customer service definition

What Is Customer Service? Definition and Expert Tips for 2024

Customer service definition: Customer service is the support and assistance provided to customers before, during, and after their purchase or interaction with a product, service, or company.

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What is the definition of customer service?

Customer service is more than just magic phrases and professional words. It involves:

  • Addressing customer inquiries
  • Resolving issues
  • Ensuring their overall satisfaction with the experience

Effective customer service aims to create positive interactions, build trust, and foster long-term relationships between customers and the business.

That’s a textbook definition of customer service, but what is the true meaning of customer service? What ultimately matters is what the customer perceives. Customer service expert Shep Hyken outlines 4 definitions the public gives for “customer service.”

  1. “Customer service is a group of people who help me when I have a problem or complaint.”
  2. “Customer service is the way people treat me.”
  3. “Customer service is a friendly experience.”
  4. “Customer service is easy and convenient.”

But why is customer service important and what is good customer service?

Why is customer service important?

Customer service plays a crucial role in maintaining a good reputation for a business and influencing customer loyalty and retention. Excellent customer service involves being responsive, empathetic, and attentive to customers’ needs, striving to exceed their expectations and leaving them with a positive impression of the company.

Many leaders see customer service as a necessary cost of doing business, but its importance is incalculable and can even drive ROI.

Great customer service helps you retain and keep customers coming back. It costs 5-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, demonstrating the raw value of customer service for ROI.

A recent survey by Verint revealed some stunning statistics:

  • 88% of customers are likely to make a second purchase after an excellent customer service experience
  • 82% are likely to recommend a business to friends and family after an excellent customer experience
  • 62% of customers are unlikely to make a repeat purchase if a customer service issue isn’t resolved in a single attempt
  • Regular customers spend more, with 42% spending at least $100 at a time

Happy customers buy more often, spend more, and help you market your business.

“We cannot determine if we give good customer service. Only our customers can. In other words, it is our customers’ perceptions that determine if we’ve provided good or bad customer service. The customer acts as the judge and jury. As a business, we can only hope that our efforts are in line with our customers’ expectations. And, only our customers will determine if we have met or exceeded them.”

Shep Hyken

Read more: 4 Customer Service Characteristics that Drive ROI

Types of Customer Service

Customer service can be delivered through various channels, such as:

  • Emails
  • In-person interactions
  • Live chat
  • Phone calls
  • Self-service portals
  • Social media

Customers increasingly expect omnichannel customer service, in which your organization maintains the same experience across those disparate channels.

7 ways to provide great customer service

Great customer service exceeds basic expectations to create memorable and positive customer experiences. This includes:

  1. Personalization: Tailoring the service to meet individual customer needs and preferences, making each customer feel valued and understood.
  2. Proactiveness: Anticipating and addressing customer needs before they become issues, showing foresight and attention to detail.
  3. Responsiveness: Providing timely and prompt responses to customer inquiries and issues, showing that the business values their time and concerns.
  4. Empathy: Demonstrating genuine concern and understanding for the customer’s situation, making the customer feel heard and respected.
  5. Efficiency: Solving customer problems quickly and effectively, ensuring a smooth and hassle-free experience.
  6. Consistency: Delivering reliable and uniform service across all interactions, building customer trust and a sense of reliability.
  7. Going the Extra Mile: Doing more than what is expected or required, creating a sense of delight and surprise for customers, which often leads to increased loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.

Great customer service creates an experience that leaves the customer feeling valued, heard, and pleasantly surprised, which builds lasting relationships and a positive reputation for the business.

16 customer service best practices

What defines good customer service? As Shep says, “Customers have their definitions, and yours doesn’t really matter.”

According to Shep, the bottom line is that the customer always wants to be happy.

He outlines six things customers often look for in their customer service experience:

  1. Friendly and knowledgeable employees
  2. Excellent customer support when there’s a problem
  3. A simple, convenient experience
  4. Not having to wait
  5. Fast response times
  6. Employees who have empathy when it’s needed

One way to reduce customer response times is to use a text automation tool like TextExpander, which can store and quickly retrieve solutions and empathetic responses for your customer support team. The support teams of 1Password, Dropbox, Shopify, Sketchup, Uber, and other great companies trust it.

