Whether you’re running a small business or a global corporation, providing good customer service can mean the difference between success and failure. And customer expectations are only continuing to rise.
The good news is that support leaders seeking to meet those demands can take advantage of a wealth of customer service tips from the experts.
The best of those customer service best practices stem not from guesswork but from carefully-crafted studies that define good support.
To guide the way, we partnered with ESG Research to build a framework around customer experience maturity and customer experience success. After surveying 1,000 CX leaders worldwide, ESG identified three levels of maturity: the leaders, those in the middle of the pack, and those at risk of falling behind—Champions, Risers, and Starters.
Read on for 16 customer service best practices based on our research.
16 customer service best practices
Here are customer service tips practiced by customer service Champions.
- Become customer-centric
- Give agents tools
- Train agents
- Meet customers on their preferred channels
- Use messaging
- Offer self-service
- Provide one view for agents
- Leverage data
- Use customer feedback
- Be agile
- Embrace AI
- Invest in quality software
- Be fast
- Prioritize customer service
- Exceed customer expectations
1. Build a customer-centric culture
Champions build a culture focused on customer experience, driven from the top down.
In other words, a customer service team dedicated to making customers happy doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It needs an environment that features a customer service strategy understood by every department, from sales to marketing.
Whether it’s a tier-one customer service representative working on the simplest of questions or the CEO guiding the business's direction, every employee needs to keep this question in the back of his or her mind: will my actions serve customers well?
With that company mindset in place, support leaders must focus on building teams consisting of customer service stars who have the social skills, empathy, and demeanor required to ensure unhappy customers don’t stay that way.
That starts by developing a reliable hiring process, one that will identify which candidates will embrace your customer-focused culture.
Are they customer-focused, able to problem-solve, and good listeners? Do they use friendly language in customer-facing situations and with coworkers?
Asking the right questions during the interview process can go a long way in hiring people who have the soft skills required for good customer service.
2. Give agents tools for success
If you give those employees you spent such care hiring the right tools for the job, they’ll be in a much better position to advance your company’s values.
In fact, 93 percent of Champions rated their teams’ satisfaction with their help desk solutions as either a 9 or 10, the best on the scale. And it pays off—Champions stated turnover is “not at all problematic,” at 6.7x the incidence of Starters.
93% of Champions rated their teams’ satisfaction with their help desk as a 9 or 10, the best on the scale.
You’ll want to start with creating efficient workflows that keep employees on task, which means drawing on the power of triggers and automation that funnel tickets to the right customer service rep while reducing repetitive work that can impede productivity. Combined with robust internal self-service that treats employees like customers, your support organization can remove roadblocks that lead to service delays, and worse: burned-out workers who will struggle to deliver excellent customer service.
If you want a well-oiled customer service machine, think about setting up a dedicated operations team that will maximize your customer service platform—and consider drafting a change management process that will keep everybody in the loop.
3. Upskill your customer service team
Another critical aspect of retaining agents and enabling them to do their jobs well is investing in agent training so agents continue to build their customer service skills.
Champions both give their customer service teams the tools they need to perform their jobs and appropriately train them. On average, Champions provide their teams with more than two and a half more customer service training days per year than Starters.
4. Meet your customers on the channels of their choice
Customers expect an effortless experience. And part of that means meeting customers on the channels of their choice.
Channel preference varies based on the issue and where that customer currently is: like on your website, social media, or your help center.
That's why Champions provide their customers with more methods of engagement. On average, Champions offer two more channels of engagement than Starters.
5. Get on the messaging bandwagon
Speaking of meeting customers where they are, messaging has the highest customer satisfaction score of any support channel, with a CSAT of 98 percent.
Messaging has the highest customer satisfaction score of any support channel.
Messaging is fast, personal, convenient, and secure. With that in mind, it may not be surprising that Champion organizations are more likely to have embraced messaging channels, including SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and embedded messaging.
6. Offer self-service
When we asked respondents to rate their help center, seven out of ten Champions rated their resources very effective, 5.4x the frequency of Starters.
7/10 Champions rated their help resources very effective, 5.4x the frequency of Starters.
Customers have preferred to help themselves for a while now—this isn't new information. It makes sense: when it comes to quick, low-stakes issues, it's often easier to find the answer via a knowledge base or community forum instead of reaching out to customer support.
7. Connect channels under a single source of truth
Regardless of which channels your customers prefer, you’ll need customer service software that connects every customer interaction under a single, connective layer of tissue.
In fact, Champions are 4.5x more likely than Starters to have market-leading omnichannel customer visibility. This means they provide agents with invaluable customer context no matter how, or when, a customer reaches out: for example, the customer's name, past interactions, or information about how another support employee solved the problem previously.
Moving from channel to channel without a hitch is a key element of good customer service.
8. Build a personalized experience
One of the values in ensuring customer context is at your agents' fingertips is building a better-personalized experience.
