What Is Customer Service? The Ultimate Guide

The customer service guide you need to keep your customers happy and help your company grow better.

Written by: Sophia Bernazzani
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Customer service.

For you, those words might refer to the name of your team or department. The words might remind customers of hours wasted waiting on hold, repeating information to representatives, and not getting their problems resolved. 

The state of current customer service is important because, as it turns out, helping your customers succeed helps your company, too. And happy customers will always grow your business faster than sales and marketing by telling friends, family, and referring people to your business.

If you’re wondering what good customer service looks like, fear not. In this post, we’ll cover customer service 101, including:


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what is customer service?

In most customer service interactions, a customer reaches out to a company to make a request, ask a question, or note a complaint, and a customer service representative (or their team) works quickly to provide support, expertise, and assistance.

The quality of a company's customer service — good or bad — can play a huge role in a company's success. 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether or not to do business with a company at all.

And, unhappy customers with bad experiences can cost you valuable business, as 50% of customers say they would switch to a new brand after one single bad experience. 

If you think customer service (or customer support) is at odds with customer success, think again — building a relationship with customers by providing excellent service is a critical building block of helping customers succeed.

One of the biggest differences? While customer service is typically reactive, customer success is proactive — wherein customer success managers reach out to work with customers on strategy and goal-setting, compared to customer service representatives responding to individual problems and troubleshooting. But more on that later.

Types of Customer Service

types of customer serviceThere are a few different ways companies can deliver customer service to customers — let's dive into each:

1. Phone

Many organizations provide customer service primarily through phone interactions. Customers call a hotline, enter a queue, and a customer service representative picks up the phone. Forrester found that phone-based customer service is decreasing in popularity, though — and that phone service is viewed as an escalation of another channel, such as email or web-based service.

2. Text Messages

Conversocial surveyed consumers to learn about their messaging habits, and while 71% of respondents said they expect brands to offer customer support over messaging channels, only 48% of businesses are equipped to reach customers via messaging. 

Customers want to connect with businesses on this channel (for order confirmations, reminders, status updates, surveys, coupons, etc.) because they’re already using those platforms daily, so it’s a convenient way for them to get support. 

GrubHub uses SMS messaging to glean customer feedback on recent orders and its mobile app.

example of customer service text

2. Email

A lot of customer service is still requested and delivered via email — where it's still possible to provide a human touch, even over a computer. In fact, Twilio found that email was the second most preferred method of customer service communication for all ages — which is perhaps a reflection of the time-saving capabilities of submitting requests on your own time, without having to wait on hold. Soon, we'll provide you with customer service email templates to send to cases to solve a variety of issues.

Zappos is well-known for its commitment to excellent customer service, but this email example might take the cake. It's not replicable for every single customer query imaginable, but the rep is clearly committed to delivering service — and making the customer happy in the process.

example of email customer service

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3. Self-Service

Many customers are now turning to DIY customer service methods to get the information they need quickly and easily without having to hop on the phone or wait for an email reply. In fact, more than 69% of consumers try to solve issues on their own.

In response, businesses are developing knowledge bases (which is consumers’ most preferred form of self-service) where they publish articles and videos that explain how to use products and services so customers can seek out touchless customer service whenever they need it.

HubSpot Academy's Knowledge Base is chock-full of articles and videos that explain step-by-step processes for using HubSpot software. And for bigger-picture learning and training, HubSpot Academy provides free certifications and training to learn about the inbound methodology and specific verticals within the software.

4. Messaging

Messaging as a support channel has grown significantly in use over time, as it is now one of the most popular ways that customers seek out service help. With more than 3 billion users worldwide, businesses are starting to rely on them to offer quick and easy content distribution and customer service to audiences. 

These conversations can take many forms, including text-based messaging (discussed above), messaging apps, and direct messaging on social media (more on that below).

Here at HubSpot, we use Facebook Messenger to distribute blog posts like this one, but other businesses are using these apps to make it easier for customers to make purchases and get the help they need — in apps they're already using to communicate with friends and family.

example of customer service messaging

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5. Social Media

Customer service on social mediais another up-and-coming way businesses are communicating with customers more frequently.

