“I’m never shopping here again.”
Words no business owner wants to hear, yet words that can easily be triggered by a bad customer service experience. In this guide, we’ll help you avoid these situations by sharing 16 tips for providing amazing customer service, along with examples of real-life companies who put them into practice.
What is Great Customer Service?
Customer service in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar industry, one that’s growing all the time. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that customer service is solely the domain of people in call centers answering complaints and questions.
Customer service happens anytime you and your employees provide effective and prompt assistance to people buying or considering your product or service. It might be a question you handle over the phone or an unhappy patron you and our team deal with in person. No matter the encounter, you’re helping ensure your customers have a good experience.
No matter how large your company is, the person engaged in providing customer service becomes the face of your brand, meaning each customer experience can help determine your reputation and build repeat business. How do you make that happen? In our next section, we’ll review 16 ways you can deliver great customer service.
16 Customer Service Tips and Examples for Ultimate Business Success
Providing excellent customer service doesn’t have to mean hiring new employees or overhauling your business. In many cases, it’s a matter of following a few best practices that make you and your team seem professional and relatable and that are the best fit for your company, the type of things businesses are striving for anyway.
From proper phone etiquette to rewarding customer loyalty, here are 16 tips — and some standout customer service examples from some well-known companies– to get you started.
1. Always Answer the Phone (and Quickly!)
Good customer service means always answering the phone, and answering it promptly (conventional wisdom says more than four rings is too many).
If you know that you can’t always have someone to deal with phone calls, consider using an online messaging system, one programmed to deal with common complaints and questions. Most customers won’t mind talking to a “robot” in a chat box if they’re still receiving good customer service.
A single bad phone call can leave customers — or potential customers — with a negative impression of your business, even if they’ve never purchased anything or set foot in your doors. When you respond to customer calls quickly and courteously (remember “please” and “thank you”!) you’ll have a better chance at providing a positive customer experience.
One company that puts this into practice is the online shoe/clothing brand Zappos, which says it has eschewed the phone tree in favor of having a live person answering each call, typically within one minute. The company also has no time limit for its calls, bragging on its blog about one call that lasted for nearly 11 hours.
2. Be Reliable
Good customer service means being reliable. Customers need to know you’ll pick up the phone or come out from your office when they have a problem. But they also need to see you have a system in place, otherwise, you’re just providing lip service without any action.
Reliable customer service is customer service that customers can depend on to meet their needs with every visit. It will keep them coming back, and improve your bottom line.
You’ll find this type of consistency on display at Disney’s properties, where customers are always guests, and workers must follow strict etiquette guidelines to achieve customer satisfaction. (One way they do this is with a rule that states no team member is allowed to reply to a guest question with “I don’t know.)
3. Give Customer Issues and Complaints Your Utmost Attention
Unless you’re on the way to the checkout, few people enjoy having a salesperson hovering over them while they try to shop. At the same time, customers will resent seeing staff members ignoring them when they have an issue or a complaint. Even if you’re in a business build around customer self service, people like knowing a staff member is on hand to answer questions about products. It’s why it pays to make sure your team is staffed by people with sales and or customer service experience.
Aside from listening intently — rather than simply showering them with a lengthy product list — and not keeping them waiting, you can show your customers you’re paying attention to how you choose to follow up with them. If they’ve indicated they prefer to get text messages from your company, don’t send a bunch of emails their way.
One of the companies known for giving its full attention to customers is Trader Joe’s, where employees will open a product so shoppers can sample them, or — as one viral video showed — break into song to calm a toddler having a tantrum.
4. Have Empathy with Your Customers
Your business might be a collection of buildings and numbers in a bank account. But it’s run by people, and the great thing about people is their capacity for empathy, or the ability to understand other people’s feelings and needs.
We’d argue that empathy is one of the pillars of excellent customer service. Without the ability to put yourself in your customers’ position, you can’t recognize their needs.
News about companies taking steps to help customers in times of need tends to go viral on social media pretty often. One that stuck out is a case from 2017 when Delta Airlines delivered pizza to stranded passengers across the southeast after severe thunderstorms shut down flights to Atlanta. In this case, Delta thought about its customers’ needs and feelings — air travel isn’t a pleasant experience even when there aren’t delays — and tried to remedy the situation with one of the nation’s great comfort foods.