However, even better if you can go a step above those interpersonal interactions. Customers increasingly desire a self-serve experience. One of Amazon’s keys to success is Bill Price’s philosophy of “the best service is no service.” You rarely have to interact with the company to request a return or determine when your order is shipping.

Adrian Swinscoe is a customer experience expert who has consulted for companies like Apple, Olympus, HarperCollins, and Nespresso. He’s also the author of Punk CX and host of the Punk CX podcast.

He says that most people don’t want to contact customer service. They would rather help themselves, but can’t—around 60% of all customer service contacts are because the customer couldn’t find the right information on the company website.

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Customer service expert John Sills, author of The Human Experience, outlines 7 customer experience behaviors essential to high-functional customer service teams:

  1. Accessible: Is your company easy for customers to contact?
  2. Consistent: Do you provide a consistent experience between channels that inspires trust and matches your brand promises?
  3. Flexible: Are you willing to bend the rules and work with your customers to guarantee a great experience?
  4. Proactive: As described above.
  5. Respectful: Do you respect the customer, their time, and demonstrate humility?
  6. Responsible: Do you take ownership of the experience and go to bat to solve your customer’s problems?
  7. Straightforward: Communicating clearly without jargon, treating your customers as adults, and making your customers certain of what will happen and when.

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Sills outlines three steps in being proactive:

  1. Doing the work for your customers.
  2. Identifying potential problems and solving them before they’re problems.
  3. Anticipating the next question a customer may have.

16 methods to improve customer service ROI

In The Human Experience, Sills offers three methods for improving ROI through customer experience:

  1. Improve overall customer sentiment with an excellent customer experience.
  2. Work proactively to prevent unnecessary customer complaints and resolve customer issues quickly to improve overall efficiency.
  3. Consider lost opportunities that bad customer experience generates.

Read more: Customer Experience ROI: Is It a Myth?

During his talk at our Work Smarter Virtual Summit, Adrian Swinscoe outlined 13 customer experience characteristics that drive ROI:

  1. They are clear on their experience, vision, and strategy and how it connects to business objectives.
  2. They really know their customers.
  3. They take an experience, data, tech—ordered approach.
  4. They are brilliant at the basics.
  5. They are relentless at the identification and removal of ‘grit.’
  6. They make things as simple as possible – inside and out.
  7. They focus as much on their employees as they do on their customers.
  8. They understand where loyalty is earned.
  9. They strike the right balance of technology and the human touch.
  10. They are proactive by nature.
  11. They personalize everything about their experience, not just their marketing, and they do it in a non ‘creepy’ way.
  12. They have the right sort of leaders and leadership.
  13. They strike a balance between present and future demands.

Customer service jargon

Here are some common customer service terms and what they mean:

Call Center: A centralized facility where customer service representatives handle incoming and outgoing telephone calls with customers.

Cancellation Policy: Guidelines and procedures for customers who wish to cancel a subscription or service.

Cross-selling: Recommending related or complementary products to customers based on their current purchase or needs.

Customer Feedback: Opinions and comments provided by customers about their experience with a product or service.

Customer Satisfaction: The level of contentment and happiness a customer experiences with a product or service. Often abbreviated CSAT.

Customer Service: Providing assistance and support to customers before, during, and after purchasing a product or service.

Customer Support: Similar to customer service, it refers to the help and assistance provided to customers to address their inquiries, issues, or complaints.

Escalation: The process of forwarding a customer’s complaint or issue to a higher management level or specialized team for resolution.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions): A list of common questions and answers about a product or service, aimed at addressing common customer inquiries.

First Call Resolution (FCR): The percentage of customer inquiries or issues that are resolved during the initial contact with customer support.

Help Desk: A resource that provides technical or non-technical assistance to customers with their questions or issues.

Live Chat: Real-time online communication between customers and support representatives.

Loyalty Program: Incentive-based programs designed to reward loyal customers for their continued business.

