9 Key Elements Of Great Customer Service
Building a great customer service team doesn’t happen by accident. It starts with a strategy that involves hiring the right people, leveraging the appropriate tools, and following effective processes. It’s not easy but laying a foundation for great support early on is critical for the growth and success of any business.
If you’ve ever baked a cake, you know that most cake recipes include common elements, such as flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. In a similar way, all excellent customer service agents (and teams) share some common characteristics.
These key components of customer service teams are vital for long-term, empathetic customer support—whether you’re in ecommerce, SaaS, or manufacturing. Cultivate these elements across the different members of your team, and you’ll end up with a customer service organization that your customers find reliable and helpful—an essential piece of your long-term success as an organization.
9 Key Components of Great Customer Service
Great customer support is built on a foundation of trust. Every interaction you have with a customer is an opportunity to build—or destroy—trust. If you aren’t seen as trustworthy, your customers will lack loyalty and respect for your brand, and they might eventually end up leaving for a competitor.
Building trust is bigger than just your support team. It involves your brand, your product, and your entire organization. But that doesn’t mean your customer support team doesn’t have a part to play. Your support team can build trust with customers through transparent communication, setting and meeting expectations, and always telling the truth—even when the truth might be difficult to hear.
In the long run, honesty and keeping promises builds trust, and trust builds loyal customers.
As you’ll see below, many of the other elements of a great customer service team trace back to trust.
Clear communication strengthens the relationship your customers have with your brand. This starts with hiring support agents who can write and speak clearly and effectively. Familiarity with communicating via common support channels—like chat, email, and phone—and common support tools—like Zendesk or Help Scout—will make your support team members more efficient and effective.
Communicating with customers isn’t easy, because customers come to your support team from all over the map (literally and figuratively). Customer service teams need to be able to communicate effectively with all kinds of people—frustrated, angry, confused, aggressive, happy, and more.
That’s why for customer service teams, things like vocabulary and grammar are only the foundation of effective communication. A high level of emotional intelligence is also a critical piece of the puzzle. The ability to empathize, anticipate objections, lead conversations, and reassure customers will help your team serve customers well, regardless of the situation at hand.
It’s also worth noting that communication with your customers doesn’t end with your support team. Although they may be the people who communicate most often with customers, plenty of other teams interact with customers as well. Any interaction your customers have with your brand should be consistent, which means your marketing materials, surveys, and one-on-one calls between product or customer success and customers are all opportunities for effective communication.
Support teams are made up of knowledge workers. Practically, what that means is that support agents must be able to retain, reference, and leverage information quickly. After all, your customers are often reaching out to customer support to ask a question or troubleshoot something. They’re hoping you know more about the product and issue than they do.
Building a knowledgeable support team starts with hiring and onboarding, but it continues throughout the entire duration of employment. As your product changes and new technology is introduced, you need to keep your team well-informed and resourced. Keeping your team up-to-date and armed with the knowledge they need enables them to serve your customers quickly and effectively.
Internal and external knowledge management tools—like Guru or Helpjuice—are critical to the success of a modern support team. And while tools are vital, helping your team create habits of documenting their knowledge is invaluable. With more information flying around than our brains can handle, we need reliable ways to locate and recall that information. An effective knowledge management tool enables this, while also making the same knowledge accessible to your customers when human support is unavailable.
With an increasingly competitive landscape, customer expectations are higher than ever today.
We all know this. We each have high expectations for purchasing quality products or services, and we have equally high expectations for receiving good (and fast) support. Studies have shown that 15% of callers hang up after being on hold for just 40 seconds.
Given how connected the world is today, support inquiries are coming in from many different channels: email, social media, text, Slack, phones, and more. Your support team needs to be set up in such a way as to respond to each channel in a way that’s appropriate and meets your customers’ expectations.
Mission-critical products have an even greater need for fast response times. Achieving quick responses might require some companies to hire support agents around the globe in order to have 24/7 coverage. The right approach will vary based on your product and customers’ needs, but fast response times are quickly becoming non-negotiable in today’s economy.
Mistakes happen. Luckily, most customers understand that. Every support team will have to deal with complaints from upset customers, but it’s how you respond to those mistakes that matter.
As explained in the service recovery paradox, customers who experience a service failure and a successful recovery are often more loyal than customers who’ve never experienced an issue. In other words, when you handle your mistake the right way, it can actually be better for your business.
