You may have a fantastic product, but if your customer service is unhelpful, unreliable, or just plain hard to get in touch with, folks will hear about it, and you’ll lose customers over it.
That's one big reason why investing in customer service is key to long-term business success.
But what does it mean to provide great customer service, and how can you ensure that every customer has a great experience with your company when they reach out for help? We’ve identified several ways to put your customer service at the top of the game in your industry.
What is great customer service?
Great customer service means following best practices like valuing customers' time, having a pleasant attitude, and providing knowledgeable and resourceful resources, but that you also take things a step further to exceed — rather than just meet — expectations.
10 ways to deliver great customer service
You can use many different methods — and the built-in features of customer service software, shared inbox tools, and help desk software — to delight your customers and have them raving about your support to their friends.
Here are our 10 best ways to deliver great customer service.
1. Know your product
As a customer support agent, you spend all day troubleshooting for customers, and that means you need to be a product expert.
Expansive knowledge of your product is an essential customer service skill. Ideally, you should believe in your product, be able to discuss features and use cases in an insightful way, and show your customers how the product can benefit them — not to mention troubleshoot anything that’s not working right!
Your job is to help your customers get the most out of their purchase and feel like they have gotten true value for their money. Make it your goal to learn everything there is to know about your product so you can amaze your customers with timely recommendations for using new features and services.
2. Maintain a positive attitude
Attitude is everything, and a positive attitude goes a long way in providing excellent customer service.
“The right attitude changes negative customer experiences into positive customer experiences,” says Flavio Martins, VP of Operations and Customer Service at DigiCert, Inc. Since most customer interactions are not face-to-face, your attitude should be reflected in your language and tone of voice.
It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of written communication, and email or live chat can come across as cold. The brain uses multiple signals to interpret someone else’s emotional tone, including body language and facial expression, many of which are absent online.
Don’t be afraid to use emojis to convey warmth and good humor, or pick up the phone if you find an email or chat conversation getting tense.
3. Creatively problem-solve
Over 80% of customers have churned because they experienced bad customer service. That’s why you must thrive on solving problems for your customers and make it a central part of your support role — and there will always be problems to solve.
Everyone has heard of the legendary customer service at Zappos. For example, they once sent a best man free shoes the night before the wedding after his order was sent to the wrong location due to a mistake by the delivery company. Zappos solved a problem and exemplified excellent customer service — they won a customer for life and gave the man a story that he couldn’t wait to share.
Don’t be afraid to wow your customers as you seek to problem-solve for them. You could just fix the issue and be on your way, but by creatively meeting their needs in ways that go above and beyond, you’ll create customers that are committed to you and your product.
4. Respond quickly
66% of people believe that valuing their time is the most important thing in any online customer experience. Resolving customer queries as quickly as possible is a cornerstone of good customer service. Speed should be of the essence — especially for smaller issues that don’t take much time to solve.
That being said — great customer service beats speed every time.
Customers understand that more complex queries take time to resolve. There’s a difference between the time it takes you to respond and the speed at which you resolve their problems. Customers don’t want to languish in a ticket queue, but they’ll spend as much time as it takes to resolve their issue. You should, too.
Get back to your customers as quickly as possible, but don’t be in a rush to get them off the phone or close the ticket without resolving the issue completely.
Use conversation summaries to resolve escalated issues faster
Complex cases often require multiple touchpoints within a company. Whether it’s an engineer providing support for a technical question or a member of your finance team assisting with a billing discrepancy, it’s important to have systems in place to help quickly bring folks up to speed.
Summaries help teammates:
Better understand the context of a customer’s issue.
Review a customer’s conversation history more efficiently.
Avoid getting bogged down with tangential information.
Having access to the most important information up front ensures that your team can provide customers with the best resolution in less time.
5. Personalize your service
40% of customers say they want better human service. That means they want to feel like more than just a ticket number. They get angry when they’re not being treated like an individual person, receiving boilerplate responses, or being batted like a tennis ball to different people.
Customers want to interact with a person — not a company. It’s part of the reason why many businesses send gifts to their customers on their birthdays.