5. Know Your Product Inside Out for the Best Customer Service
Customers appreciate seeing that they can count on you to answer questions about the products you make or the services you provide. If you can’t speak knowledgeably about your products, you won’t be able to help your customers and you’ll lose their trust. On the flip side, the more product knowledge you can provide, the easier time you’ll have to provide positive customer experiences.
One brand that best illustrates this concept comes from Apple and the Genius Bar found at its stores, where nearly all customers’ problems with iPhones and Macbooks can be handled by the company’s team of customer support experts.
6. Gain Repeat Customers by Building Relationships
A 2018 study by Microsoft found that 61 percent of customers will stop buying from a business based on a bad experience? So, how do you keep those customers from leaving and ensure they keep coming back? The most obvious way is by adopting the practices we’ve discussed so far and the ones still to come to deliver great customer service.
One brand that’s been adept at delivering an outstanding customer experience is the airline JetBlue. The company’s reward program contains perks such as points that will never expire, the ability to earn new points by purchasing upgrades like added more legroom, and the chance to donate points to their favorite charity. This program is just one way that’s helped JetBlue to be ranked routinely at or near the top of the list of best airlines for loyalty.
7. Close the Conversation Correctly
While there’s no one way to close a conversation with a customer, there is a right way: it means that the call was productive and the customer walked from the experience feeling like they were heard and their needs were met.
Make sure they have a chance to have the last word (“Will that be all for today?” or “Is there anything else I can do?”).
If customers contact you with a complaint, make sure you end the conversation on a positive note (“I’m glad we could resolve this. We appreciate your business.”).
The same thing applies if they’re simply calling with a question about something. (“Thank you for calling, please call back if you have further questions.”)
8. Train Your Staff in Excellent Customer Service
One of the most important ways to deliver good customer service is making sure you have a staff that’s trained in this field. Your staff doesn’t have to be customer service professionals to provide professional customer service.
You can begin helping your support team hone their customer service skills by determining the types of interactions they’re likely to have with customers, whether that’s over the phone, face-to-face, email, or even when doing social media for your business.
From there, you should try to define your customers’ needs and expectations, whether through interviews, focus groups, surveys, or social listening (checking what’s being said by customers on your social media channels).
Whether you employ customer service teams or just one customer service representative, training your workers on providing excellent customer service will lead to better employee engagement. It will also keep customers coming back, which will, in turn, boost your profits.
One example of exceptional customer service in retail of this kind of commitment to customer support comes from — again — Zappos, which mandates all new hires take four weeks of customer service training, regardless of what their ultimate job will be at the company. The retailers’ actual customer service reps then go through an additional three weeks of training, meaning they get seven weeks of support team boot camp before they begin talking to customers.
9. Be Friendly and Approachable
Another hallmark of good customer service: a friendly attitude. No matter how irritated customers are, a cheerful, approachable demeanor can help alleviate the situation.
Some of the ways to deliver friendly service to customers include:
- Smiling, even when you’re on the phone. The consumers you deal with can hear a smile in your voice. Customer service agents are trained to answer each call with a smile.
- Remain polite. One of the ways we can put customers at ease is by keeping our tone conversational, remembering to say “please” and “thank you” and ending the conversation with something like “Good day.”
- Trying to match a customer’s tone. Don’t reply to a formal-sounding email using a casual tone, and vice versa. Avoiding using some of your industry’s more technical jargon when talking to consumers who might not be used to your company lingo.
- Listen closely, taking pains not to interrupt. Small, trivial-seeming pieces of information can serve to personalize the conversation.
One great example of friendliness in customer service comes from Warby Parker. Read any list of businesses with solid customer service skills and you’ll see mentions of this eyewear maker.
One of their strengths? Having someone greet each customer at the door to make them feel welcome and to ensure they have the answers about where things are. Even in a self-service activity like browsing for new glasses, it helps to have a friendly face guiding the way.
“It would be hard for me to overstate the importance of having someone friendly and knowledgeable greeting customers when they walk through the door of your business,” writes Forbes contributor Michah Solomon in an appreciation of the Warby Parker customer support team. “Beginnings and endings are crucial moments in the customer journey because of how they lodge themselves in a customer’s memory.”
10. Always Go the Extra Mile
One way to provide excellent customer service is to go beyond what’s expected. When we do that, we keep our customers. And as countless articles have pointed out over the years, it costs much more to sign new customers than to keep existing customers.
