When you see the word “customer service”, what exactly do you feel?
I get it. We all have been there.
Companies often don’t give customer service the importance (and sometimes the credit) it deserves. According to Microsoft’s report, this could be a shocker; 90% of customers think that customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand.
Now try to imagine the last time you talked to a customer support agent. Whether it was positive or negative, it probably made you feel some strong emotions. When customer service is this influential on your buyers, the last thing you want to do is let the support team do whatever.
But before we jump into the life-saving customer service tips, let’s take a look at the difference between some terms that are used interchangeably when they shouldn’t be.
What is the difference between customer support, customer service, and customer success?
The terms customer service, customer success, and customer support have created quite the confusion for a while now. It’s time to unravel the difference between them.
Customer support is a reactive, transactional interaction between the customer and the company, often directly and when the customer has a specific problem that requires the immediate help of the company.
Customer service is a broader umbrella term that can be reactive and proactive. Customer service engages with the customer before, during, and after the purchase is done, unlike customer support, which is considered a customer service division.
Customer success, on the other hand, is on the more proactive side of the spectrum, and its main focus is on creating a good customer experience that will subsequently solve the customer problems reported to the customer support before they even come into existence.
So, for example, when you can’t find how to check where your delivery is, and you call FedEx, you are probably talking to customer support. When you want to figure out your problem on your own, the FAQ forum on the website is probably written by a customer service employee. And if you recently wanted to purchase something but left the website halfway through, you probably got a customer success specialist fired.
Jokes aside, the lines between these departments are often blurred, and even some companies may not be using these terms this exact way. So don’t be too shocked if the person on the phone with you introduces themselves as a customer service representative instead of a customer support specialist.
You might be thinking, “it’s cool and all that I know the difference between the terms now, but why is this important again?” and in that case, let’s look at why improving customer service matters.
Why should you improve your customer service?
“Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.”Tony Alessandra
Said Tony Alessandra once, and I believe it says a lot about how important customer service is.
And if his words aren’t enough to convince you, here are some statistics for you:
Nearly two-thirds (58%) of consumers will sever a relationship with a business due to poor customer service. (Microsoft)
A customer experience promoter has a lifetime value to a company that’s 600 to 1,400% that of a detractor. (Nextiva)
The average American tells 15 people when they’ve had a poor customer service experience. (Nextiva)
As you can tell just by looking at the numbers, customer service plays a huge role in customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, churn rates, and customer advocacy. When it affects so many different aspects of the customer journey, it is only natural that most companies look into ways to improve customer service.
And speaking of other companies, let’s look at enterprise proved basics of good customer service.
Basics of a good customer service
There are specific standards that all companies should follow with their customer support and customer service team. Yet sometimes I find myself questioning whether some companies have *any* standards at all, after a long wait on the support queue mostly, or when I talk to an agent that doesn’t even know my information.
That’s why we need to take a look at the very basics of good customer service.
According to Statista’s report, lack of effective support is the number one frustration 27% of customers have when they receive customer service.
Be it company policy, lack of agent knowledge, or technical misunderstandings, there are so many companies out there that cannot provide efficient service. And I bet you had a call with customer support and said to yourself, “man, that sure was not helpful.” at least once in your life.
And the interaction doesn’t even have to be on the phone. Customer service encompasses all areas your customer can find an answer to a question. So, the ineffectiveness could be caused by your FAQ forums, chatbot or social media replies.
An efficient way of knowing whether your customer service is overall helpful and effective, you can start using Customer Effort Score (CES), which is a scoring system that helps you see how much your customers struggle with certain products, services, or processes.
And even if you are reluctant to go that far, you can always ask for customer feedback. 89% of customers think companies should give them the opportunity to provide feedback.
Fast customer service is another priority for customers. 12% of customers say that their number one frustration is lack of speed.
Personally, I think this percentage could go higher since we all hate waiting in call queues. However, now with chatbots, speed is less of a problem since efficiency became a bigger issue.
Still, since people find talking to an agent way more efficient and 71% of customers often prefer to use a telephone or other voice channels, the issue with speed is not yet resolved.
There is the now decade-old solution to the queue problem that has customers answer automated messages before they can talk to an agent but be careful with that method. I remember hanging up the phone several times because sometimes it is better to listen to elevator music than have a machine ask you irrelevant questions.
