What Is Customer Service?
Customer service is the direct one-on-one interaction between a consumer making a purchase and a representative of the company that is selling it. Most retailers see this direct interaction as a critical factor in ensuring buyer satisfaction and encouraging repeat business.
Even today, when much of customer care is handled by automated self-service systems, the option to speak to a human being is seen as necessary to most businesses. It is a key aspect of servant-leadership.
- Customer service is the interaction between the buyer of a product and the company that sells it.
- Good customer service is critical to business success, ensuring brand loyalty one customer at a time.
- Recent innovations have focused on automating customer service systems but the human element is, in some cases, indispensable.
Understanding Customer Service
Behind the scenes at most companies are people who never meet or greet the people who buy their products. The customer service representatives are the ones who have direct contact with the buyers. The buyers' perceptions of the company and the product are shaped in part by their experience in dealing with that person.
For this reason, many companies work hard to increase their customer satisfaction levels.
The Cost of Customer Satisfaction
For decades, businesses in many industries have sought to reduce personnel costs by automating their processes to the greatest extent possible.
In customer service, that has led many companies to implement systems online and by phone that answer as many questions or resolve as many problems as they can without a human presence.
But in the end, there are customer service issues for which human interaction is indispensable, creating a competitive advantage.
Amazon is an example of a company that is doing all it can to automate a vast and complex operation. It has to, given that it delivered five billion packages to customers' doors in 2018, and that's just the purchases made by Prime members.
Nevertheless, Amazon still offers 24-hour customer service by phone, in addition to email and live chat services.
Most successful businesses recognize the importance of providing outstanding customer service. Courteous and empathetic interaction with a trained customer service representative can mean the difference between losing or retaining a customer.
Customer service should be a one-stop process for the consumer whenever possible.
Key Components of Good Customer Service
Successful small business owners understand the need for good customer service instinctively. Larger businesses study the subject in-depth, and they have some basic conclusions about the key components:
- Timely attention to issues raised by customers is critical. Requiring a customer to wait in line or sit on hold sours an interaction before it begins.
- Customer service should be a single-step process for the consumer. If a customer calls a helpline, the representative should whenever possible follow the problem through to its resolution.
- If a customer must be transferred to another department, the original representative should follow up with the customer to ensure that the problem was solved.
The average annual salary for a customer service representative in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Customer Services Job Requirements
Much is expected of customer service representatives. Yet the pay for the job is low. The average salary in 2018 was about $33,750, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some of the job expectations:
- Customer service representatives must be accessible, knowledgeable, and courteous. They require excellent listening skills and a willingness to talk through a resolution. Training in conflict resolution can be beneficial.
- Strong speaking skills are important. For phone staff, this means speaking clearly and slowly while maintaining a calm demeanor even if the customer doesn't.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected customer service representative job growth at 5% between 2016 and 2026. That's close to the average for all occupations.
Customer Services Employer Responsibilities
Poor management can doom any customer service operation. A couple of important tips for managers:
- Make sure your customer service representatives are fully informed and have the latest information and the company's products and policies.
- Periodically assess the customer service experience you are providing to ensure that it's an asset to the company.
- Consider conducting regular surveys to give customers the chance to provide feedback about the service they receive and suggest areas for improvement.
Using Mobile Services Effectively
In recent years, studies of customer service have centered on creating the perfect online experience.
The first and most difficult factor is the multiplicity of channels. Today's customers expect to get service through whatever app or device they happen to be using at the moment. That may be a mobile device or a laptop, a social media site, text app, or live chat.
Once again, the focus has been on packaging how-to content and related resources that are designed for self-service. Increasingly sophisticated data analytics also are being used to identify dissatisfied or low-engagement customers.
But, as always, the most effective customer service apps need to incorporate human contact, if only as a last resort.