And people who have a happy customer experience tend to be people who spend more. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that happy customers spend 140 percent more than the least happy customers.
One of the best examples of a business going the extra mile to deliver great customer service is the story of Ritz Carlton Hotels and Joshie the giraffe. Back in 2012, Joshie got left behind by a vacationing family, and his young owner was naturally upset. Don’t worry, his dad said. Joshie just stayed behind for an extended vacation.
Good customer service would mean mailing the giraffe back to his family, but what the hotel’s team members did instead moves their customer service into the category of great. In addition to mailing the giraffe home, they took pictures of him engaged in activities around the hotel (lounging by the pool, getting a massage, etc.)
Ritz Carlton’s efforts paid off, as the story went viral on social media, giving the hotel brand a ton of free press and good publicity.
11. Know Your Target Market
Identifying your target market allows you to focus your brand message on a specific subset of people that is more likely to be interested in your products and/or services. It’s an efficient and cost-effective way to reach consumers and grow your business rather than hitting broader swaths of the market and hoping for the best.
You can do this by getting to know your customers. Study your client base, conduct interviews, and customer surveys, and analyze consumer data along with your products and services to determine what problems they help consumers solve.
When we know our customers’ pain points, we can begin to ease their pain, so to speak, which will lead to more sales and better customer retention.
One brand known for using market knowledge to its advantage is Starbucks, which carved out its place atop Mount Coffee by following cultural shifts, tracking social media, conducting in-store tests, and getting feedback from customers through its My Starbucks Idea Platform.
This tool lets customers and employees submit ideas for new products or changes to existing ones, with the coffee chain using these customer interactions as fuel for its marketing strategy.
12. Be Available
Focusing on availability is important for a few reasons. First, emergencies are impossible to predict, and your customers should know they can speak to one of your agents if something goes wrong.
Secondly, you might have customers who aren’t dealing with immediate problems but who — due to the gig economy or post-COVID landscape — don’t keep regular hours.
One example of a company that knows how to be available to its customers is Shopify. The online delivery service determined which communication channels were using the most often to reach their agents and acted accordingly.
That includes creating a Twitter account devoted solely to offering customer support. People can tweet their problems and — theoretically — get a quick reply.
13. Reward Customer Loyalty
When you reward customers for their loyalty, your customers reward you. Repeat customers spend as much as 67 percent more in their third year of buying from a business than in the first six months.
Some ways to thank customers include:
- Staring a loyalty card program that lets customers get a stamp with each purchase. After a certain number of stamps, they get a free purchase.
- Rewarding customers who refer your business to friends
- Invite your best customers to new product releases
- Offering reduced prices on products or services for customers who have hit a specific spending goal (say, 15 percent off your next purchase when you spend $200)
One company known for its customer rewards is Sephora, whose Beauty Insider program has more than 25 million members, who account for a bulk of the beauty supply chain’s annual sales. Members get to choose how to use the points they earn from this program, whether that’s on gift cards and discounts or more exclusive offerings such as in-store beauty tutorials.
14. Always Meet Expectations for Ultimate Customer Satisfaction
One thing customers expect from you, no matter what you sell, is a good return/refund policy. One figure we see cited pretty often is a Harris Poll result that found that 91 percent of consumers said that a store’s policy on returns was an important factor when deciding on a purchase.
A good return policy will explain itself in simple language that’s clear and to the point and in keeping with your brand. It will also give clear term limits for how long customers have to return their product.
Costco has become known for its return policy, which says it will refund the purchase price for any product to customers who aren’t satisfied. And because every purchase can be tied to a Costco membership, you don’t need a receipt for a return to go through. There is a term of 90 days in which customers need to return purchases of appliances and technology.
15. Use Customer Feedback
Whether it’s a quick chat over the phone, a longer conversation in person, or just a glimpse at your social media pages, there’s never a bad time to collect customer feedback.
The customer data your glean from these interactions can help you solve problems and improve your products and services. You’ll measure customer satisfaction, but also show your customers that you value their opinions.
Apple provides a good illustration of this practice with its use of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a system that asks customers how likely they are — on a scale of one to 10 — to recommend Apple to a friend or coworker.
Apple considers anyone who rates their product lower than a 6 as unlikely to recommend them. The company uses those low scores to help identify what it could be doing better and adjust accordingly.