Think for a moment about the following scenario: a customer reaches out earlier in the day via email, and then follows up later that day over the phone. Will the customer service agent have the proper context so the interaction feels seamless and personal?
If a customer has to repeat information each time they reach support on a new channel, they won't remember the experience as a positive one.
Taking it a step further, a company can connect its customer service software with a CRM to provide agents with deeper context, such as a customer's:
- Opened marketing emails
- Purchase history
- Sales conversations
9. Become data-centric
Champions use their data: 97 percent describe the comprehensiveness of their support metrics and KPIs as market-leading or strong. Champion leadership even reviews customer service metrics daily.
It’s one thing to think that your business is providing excellent customer service—but unless you look at the data, you’ll never really know (except when it goes wrong and customers are leaving in droves). To put it simply, you’ll need to define what success looks like, measure it, and act on that data.
For starters, you'll need customer service software that arms you with real-time and historical analytics. The deeper you go into the data, the better you'll understand the complexity of your customers’ requests, when they tend to reach out, how effective your agents are, and more.
10. Use customer feedback to get better
Another type of customer data is customer feedback. Champion organizations use customer feedback to evolve products, services, and business processes.
One of the easiest tips that a business can implement is sending out customer satisfaction surveys. These simple, one-question surveys require little effort on the part of customers and can give you a valuable overview of your customer service team’s effectiveness.
If your customers are happy with your support, chances are they’ll be willing to recommend your services to friends, family, and others.
Birchbox is one example of a company that continually learns from customer feedback.
As predictable and unpredictable challenges have emerged during COVID-19, Leanna Nazzisi, customer operations manager at Birchbox, explained that "asking [customers] what they need, rather than telling them, 'Here's what we can do,'" can help to build and maintain a feeling of community and humility.
Watch the video for more customer tips from Birchbox.
11. Set yourself up to be agile
If there's one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has taught businesses, it's that agility is key.
Champions lead on customer-centric agility. In other words, they set the business up to adjust to changing customer expectations quickly.
This involves constantly learning from customer feedback, customer data, and market research and then acting on those insights. Agile businesses change toward things customers want and away from products, services, and processes it turns out customers don't need.
Etsy is one example of an agile business that adapts to customers' needs. With a shortage of masks available for members of the public to purchase at the onset of COVID-19, Etsy sellers were able to pivot almost immediately to produce and sell various types of face coverings. Many sellers on Etsy weren’t worried about a drop in sales because the demand for masks was overwhelming—as a result, Etsy was up 130 percent in sales in April.
Watch the video for more customer service best practices from Etsy.
12. Embrace artificial intelligence
Champions are also more likely to incorporate AI in their support strategy.
From chatbots to AI-powered help centers, AI frees customer support teams from menial tasks that eat up hours of their day—and that means more time to offer the kind of white-glove customer service that customers remember.
Some of the most common requests a business receives—requests to change passwords, update credit card information, and cancel services—can be resolved by an AI that directs customers to FAQs that deliver step-by-step instructions and other helpful tips.
Beyond automating lower-tier customer service tasks, AI can ensure the kind of proactive support that separates the winners from the losers in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Because AI customer service tools learn as they go, they can direct customers to channels more suited to resolving their issues.
Shorter resolution times and more personalized service—what's not to like?
13. Invest in a quality customer service tech stack
Nearly three-fifths (57 percent) of Champions expect their organization to increase investment in their customer service tech stack significantly over the next 12 to 24 months, versus just 9 percent of Starters.
The lesson? You get what you pay for when it comes to customer service technology. Delivering great customer service is next to impossible without a quality tech stack.
14. Provide quick answers
Champions have fast resolution times—they are more than twice as likely as Starters to report a total resolution time of under an hour. Furthermore, their average first response time was an hour faster than the Starters’.
Customers don't want to have to wait days—or even hours—for a response. Speedy replies are essential to a good customer experience.
How do you deliver fast responses? Some of our other tips can help, such as:
- Quality customer service software
- Efficient workflows
- AI, like chatbots
15. Understand the value of customer service
Champion leadership understands that customer service impacts the bottom line. In fact, business leaders at Champion organizations are 3.8x more likely than Starters to see customer service as a differentiator.
Business leaders at Champions are 3.8x more likely to see customer service as a differentiator.
They invest in customer service because they know that great customer service leads to increased customer retention, customer loyalty, market share, and customer acquisition.
16. Become obsessed with customer satisfaction
Meeting customers' needs is just the first step for Champions. They go the extra mile to exceed customer expectations.
In fact, Champions are 6.1x more likely than Starters to exceed CSAT goals.
Champions are 6.1x more likely than Starters to exceed CSAT goals.
Want more customer service best practices?
Thankfully thousands of businesses have put the hard work in to improve how they deliver customer service—so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Check out the other tips those companies have shared in our full report.