It’s no secret that good customer service is an essential aspect of any business. More than 80% of surveyed customer service professionals view customer experience as a primary or secondary differentiating factor for their organization.  

Yet, for many businesses, meeting and exceeding client expectations can be a challenge. In 2020, 40% of surveyed consumers stopped doing business with one or more companies because of poor customer service.

To show you how to improve customer service, we looked to managers and team leads at top companies to see what worked for them. Follow these tips to help decrease churn and show clients the value your company offers beyond just your product.

1. Set measurable goals

Before you can improve your customer service, you must first define what “improve” actually means. Start by looking at internal company goals and determining why you want to improve customer service. Are you trying to increase retention? Do you want to boost your customer review scores?

Luis Hernandez, VP of customer success at Geckoboard, agrees that setting specific goals is critical when it comes to customer service.

”You first have to identify exactly what you want to improve,” says Hernandez. “Do you want to make your customer service more efficient? Do you want to have a higher CSAT? Do you want to introduce new channels for support? All the above?”

Once you define what “improve” means for your company, you can define the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to track your progress and show how your plan to improve customer service is going. For example, if your goal is to increase customer satisfaction, a top KPI would be your customer satisfaction score (CSAT). You could then display these KPIs on a customer service dashboard to keep them top-of-mind for your team.

2. Respond quickly

One quantifiable way of improving customer service is reducing your average first response time. A quick response helps show customers they are a priority. Even if you can’t solve their problem instantly, the customer knows you’re aware of the issue  and are looking for a solution.

Keep in mind, customers have different expectations regarding response time depending on the channel they use. According to Zendesk’s research, customers expect faster reply times for live chat than social media and quicker times for social media than for email.

Zendesk’s guide to expected response times
Zendesk’s guide to expected response times

Use these benchmarks to set specific goals for your team and motivate them to improve their first response times. If you’re short-staffed or struggling to respond quickly, consider setting up a chatbot to provide instant responses for simple questions. Chatbots can also help direct customers to the right person on your team and cut down on the time they spend on hold or being transferred.

3. Reduce friction for the customer

To improve customer satisfaction and reduce frustration, make it as easy as possible for them to find answers or get in touch with your brand if they have a problem. Help them resolve their concerns quickly and easily, so they can go back to using and getting value from your product.

“Make it easy for your users to contact you,” says Linde Loes Vergroesen, customer success at Eduflow. “Build a knowledge base with frequently asked questions so users can help themselves when you’re not online.”

List your contact information clearly on your site or in your application. Display different contact methods, such as email, phone, and live chat, prominently under a “Contact Us” header or other similar calls-to-action.

In terms of self-service, build a library of resources that customers can use on their own time—whether that’s nights, weekends, or other off-hours—to resolve their issues. A knowledge baseor help center are ideal solutions for most companies.

You can track how well you’re reducing friction for the customer by monitoring your customer effort score (CES). Measure your CES by sending out surveys to users after customer service interactions or to those who access self-help materials, and compare your CES over time to see if your improvement efforts are working.

For more information on CES and how to calculate it, check out this resource.

4. Offer alternative solutions

You will inevitably have to say no to a customer at some point, but no one wants to receive a flat refusal in response to a request. Instead of focusing solely on what you can’t do, offer them an option or two that you can do.

“Always offer alternatives when you say ‘no’ to a customer,” advises Jack Porter, customer success specialist at Vyond. “This leaves them with something rather than nothing and tells them that you care.”

Say a customer asks you to add a particular feature, but this addition would be expensive and time-consuming and no other customers have asked for it. Find out their reasons for requesting the feature and offer an alternative solution when you explain you can’t develop the feature as requested. Suggest current features and discuss how those could help solve the customer’s problem, or tell them if there are new features in the pipeline they might find useful.

5. Balance automation and personalization

Automated systems can work wonders for the efficiency of your customer service team. For example, automatic shipping and tracking emails help keep your customer informed about their purchase without taking time away from your team.

But some customer concerns or questions can’t be addressed through automation.

“It's important to figure out which customer service tasks can be automated and which require a human touch,” says Peter Morrell, marketing manager at WizardPins. “Answering repetitive questions doesn't scale, but automations can't yet solve unique customer pain points.”

As you develop automated systems, make sure customers have a way to get in touch with alive rep if that’s what they prefer or if the automated system can’t solve their problem. Add a customer service phone number or chat information to automated emails, and include a “speak to a representative” option if you have an automated phone system.

6. Be empathetic

When you’re juggling multiple customer emails, calls, or support tickets, it can be easy to lose sight of an important fact: your customers are people, too. Their frustration with a bug in your product might be amplified by other work-related or personal concerns. Listen to their problem and let them know that you care and want to help them find a solution.

“My advice to any business looking to improve on customer service would be to have empathy,” says Roshni Champaneri, customer success support lead at Vyond. “Empathy can play a huge part in how a customer feels at the end of the day and what their experience will be like.”

Eduflow found this strategy particularly relevant during the pandemic.

“We work with teachers; if they reach out to me frustrated with our product I can only imagine what they must be going through during this pandemic and transition to online learning,” comments Loes Vergroesen. “So don’t take their frustration personally. Take a few moments, and respond with their point of view in mind.”

7. Encourage and implement feedback

One of the best ways to find out what customers think of your brand and product is to ask them. You could send out surveys and ask for feedback when customers contact you. For more information on the types of questions to include, check out this resource from Zendesk.

Send the survey to your email list, post it on your social media, and offer it to customers after they interact with your customer service team. Consider dedicating an email inbox for requests and suggestions and including it on your website and in your app.

Follow up with customers to show how you’re taking action based on their input—especially if you receive feedback about new features your customers want. Then, once the feature goes live, reach out to the customers who requested it. Let them know that you not only heard their suggestion, but you worked to make it a reality.

“I think customers are often pleasantly surprised when we reach out to let them know something they asked for is now live in the platform,” comments Laurie Kirchner, customer service manager at Vyond. “Having that healthy feedback loop with product really shows integrity, that we aren't just saying 'thank you for the suggestions' but that they lead to results!”

8. Support your customer service team

Streamlining internal processes is just as crucial as customer-facing processes if you want to improve customer service.

Encourage open communication within your team, so team members can ask for help when they need it. Consider using a specific tool for reps to redistribute their workload, so no single person is overwhelmed.

“We have...a dedicated channel on Slack for the team to ask other team members for help when needed to make sure that our responses are as good as they can be,” says Hernandez.

Offering dedicated places and times to discuss problems (and solutions) is another way to support your team.

“Doing things like workshops and office hours provides a great outlet for the team to be able to discuss things and ask for help when needed,” says Champaneri.

Talk to your team members and see what kind of support you can offer to help each of them improve, individually and as a group.

Improve customer service by building a relationship

The goal of customer service is to make sure customers are happy and that they see the value of working with your company, and it can be off-putting for customers when a brand is too pushy and is clearly only trying to make a sale. Approach each customer with the goal of building a relationship rather than selling a product.

“With each interaction you should try to contribute to building a meaningful relationship with your users,” notes Loes Vergroesen, “and of course help them solve their problems!”

Consider each customer’s needs and unique pain points and work together to find a solution. Show that you value the relationship, not just the sale.