Cashier standing by cash register and smiling at a customer
PHOTO: Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

It's an all-too-familiar scenario. You have a question or problem with a product or service. You call the company's helpline, hoping you won’t be on hold forever.

And when you finally speak to a representative, they're not helpful — or worse, they're disinterested or outright rude.

Good customer service is what you wanted, but it wasn’t what you got.

Sadly, this is a common customer experience. Many companies do not understand that the quality of a customer's experience can make or break their business. 

Consider these key statistics from Emplifi’s 2022 Brand Experiences report, which surveyed more than 2,000 people from the US and UK:

  • 86% of customers will leave a brand they were once loyal to after only two or three bad customer service experiences
  • 49% of respondents left a company they were once loyal to within the past 12 months due to bad customer service.

When it comes to getting help from brands, customers have high expectations. How and why are businesses falling short?

13 Ways to Achieve Good Customer Service

The reality is, many companies do not think to invest in proactive customer service, especially when funds are tight, as they have been for many during the pandemic. 

"Contrary to popular belief, your customer service team should be just as important — if not more important than — as your other teams," Swetha Amaresan wrote for HubSpot. "After all, it's the direct connection between your customers and your business."

For companies dedicated to improving customer service, here are 13 places to start:

Know the Product

Every customer service team member should be a product expert, with as deep a knowledge of the brand’s offerings as possible. 

Customers, when faced with service staff that can’t help them get the most of their purchases, or when bounced from representative to representative, tend to look elsewhere. No one wants to state their issues multiple times. 

Good customer service reps can make recommendations on how to better use products. They can also help confused customers identify their pain points and fix them as quickly as possible. 

Companies that train customer service reps on product and service offerings have a better chance of establishing loyal customers and increasing profits.

In fact, according to an article from Harvard Business School, a 5% increase in customer retention results in a 25% to 95% increase in profits.

Keep a Positive Attitude

A quick way to lose customers is to interact with a service rep who seems uninterested or bored. This is true whether the interaction is in person or online. A positive attitude goes a long way towards providing good customer service.

"The right attitude changes negative customer experiences into positive customer experiences," said Flavio Martins, senior product manager at DigiCert, Inc., in Seattle. 

"Since most customer interactions are not face-to-face, your attitude should be reflected in your language and tone of voice."

Solve Problems for Customers

Many people have grabbed an item at a grocery store only to realize there’s a problem with the price. 

Stores that want to retain customers give them the product at a lower price — sometimes even when the customer is wrong about the error. Other stores go a step further and give the product away for free. For stores that take this proactive approach, it’s likely the customer will come back. 

Online retailer Zappos is famous for solving problems for customers. In one notable case, the company sent a best man’s shoes to the wrong address. When he called customer service with the problem, service reps immediately overnighted him a new pair of shoes, upgraded him to a VIP account and gave him a full refund. As a result? Zappos won a customer for life.

Solve your customer's problems in ways they don't expect, and they’ll stick around to see what else you do.

Related Article: How to Solve a CX Crisis in 5 Steps

Respond as Quickly as Possible

If a customer has a complex problem, they don't expect you to turn into a wizard and solve it immediately. What does upset them, however, is how long it takes you to respond. No one wants to be on hold for a long time. 

To prevent lengthy phone queues, offer callback opportunities where a customer can leave a number and then hang up. And, when you call back, don’t rush them — take as much time as needed to solve their problem. 

Another notable Zappos customer service story involves a call that lasted 10 hours and 29 minutes. Apparently, the customer only wanted to talk. But he bought a pair of expensive Ugg boots in the end. It also provided great PR with a story that the retailer can use in advertising. 

Let Customers Help Themselves

Sometimes proactive customer service means letting the customer solve the problem. According to the Harvard Business Review, 81% of customers try to solve a problem themselves before reaching out to a company.

Building a self-service option not only keeps your customers happy but also reduces the workload of service representatives and keeps costs down.

Make sure the self-service option is up-to-date and comprehensive. Use data you've collected on customer questions to better understand what answers they might look for. Then, make it easy for customers to reach out to a service representative if they can't resolve the issue by themselves.