Customers can get fast and easy responses to questions they have on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and social media gives businesses permission to be a little more fun, too. Some brands even create specific accounts for customer support.

Yelp Eat24 uses Twitter to provide great customer service — while still making customers laugh in the process.

example of customer service on social media

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6. Live Chat

Customers say that the most frustrating part of customer service is long holds and wait times, so live chat is an option for providing speedy customer service without forcing your customers to wait for replies. A bonus is that it can be operated by humans, bots, or a combination of the two. 

Live chat widgets can launch on company web pages to provide instant customer support and service — in another easy way that might be more convenient for your customers. They require full-time dedication to operate successfully, so some businesses turn to chatbots to operate them more affordably — like CenturyLink did when it employed Conversica's Angie to start communicating with new leads to save time for sales and customer service staff.

Here at HubSpot, our live chat appears on the bottom right hand side of site pages where we think a visitor might need extra assistance — like our pricing page:

example of live chat customer service

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7. In-person

Lastly, another type of customer service is in-person service. This is for brick and mortar stores in industries like the food and retail space. When someone goes shopping, they usually are approached by a customer service representative who asks if they need help and then rings them up.

While it might seem like in-person customer service is a technique of the past, nothing makes a better impression than a great experience in person.

Now that you have a better idea of the various types of customer service let's take a look at some specific examples to provide a little more context and inspiration for your business.

Good Customer Service Examples

For every bad service experience you can think of; you might also be able to recall an experience that knocked your socks off because a rep went out of the way to help you find solutions. 

As a business, you might think that spending additional time on customer issues won’t have a meaningful payoff for you, but it will. Happy customers bring better results, so it’s worth creating a team culture of dedication and extreme helpfulness. 

Check out these good customer service examples from a few more big brands — along with actionable takeaways you can bring back to your team. 

One such example, The Ritz-Carlton Company, gives each of its employees the autonomy to spend up to $2,000 solving customer problems — without needing to seek approval. And while that whopping amount might be over budget for your organization, the more significant reason why this company has created such a policy bears remembering for every customer service team.

The Ritz-Carlton prizes employee engagement — because it believes engagement is the key to cultivating employees who are dedicated to improving customer engagement, too. Learn more about its philosophy — and that of three other leaders in customer service — in this blog post.

Customer Service Quotes From Leaders

Some of the most well-known business success stories can be credited to great customer service — at least partly.

After all, attracting new customers with a fantastic product or service is only half of the journey — a big part of revenue growth is keeping existing customers so they come back and purchase from you again and again.

Leaders of brands like Intuit, Pepsico, and Zappos have a lot of wisdom to offer when it comes to customer service — and that’s because they doubled down on it and made it their mission. 

Amazon, whose CEO is Jeff Bezos, has been optimizing the customer experience for a number of years by making shopping easier. Bezos advocates for “trying to do things well” as the cornerstone for improving brand reputation and establishing a positive brand identity. This hard work has paid off, as Amazon is known as the quickest and easiest way to buy things you need. 

Read the rest of these customer service quotes to inspire yourself — and your team — to provide the best service possible and to see the bigger picture for your business.

What are reasonable customer service expectations?

Customer expectations for the service they receive are at an all-time high, and it’s minimally painless and virtually cost-free for them to switch to a competitor if you aren’t meeting their needs. In fact, customers will simply switch to a competitor after one bad experience, and the number jumps to 80% if it's more than once. 

Nowadays, customer service expectations revolve around how quickly you resolve their issues. Second to that is being able to access real-time, 24/7 support and then having conversations with friendly support agents. 

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Customers also expect to be delighted with above-and-beyond service, a lot of which comes from personalization. Customers are highly likely to purchase exclusively from brands that show they understand them, and 66% of customers already expect you to understand their needs and expectations. 

Well serving your customers and meeting their needs will always pay off, as mistakes are not a deterrent if you provide excellent customer service. 

Delight Customers With Remarkable Service

In today's customer service landscape, the customer has the power. So it's up to customer service pros to help them succeed. Remember, when you help your customers succeed, you'll allow your business to grow by positively impacting customers as well as your bottom line.

So, begin implementing the various types of customer service we reviewed and use the examples provided for inspiration.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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