Do you know not only your customers’ names, but also their birthdays? How about their interests or hobbies? Can you make them laugh? It’s obviously not possible to do this for everyone, but going off script and giving the personal touch when you can is an important way to show your customers you know them and you care.
In Help Scout, tickets are called "conversations" to encourage support teams to think about requests in the queue in a more personalized way. So whether you're using Help Scout or one of its alternatives, consider how the support tool you use can help you personalize your support interactions.
6. Help customers help themselves
That said, customers don’t always want to talk to someone to get their problem solved — often, they want to quickly resolve their issue themselves. Among consumers, 81% attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative. Further research shows that 71% want the ability to solve most customer service issues on their own.
Self-service is a scalable, cost-effective way to make customers happy — that’s the thinking that led to Help Scout's Beacon, which puts help content front and center so customers can find answers right where they are without leaving the page. Then if they’re unable to answer their own question, help from a real person is just a couple clicks away.
7. Focus support on the customer
Your customers are the most integral part of your business, and they come before products or profit. Treat them like they are the center of your world — because they are.
According to Kristin Smaby in "Being Human is Good Business," “It’s time to consider an entirely different approach: Building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.”
Southwest Airlines put this principle into practice in a very memorable way when one of its pilots held a flight back to wait for a customer traveling to a funeral. They put the human before their targets, and that customer will never forget it.
8. Actively listen
Paying attention to customer feedback includes looking back over the data, as well as listening in real-time. Show your customers you hear them when they take the time to speak to you. Listening increases the chances that you’ll hear your customers’ real problems and can effectively solve them, resulting in happier customers.
Listen to what they have to say without pushing your own agenda. Don’t assume that you know what your customer is going to say.
Demonstrate active listening skills; when you’re on the phone or live chat, use phrases like “It sounds like … ” and “Do you mean … ?” or “Let me make sure I’ve got this right.” Make sure you repeat the problem back to them in your own words to show you’ve heard them.
Active listening also means you are mindful of your customer’s unique personality and current emotional state so you can tailor your response to fit the situation. Customer service is not one-size-fits-all.
9. Keep your word
If you promise something, making sure you deliver on it is common-sense customer service. Don’t let your customers down. Keeping your word is about respect and trust.
For example, if you promise an SLA uptime of 99%, make sure you keep to that standard. If you promise to develop a certain feature in your software in a particular time frame, make sure you deliver on that.
When you break your word, like saying you’ll get back to a customer within 24 hours and you don’t, offer something to make up for it. If your customer’s delivery goes awry, offer to replace it and refund their money for their trouble. You might lose some money in the short term, but you’ll gain a loyal customer.
Interestingly, customers do not feel extra grateful when you deliver more than you promised. They do, however, feel angry if you break a promise. It’s still better to under-promise and over-deliver so you can make sure you never break this important social contract.
10. Be proactively helpful
Going the extra mile is one of the most important things you can do to deliver great customer service. This is when you have ticked all the boxes, yet you still want to do more.
Sometimes being helpful means anticipating your customers’ needs before they even have to articulate them. In fact, sometimes customers may ask for one thing without realizing that they really need another. It’s your job to anticipate their needs and provide for them.
When customers feel like you value them — like they’re truly special to you — they’ll keep coming back. This may be linked with the phenomenon of reciprocity in social psychology: If you do something nice for your customers, they will want to do something in return — like buy your products!
Sending them a small gift “just because,” or giving them a rare promotional code, will speak to your customers’ egos and demonstrate your genuine appreciation of their business.
Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland hotel delivered truly helpful customer service when a customer asked them where she could buy a particular alarm clock they had in her room. The hotel gave her one as an unexpected parting gift, winning them one very delighted customer.
Customer service tips by business type and industry
Growing your business by providing great customer service
All of the elements above combine to produce great customer service. It’s great customer service that keeps your customers loyal to you and your business — and that earns you a reputation for being helpful and a pleasure to work with.
Customers want to be treated like people, not a number in a ticket queue. Humanize them, and humanize yourself, for customer service-driven growth.