Put Customers Before Profit

Your customers are what make your business succeed. Put them first before worrying about profit, and the profit will come. 

According to a Deloitte report, companies that adopt a customer-centric culture are 60% more profitable than those that don't.

"For every business decision, we ask ourselves, 'How does this benefit our customers?' If it’s a struggle to answer, we don’t do it," CJ Forse wrote in Entrepreneur. 

"Pretend your customer is sitting beside you whenever you make a decision,” Forse added. “How would you transparently explain why you’re about to make that decision? That’s the litmus test for doing good business today."

Related Article: How Can Your Organization Truly Be Customer-Centric?

Be Good Listeners

Good listening is an important skill to master in almost every segment of life, and it’s also an essential aspect of good customer service. 

When a customer reaches a service representative on the phone or finds someone to talk to in a brick-and-mortar store, the last thing they want to deal with is a person who isn't listening.

When you actively listen to your customer, you pick up on their personality, mood and potentially body language, and can shape your response based on those indicators. Remember, there is not a one-size-fits-all customer service solution.

Follow Through on Promises

Keeping your word is a sign of respect for your customer and a crucial part of good customer service. 

If you tell a customer you will get back to them within 24 hours, don't wait 48–72 hours. If you do, make sure you have something to offer them to make up for your mistake.

Breaking a promise to customers is the fastest way to drive them to a competitor. It's important to promise what you know you can deliver and not merely say things to make a customer go away. It's always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

Always Show Empathy

Your customer service representatives need to find ways to relate and empathize with customers. They should treat each person as they would like to be treated themselves.

"Instead of potentially frustrating a customer, using empathy can help improve the situation, increase customer satisfaction and improve the customer experience," Allison Tanner, instructor at Study.com, wrote.

"Instead of saying 'tough luck,'” added Tanner, “they can show empathy by saying something like, 'I can see how frustrating this must have been and how upset you are. I assure you that I will do everything I can to fix this. Let me start by getting you the correct items and then putting you in touch with the payments department.'”

Connect on Multiple Channels

Today, there are many ways for customers to connect with your business. Older shoppers will prefer phone, email or in-person at a store. Younger clients will pick social media. Ultimately, this preference is whichever way people prefer communicating with friends.

Good customer service means you've trained your representatives to handle questions on all available channels. Your agents should also be able to transition between channels effortlessly. For example, a question that starts in a chat forum should easily be able to transition to a phone call if the problem becomes too complex to solve.

Related Article: Why Omnichannel CX Succeeds When Channels Work Together

Personalize the Customer Experience

Customers increasingly expect a personalized experience. This is where collecting good data on customers comes into play. An Accenture report from 2018 revealed that more than 80% of customers are willing to share data if they think it will lead to a more personalized experience.

Personalized data can offer your customers a unique experience when interacting with your company. If you use it thoughtfully, it becomes a great way to build retention.

If you choose this route, remember that protecting data is as important as collecting it. Provide customers with options on how their data will be used, and store everything securely to protect privacy.

Give Employees the Right Tools

Employees who struggle to do their jobs due to lack of tools or technology tend to become unhappy. And unhappy employees don’t make for the best customer service reps.

According to a Forrester report, companies who have the most engaged employees — the ones who enjoy their jobs and provide their companies with dependable service — leave customers 81% more satisfied with the experience compared to unengaged workers. 

To lighten workloads and allow employees to focus on more creative aspects of the job, businesses can create workflows that automatically route customers with certain questions to agents with the right skills and knowledge. They can also use AI-backed tools, such as chat bots, to automatically answer repetitive questions.

Let Employees Work Together

If you’ve ever contacted customer service, you’ve probably encountered a representative who needed assistance answering a question. To improve your company’s customer service, make it easier for employees to work with one another.

Many internal communication tools currently exist on the market, such as Slack or Basecamp. Investing in one can make it easier and quicker for employees to share knowledge, which means less wait time for customers.

Final Thoughts

Improving customer service is one of the best business decisions any company can make. Your customers are the people who keep your business alive, and as such, they should be the center of your operation. 

A customer who feels valued is a repeat customer. And repeat customers are one of the sure steps to profitability and longevity.