Onboarding: The process of helping customers get acquainted with a product or service they have recently purchased.

Resolution Time: The amount of time it takes to resolve a customer’s problem or inquiry.

Return Policy: The guidelines and procedures for customers who want to return or exchange a purchased product.

RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization): The process by which customers obtain authorization to return a product for repair, replacement, or refund.

Service Level Agreement (SLA): A contract that defines the agreed-upon level of service between a company and its customers, including response and resolution times.

Ticketing System: A software tool for tracking and managing customer inquiries or support requests.

Upselling: Suggesting or offering additional products or services to customers during a purchase or support interaction.

These are just a few of the many customer service terms used in the industry. Each term plays a crucial role in delivering a positive customer experience and building long-lasting relationships with clients.

What does customer service mean to you?

What do you imagine when you hear “customer service.” Maybe you are filled with dread thinking about being endlessly put on hold or taking hours to resolve a simple issue. Or maybe you think of it as a cost of doing business to keep customers happy and returning.

Great customer service can boost profitability, build brand equity, and keep customers returning for more. It’s not a cost center but a profit center, and is a core of your business.

Read more about customer service

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FAQ about customer service

What is the definition of customer service?

Customer service refers to the support and assistance provided to customers before, during, and after their purchase or interaction with a product, service, or company. It encompasses addressing customer inquiries, resolving issues, and ensuring overall satisfaction with the experience​.

What is the meaning of customer service?

The essence of customer service lies in creating positive interactions, ensuring that customers’ needs are met, and exceeding their expectations whenever possible. It’s about being responsive, empathetic, and attentive to customers’ needs, which, in turn, leaves a positive impression of the company​.

What are the goals of effective customer service?

Effective customer service aims to create positive interactions, build trust, and foster long-term relationships between customers and the business​​.

Through which channels can customer service be delivered?

Customer service can be delivered through various channels, including in-person interactions, phone calls, emails, live chat, social media, and self-service portals​​.

What are some examples of customer service jargon?

Customer service jargon might include terms like omnichannel, which refers to providing a seamless customer experience across various communication channels. Another term is proactive customer service, which entails anticipating and addressing potential issues before they become problems for the customer.

What are the common perceptions of customer service?

According to customer service expert Shep Hyken, the public often perceives customer service as a group of people who assist when there’s a problem, the way people are treated, a friendly experience, and something that is easy and convenient​.

What defines good customer service?

Good customer service often involves friendly and knowledgeable employees, excellent support during problems, a simple and convenient experience, minimal waiting times, fast response times, and employees who show empathy when needed​.

What is the definition of excellent customer service?

Excellent customer service goes beyond just resolving issues; it involves exceeding customer expectations, leaving them with a positive impression of the company, and fostering a relationship that encourages loyalty and repeat business.

How can technology like TextExpander help in improving customer service?

TextExpander can aid in reducing customer response times by storing and quickly retrieving solutions and empathetic responses for the customer support team, thus enhancing the overall customer service experience​.

What’s the preference of customers regarding self-service?

Many customers prefer a self-serve experience and often contact customer service because they can’t find the required information on the company’s website. Around 60% of all customer service contacts occur due to this reason​​.

What proactive measures can be taken to improve customer service?

Being proactive in customer service involves doing the work for customers, identifying and solving potential problems before they arise, and anticipating the next question a customer may have​​.

What behaviors are essential for high-functional customer service teams?

Essential behaviors include being accessible, consistent, flexible, proactive, respectful, responsible, and straightforward in customer communications​.

How does customer service impact a business’s ROI?

Excellent customer service helps retain customers, which is cost-effective as it costs 5-7 times more to acquire a new customer. Moreover, excellent customer service experiences make 88% of customers likely to make a second purchase and 82% likely to recommend the business to others​.

What is the definition of a customer service approach?

A customer service approach refers to a strategy or method adopted by a company to interact with its customers. This approach could encompass being proactive, flexible, consistent, and respectful while ensuring that the communication is straightforward and devoid of jargon. It’s about not just meeting but striving to exceed customer expectations through every interaction​​.