customer-centric approach to creating your customer service process. Similarly, it’s just as important to take a customer-centric approach to budgeting.
What does this look like?
To put it simply, ensure that your budgeting decisions align with your customer experience design and process. For example: if you want your customers to be able to reach you on more channels, but you aren’t budgeting for an increase in agents to support additional channels, or for an outsourced team to manage omnichannel support, your goals and budget are out of alignment.
Outsourcing is often the best choice for organizations and brands who are investing in customer service improvements. A good outsourcing partner can help your organization:
- find ways to align your budget and your goals
- optimize your efficiency while reducing costs
- expand the size of your customer service team while staying on budget
- scale up your team more quickly
- provide your organization with high-quality agents who can improve your key metrics
Whether you develop your customer service process entirely in-house or partner with a team of experts through outsourcing, taking a customer-focused approach to budgeting is essential for teams who want to effectively improve customer service.
Personalize the customer experience
Personalization has a major impact on the customer experience and on the bottom line. Did you know that improving personalization can make your marketing up to 30% more effective and increase revenue directly by up to 15%? Of course, this makes sense when you consider that 71% of customers are frustrated by “impersonal shopping experiences.” Customers do not want to be treated like a number—personalizing their experience improves your customer service and strengthens customer loyalty.
There are an almost infinite number of ways to customize customer experiences. For example, you might:
- offer personalized recommendations based on browsing or purchase history
- send coupons to customers for items related to their recent purchases (e.g. if they just purchased shampoo, offer a discount on a related conditioner)
- send personalized discounts based on preferences or past purchases
- provide content specific to the items they purchased (e.g. how to use a new product)
- offer reminders to purchase replacement items around the time their original purchase might be running out
- activate loyalty rewards based on their purchases or referrals
Personalization is yet another aspect of customer service that can be optimized through AI. You can use customer data and history to personalize experiences. Developing an omnichannel solution for your customer service and support can also help improve personalization by providing access into greater customer history and data insights.
Survey your customers to learn
Finally, ensure that you are always talking to your customers and in touch with their experiences, concerns, preferences and questions.
Connect with customers at various points during the research, purchase and post-purchase process to understand their needs, pain points and experiences. By doing so, you can improve your customer service to better address their experiences and needs, while also improving the product and purchasing process to better suit your customers.
There are a variety of survey options you can use to understand your customers better:
- CSAT—used after any interaction with a service agent or a specific service
- NPS—at any point, typically after a purchase
- self-service or chatbot feedback—at the end of the conversation
- new product or feature surveys
- general surveys
No matter what kinds of surveys and feedback you solicit from your customers, be sure to have actionable plans to implement the data and feedback you collect.
Improving customer service and satisfaction has many facets and takes concentrated strategy and focus. Implementing the tactics discussed above—from big-picture strategies like focusing on the customer to specific tactics like generating customer feedback—will help your organization achieve customer service success.
Want to improve your customer service processes with the help of industry experts? The team at Global Response has over 40 years of experience developing and implementing human-first, customer-focused strategies that create exceptional customer service experiences. We intentionally design CX strategy and analytics from the customer perspective – with the goal of creating a completely seamless engagement that wows your customers from beginning to end.
Connect with an expert from Global Response today to see how we can help you bring exceptional customer experiences and service to your audience.