This should go without saying, but for your customers to ask for support, they should be able to know where to find support.
Once I was looking for the support button on an app and I looked for so long that by the time I found it I forgot what my problem was. I don’t even remember which website that was because I never visited it after such a bad user experience.
Because if you cannot ensure your customer can get support, there is no point in offering support. This is why you should always put the support button in a visible place on your website.
I really like FedEx’s approach to customer service, and that is probably why they are thought to have one of the best customer services out there. As soon as you open the website, there is a “support” button on the top bar, a “need help?” button under the search bar, and a live assistant at the bottom of the screen.
You can tell that they care about customer service. This could be because their industry is highly reliant on customer service, but still, any business can adopt this approach.
While these are the very basics of customer service, there are of course many more standards of quality service. Still, even when companies adopt every standard possible, it does not guarantee good customer service. It still needs a personal touch as well as something a little out of the playbook. Let’s look at tips to improve quality customer service.
Tips for improving your customer service efforts
1. Language is the Key
You may not have the budget to employ a big team of customer support specialists, purchase expensive tools or even afford to be present on several channels. You could have one person on the team with a mere phone line and still offer a good customer experience with the right language.
Human psychology works in mysterious ways. But it’s no mystery that the human brain is more likely to concentrate better when it hears friendly, simple, and positive language.
That’s exactly why you should make sure your language during a support session:
- Makes use of positive verbs and expressions – Whatever your general tone is, using the words “not, any, no” or expressions such as “sadly, unfortunately” will leave a bad taste and give off the impression that something is not right even when there is a solution. So instead of saying “Unfortunately, we can’t deliver your goods today”, try saying “We will deliver your goods on Monday”. Don’t waste time with over-apologizing, look for ways to compensate instead.
- Is Engaging and inclusive rather than completely explanatory – If I have a problem and had to call customer service, the last thing I want to hear is a customer support specialist going on and on about unrelated things. Rather than making a verbal explanation, it is better to lead the customer out of the problem step by step and by checking if the customer gets it all. Don’t say “I will do this/that”, say “Let’s take a look at what’s wrong”. Sounds a whole lot better.
- Is human – Be human. If the customer wanted to talk to a machine they could’ve talked to the chatbot. Most of the time companies like to give customer support specialists a script for each scenario and I get why but at the same time, it just feels wrong. With a bit more room to add the human touch to the customer experience, let the representatives be human, add it in the script if you need to, but make sure they don’t use words that are foreign to the customer. No one likes that.
2. Use the Right Channels and Tools
Imagine sending a mail to McDonald’s because your order was wrong. Or getting a video call scheduled with Amazon because you want to know how to reset your password. Just, no.
Using the right channels and tools is not only a matter of industry but also a matter of specific needs of specific customers. For example, a newly acquired customer’s support needs would be very different from that of an old customer who is likely a VIP in your company.
Say, your product is an online tool with complex features. Now, you could solve the problem on the phone with a relatively new customer but when it comes to a VIP customer you might want to prefer a scheduled video meeting.
This is because you might have already had a demo session with the new customer and this customer may not have any more spare time to video call with you. On the other hand, the VIP customer’s problem is probably a way more complex one and on top of that, an old customer probably prefers a face-to-face interaction. That’s how you optimize your channels.
On the other hand, the tools are just as important. Think simple, it is a tool that lets you know who your customers are and know the essential information (customer lifetime value, health score, years with the company, etc.) about them. You can set automation, view and categorize emails, and have your team let you know what’s up using a tool. So, if you’re over your back-of-the-garage business phase as a startup or a bigger company, you need tools.
Take a look at our essential customer success tools article for tools that can benefit both the customer success team and the customer service team.
3. Data Flow into One Place
Inconsistency is never a good look. When communication is lost between departments or divisions it damages brand image.
Although customer service is a single department, it affects and is affected by almost all parts of the company. It is already important that all departments are aware of what’s up with the other departments, but with customer service, it is even more important since their job is direct with the customer. One wrong information can cause thousand dollar mistakes.
Moreover, the customer service department must be consistent and informed in itself too. If a customer reached out by email yesterday and he/she is calling the support line today, customer support has to know what kind of problem he had yesterday.
4. Make Use of Self-Service
According to Harvard Business Review, 81% of customers attempt to find a solution themselves before reaching out to a live representative.
