Defining customer service

Originally published 7/14/17

In many roles today, customer service is listed as a necessary skill. This can be applied to so many job titles as the increasing number of ways social media can be used to describe and document events and experiences reaches far beyond the initial customer and line-level employee interaction. Thusly, the customer experience applies to all roles now more than ever as expectations are high.

I take issue with this approach though, as perception and reality of customer service are two entirely different things. Before we break down this skill, we need to be able to define it appropriately.

Customer service is defined in many ways, but let’s define the terms individually (from Google):

Customer – a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business.

Service – the action of helping or doing work for someone.

So together, customer service can be defined as a person or organization that buys the action of helping or doing work.

Synonymous results for these words provide a much better term, which I prefer to use: kindness to the customer.

There have been some blurry lines on what customer service really is, as it is misconstrued by the reviewing public during purchases. The issue is, that is not what we are talking about. What is being thought of are consumed services. Let’s take a better look at both:

A consumer service/product/good is one that a customer will purchase and has an expected result. For example, if you go to the mechanic for an oil change, the expected result for your payment of that service is the oil change.

Customer service is not paid for, it is a mixture of empathy, kindness, acceptance, and assistance. This would be more in line with the mechanic being polite, explaining the process and costs up front, warning you of possible concerns, and ensuring timely turnaround or proper expectations for the service to be completed.

So where is the rub? Most reviews of businesses I see online are negatively speaking of the poor customer service at the business in question while providing only information about the lack of an item availability, failure of an item to perform, or a discrepancy in costs. What these reviews fail to mention are the way the employees handled the situation. To better understand this, here is an example situation:

You have an older computer and the “hard drive crashed.” You take it to a technician to repair and retrieve your data. As you enter, the technician is polite and appears to be helpful. As they quote a rough estimate of costs, you agree to a consumer service. The technician then places your hard drive into a reading station to try and review what data will need to be backed up, only to find that there is a burning smell coming from the drive. The technician tells you that your hard drive has some serious electrical concerns, and traditional methods of data recovery will not work. The whole time, the technician is focused on providing you the best experience they can while delivering the bad news about your data and the state of the hard drive. You are then presented with costly options which have no guarantee of if you will get any data back.

With this example, the customer could be very angry and demand a refund while shouting about how awful the customer service is, all the while seeking some form of recompense for this transgression. These customers will ultimately go to social media to wail about the event. Alternatively, with an understanding and grounded approach to the situation, the customer has the opportunity to be grateful for the information and either request a refund or apply the cost to a higher tier service.

I won’t go into details of my own experiences, but I have seen this very example go either way with a customer. In this case, ask yourself:

  1. What happens when you receive a response that was not expected? 
  2. Was the customer service to blame, or the inability of the consumer service to provide a wanted result? 
  3. What if the customer service isn’t to blame, and the situation is just frustrating? 
  4. Did you get what you needed? 
  5. Would you consider this a good experience with customer service?

You’ll notice I mentioned needs up in #4. Need is a very difficult word, because we could say that we “needed that data,” but did we not need the careful eye of someone to properly diagnose the situation? Did their knowledge of the next steps to take fill a new need created when the failure appeared to be greater than initially thought?

Again, we go back to definitions to determine our immediate perception:

Need – Require, necessity

Want – A desire to possess or do (something)

Customer service is on a different level than products or a consumer service. The customer service skill must be at the forefront of whatever role in business you take. As a customer service representative, I live and breathe on helping people. I don’t feel that my job is done when the immediate concern is resolved, I seek to provide further assistance if available, and to be of service in any capacity I can. This is what keeps me going daily. If I cannot provide you with the answer you want, I will definitely work to give you the information or assistance you need.


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