Empathetic customer service starts with listening and owning the problem. Taking accountability for product issues shows your customers you care, opening up the door for an apology that can actually resonate. But it’s important to note that apologizing isn’t as simple as saying “I’m sorry”. An effective apology communicates empathy for the customer and brings the issue to a satisfactory resolution. This doesn’t mean you’re always doing exactly what your customers want; but you’re at least helping them feel heard and explaining why you’re unable (or unwilling) to accommodate their request.
Failing to own up for your mistakes destroys your brand’s trust and credibility. On the flip side, it’s not uncommon to see great apologies shared on social media, which generates positive buzz around the company.
Great customer support teams don’t make it difficult for customers to get in touch. At the same time, it’s usually not wise to offer support through every single channel. Knowing which channels your customers prefer is the key to offering the right support channels.
Depending on your business, this might mean offering email and live chat support, but not phone support. You might also need to offer support through social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.
Offering a single channel early on might suffice, but as your company grows and your customers’ needs change, you’ll need to monitor and adapt to their preferences. This frequently means adding additional support channels over time. Simply ask your customers how they prefer to engage with you, then adjust your support tooling based on those insights.
Even established businesses regularly need to assess the channels they offer support on. For example, in late 2022 Frontier Airlines decided to stop offering phone support for their customers. While some customers found this frustrating, Frontier made this choice to reduce their support costs and to enable support agents to help more customers (e.g. an agent can handle three chats at one time, versus only one phone call).
Great customer support is something that customers can rely on. They know what to expect, because you deliver the same excellent experience over and over again. A lack of consistency from one experience to the next leaves customers feeling unsure about your brand, which eventually causes trust to deteriorate.
Onboarding plans, training programs, and standard operating procedures can help get your team operating the same way across the board, giving your customers that consistent support experience.
A lack of consistency can be discovered by measuring the right things, such as customer satisfaction, response times, and resolution times. To identify potential issues, look for outliers and learn why they happened, then put processes in place to iron out the kinks.
The more consistent your customer support experience is, the better.
A great customer experience begins with a great product. In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say that a wonderful support experience should now be considered part of your product experience.
If your product consistently lets customers down, each time they reach out to support they’ll be more and more dissatisfied. Your support team might be world-class, but your customers will still be unhappy.
Without a high-quality product that solves your customer’s problems, your customers are going to have a difficult time and your customer support team is going to struggle to do their job. As your support team struggles to do their job, your support experience will suffer. It’s a catch-22.
These realities are why it’s important for customer support teams to partner with product and engineering teams to improve the product over time. Customer support tickets contain a wealth of customer insights. They show you which parts of your product need work and which are most frustrating. Tapping into this knowledge to shape your future product roadmap makes for a better product and a better customer experience.
It’s also worth noting that when your support team has a say in the product roadmap, they’re likely to feel more invested in their roles. This can lead to things like higher employee satisfaction and less turnover, which also can have a positive impact on your customers’ experience.
It’s well known that most customers prefer to solve their own problems instead of contacting your support team. Offering self-service options and proactive support can make your customers happier and save your support team from dealing with repetitive tickets.
A thorough knowledge base or help center is often the first place that support teams roll out a more proactive approach to helping customers. In-app tooltips are another great way to offer tailored, proactive help throughout your product, making it easy for customers to find the information they need right when they need it most.
Similarly, proactive support through automated or human touch can also create a positive customer support experience. For example, if a customer orders a product that’s on backorder, a support agent could reach out to set expectations and let them know their order will be arriving later than expected. Even better, your UI could show the back-order status before the order is placed. While it may blur the lines between the product experience and the support experience, this level of proactiveness shows customers you truly care about their experience.
Building a great customer service organization takes many different ingredients. As the world evolves and technology advances, support leaders need to constantly adapt as well. The bar for great support has moved higher, meaning customer support teams need to think strategically about how they’re operating every day.
At the end of the day, great support comes down to building trust through people, technology, and processes. Each of the customer service elements discussed above contributes to building trust, which takes time and hard work but brings a major payoff.
If you’re struggling to build an effective customer service team, our team at Peak Support can help. We have years of experience working with companies big and small to create consistently great customer experiences. Whether you’re looking to outsource your entire customer service operation or just to supplement your existing team, we can help. Contact us today for more info!