As someone in the 81 percent, all I can say is that we need better self-service options. Because the thing is, not being able to find a solution online is way more frustrating than having bad live support. This is because this time, the blame is on the customer for not being able to find the answer.
But you can get rid of all that frustrations by introducing self-service into your customer service in 3 ways:
Interactivity is the key to lasting knowledge, as learning by doing is much more efficient compared to reading, watching, or listenting.
You can easily introduce interactivity in your product and become self-serve at the same time, with UserGuiding’s interactive guides:
Canopy, a cloud-based accounting platform that offers practice management software for accounting firms, recently shared their experience with UserGuiding.
To sum it up, they needed a tool to help them reduce the workload of customer support, interactively answer common questions before they were asked, and hand-hold users through a well-structured user onboarding process. Even though they tried other tools before, they were not quite satisfied: the tools were simply too much to handle.
Then they found UserGuiding.
With UserGuiding, Canopy can now interactive product walkthroughs, NPS surveys, and interactive help centers with a few clicks. Put simply, Canopy needed a way to create a smooth self-service experience for their customers, and with UserGuiding, they have exactly that.
Now, even though we *highly* recommend our very own UserGuiding, it is true that some other tools might be more interesting with their complex features. But if you ever need a to-the-point, foolproof way of creating better self-service for your users, we got you.
You will not find one big company that does not have a knowledge base. You can’t even find a small one, because a knowledge base is a must if you’re gonna go big. Storing all sorts of technical information like user manuals, glossaries, and support articles about your business, a knowledge base is the base of your customer service as well. And to create a good one, you might want to check what a help authoring tool is. No need to thank me.
I have a love-hate relationship with chatbots, but I have to admit, they changed the customer service game big time. And to keep up with it, you have to make sure you checked what I said above.
You need a knowledge base regardless, but since a chatbot pulls the knowledge from the knowledge base, you ought to have a strong one in your arsenal. I say utilize all help authoring tools, technical writers, and engineers, after all a chatbot is a must now.
No user wants to see a walkthrough twice. But you can’t show them all features at one go. At times like these, chatbots work as interactive guides to hand-hold customers. This is why it is important that your chatbot is not only linked to your knowledge base but also has access to and ideally direct integration with your walkthroughs and interactive guides. This way you make user onboarding easier and make sure the customer can self-service.
Making sure that the customers don’t need customer service has another side to it: solving the issues that frequently cause the need for customer support. At this point, FAQ forums come in handy once again. Just by reviewing these questions, you can figure out what to work on for better customer success.
5. Go the Extra Mile
With access to all kinds of online tools and great technology to build a product, what makes a difference in business is customer service.
Did the biggest companies out there like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have the most unique product? Probably not. What did they have? Great understanding of the customer and the will to go the extra mile.
The first time I cracked my iPhone screen I knew I couldn’t afford a new phone so I went to customer service. The last thing I expected was for them to replace my iPhone with a new one for free and they did it. Now, do they need to do that? Couldn’t they just repair the one I have?
They could, but I wouldn’t be such a fan if they did. That’s called going the extra mile and as was the case for me, it can be used to create lifelong fans. Of course, not all companies have the budget to whip out a whole new product and give it away, but you don’t have to go the extra miles as Apple did. You can win your customers’ hearts just by sending them handwritten thank you notes, coupons, discounts, or simply checking how they have been. Double points if it is related to your business specifically.
At its core, customer service is way more complex than any article online makes it out to be. But this doesn’t mean customer satisfaction cannot be achieved. Although all businesses from different kinds of industries have their own way of providing customer service, one thing is true for all customer service teams out there: customer satisfaction is the top priority. So, whatever your specific industry might be, I hope you tackle all customer service issues with this mindset and hopefully, using the fundamental tips above. You got this!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you effectively help a customer?
Effective customer support is an objective term, however, by offering relevant information, providing an interactive experience and doing so in a quick session, a customer support specialist can offer effective help.
How can refund be avoided in customer service?
To avoid refund, asking the question why and trying to emphasize with the customer’s standpoint is important. A customer support specialist may make offers to avoid it but it is best not to force anything on the customer. The feedback is way more important.
How can customer service be improved?
There are several ways to improve customer service. However, most strategies are area-specific and may not work for every business. The best strategy is to work with a mindset that prioritizes customer satisfaction.