16. Provide Follow-Ups and Customer Support
When you follow up with customers, you improve their experience with your company, while also finding ways to potentially forestall problems.
A quick chat with a customer after a sale might help you solve any unforeseen issues, or let them ask questions that occurred to them after they left your store. You’ll help ensure good reviews from customers, letting them — and the people they know –see that you care about providing customer support after a sale concludes.
A good examplar of a company that exceeded customer expectations comes from the recall issued by Lexus in 1990. When the recall happened, the company issued an apology but also had its dealers come to the customers’ homes, pick up the cars and leave a loaner at no cost while the repairs were occurring.
In one case, a customer had bought his Lexus in the continental U.S. but lived in Alaska, so Lexus flew a technician from its offices in Los Angeles to make the repair. What’s more, every customer got their cars back washed, detailed, and with a full gas tank.
Qualities of Good Customer Service Providers
Possessing A Good Knowledge Base
As we said earlier, having a detailed knowledge of your company’s products or services will give your customers the confidence that you can handle their products, answer their questions and provide great customer service.
Conversely, if you can’t speak in detail about your products as you chat with your customers, they may end up feeling like you can’t deal with their questions and start looking for a business that can.
There’s a restaurant chain called Dick’s Last Resort that’s known for its team of rude and obnoxious waitstaff. It’s apparently part of their brand, so they can get away with it. Everyone else should greet their customers with a courteous, if not cheerful, demeanor.
Charisma doesn’t just mean energy and enthusiasm. Great customer service providers need to be able to show they’re focused on the customer, demonstrate warmth, and convey that they have the power to change things for the better.
Resourcefulness and problem-solving abilities — our next entry — would seem like they go hand in hand, but we’d argue resourcefulness is something a bit different: the ability to find a solution to a problem when one might not be obvious.
Problem Solving Abilities
Problem-solving abilities include a lot of the other skills on our list. You need to be a good listener, and you need to show empathy. Beyond that, you’ll need to know how to offer people alternatives: don’t just fix the problem, take an extra step (offering an extra product or gift voucher, for example).
Good Listening Skills
In our next section, we bring up something called “reflective listening.” It’s a communication strategy that involves trying to understand what a speaker is telling you, then repeating it back to make sure you’ve got the idea. Honing this skill is crucial to understanding your customers.
One of the bedrocks of the customer service industry, patience is key when dealing with customers who may be frustrated or even angry. Breathe, listen, and put all your focus on the customer’s problem.
Ability to Bring Up Alternatives
You can provide great customer service when you can bring up alternatives. For example, if a product arrives damaged, you could suggest replacing it for free and shipping it using a faster method.
What are the benefits of great customer service?
So far, we’ve discussed the different skills and tactics involved in providing great customer service. But what’s the payoff to all this work? Good customer service will:
- Generate repeat business. People will keep coming back to companies that treat them well.
- Bolster your company’s reputation.
- Improve employee morale. Going out of our way to treat others well makes us feel good about ourselves.
- Gives you a competitive edge.
- Help small businesses offset higher prices. Locally-owned companies may not be able to offer the same discounts as national brands, but they can provide better service.
How do you handle difficult customers?
Even with all tools for proper customer satisfaction at your disposal, you still might run into customers who are angry or upset. In these scenarios, you can still find ways to deliver the best customer service:
- Practice reflective listening. This means showing that you’ve understood their problem (“What I’m hearing is…”) and shows the customer that they’ve been heard.
- Demonstrate sympathy and give a genuine apology.
- Ask the customer what type of resolution they’d like to see to the problem.
- Stay calm and compassionate throughout the exchange, speaking in an even tone and keeping your body language relaxed. Remember that the customer isn’t angry at you, but frustrated with the situation.
How do I start my own customer service business?
While most professionals engage in some level of customer service, not everybody is a customer service professional. If you’ve got a knack for customer service and think you’d be a good full-time customer service rep, you’ll need to:
- A business plan. That’s what we’d tell somebody starting any sort of business.
- Invest in customer relationship management software.
- Hire and train customer support agents, making sure your team sticks to the same standards.
- Communicate. Talk to your clients to make sure their needs are being met, but also speak to the customers your customer service professionals interact with to make sure they’re enjoying positive customer experiences.
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