What Is Customer Service?

Customer Service Explained in Less Than Five Minutes

Customer Service
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Customer service is a term referring to the techniques and strategies applied by businesses to satisfy customers who buy or use their products and services. It’s a nuanced practice of offering one-on-one interactions to help solve the customers’ problems and increase purchase satisfaction. Customer service includes, for example, planned and spontaneous actions like sending out a post-purchase thank you card and troubleshooting a problem with a product, respectively. 

To gain a better understanding of customer service, it’s important to learn about how it works and the different types.

Definition and Examples of Customer Service

Customer service is one-on-one support that businesses provide to help customers choose, buy, and/or maintain their product or services. It essentially consists of individual interactions between a representative of the business and the customer via a variety of channels. 

By providing good customer service, businesses can meet customer expectations and sometimes even surpass them to ensure people are satisfied with their purchase, shop again, and hopefully become loyal to the business.

Here are two examples of what customer service looks like in practice: 

  • Email support to help customers solve a problem: If you’re selling software and a buyer is unable to understand how to navigate it, a customer service agent employed by your company can offer to assist the customer via email. 
  • On-call support for troubleshooting: Similar to the above example, if your customer has trouble understanding or setting up your product, a customer service agent can offer to explain the details over a phone call. 

Alternative names: Customer support, customer care, customer assistance, helpdesk services

How Does Customer Service Work?

Depending on the type of business, product, or service, customer service may vary. Some companies, especially large, profitable corporations, may have a separate team employed specifically to handle customer queries. 

Smaller businesses may not have the budget to bear such expenses, but they can still offer customer service through simpler, cost-effective methods like email support. 

Within larger companies, customer service teams typically have a pre-planned, scheduled workflow. Each member of the team, sometimes referred to a customer or live agent, is assigned a new customer query sent by email, text, or the website’s contact form. The agent is then responsible for helping the customer learn more about the product or problem and to find solutions if something is not working.  

After the conversation is over, the customer is asked to leave feedback to analyze the quality of customer support they received. This helps the business improve its customer service teams and strategies. 

Smaller businesses may handle these steps independently, meaning they receive, acknowledge, and troubleshoot customer problems directly, or have a single assistant to manage the customer experience. It can be time-consuming, but quite necessary—especially for new businesses still building their reputation in the market. 

Customer service teams can also collect survey responses or feedback forms to improve the product and user experience. 

Why Customer Service Matters

As competition arises between companies selling similar products and services, exceptional customer service can be a great way to distinguish your business. According to a recent study from research and advisory firm Gartner, 81% of companies say they expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience (CX). Meanwhile, a survey from PwC finds that nearly three-quarters of consumers point to CX as an important factor in their purchasing decisions. This sample data shows customer service is not just another nice-to-have, but an important aspect of turning your business into a successful venture.

Types of Customer Service

The type of customer service a business offers depends on the size of its current team, available budget, staff bandwidth, and time constraints. Here are some of the most common types of customer service offerings: 

Email Support

In this type of customer support, queries are answered through email. This can be one of the most cost-effective ways to provide solutions. 

Pros
    • Ability to add links, videos, and images to better explain suggestions
    • Can save emails for future reference
    • Easier to track, forward, and store email queries
Cons
    • Lack of human quality, voice, and tone.
    • Emails can be ignored, accidentally deleted, or go to spam, leading to delayed communication
    • Typing up correspondence can be time-consuming

On-Call Support

Here, a business’s representative offers to talk a customer through their difficulties and offer solutions via phone call. 

Pros
    • Can be easier, faster, and save time for both parties
    • Offers a more personal connection
    • Easier to explain solutions by talking
Cons
    • Can be expensive if you need to add staff to manage calls
    • Can feel intrusive for some customers 
    • Can result in long wait times

In-Person Customer Support 

In this scenario, either the customer or the agent visits the other in person to figure out potential solutions. 

Pros
    • Can increase customer satisfaction through personal interaction
    • Can be easier to demonstrate something live rather than sendingscreenshots and videos over email.
Cons
    • Can be expensive and time-consuming
    • Can require on-site support team

If possible, always schedule an appointment for in-person visits to avoid intrusive, awkward, and unfruitful interactions. 

Key Takeaways

  • Customer service is one-on-one support that businesses provide to help customers choose, buy, and/or maintain their product or services.
  • It can refer to either pre-planned or spontaneous actions to enhance customer experience. 
  • Customer service can be offered through multiple channels, including phone, email, and in person. 
  • Good customer service can drive customer loyalty and repeat business.