Whether your dream career is in marketing, finance, hospitality or something way outside the business field, developing strong customer service skills will help you succeed. Providing a great customer experience isn’t just good for customers – it’s also important for building your own career!
What is customer service?
Simply put, customer service is the act of providing support to both prospective and existing customers. It may involve helping customers solve problems, teaching them how to use products or services and answering questions.
“At Publix, service epitomizes our company,” says Retail Staffing Specialists Drake Stevens and Debbie Savage. “It’s more than just the level of personal attention we give our customers—it’s a genuine investment in experience and relationships we build. It doesn’t only apply to our customers, but also our associates. Service is how we pay attention to customer and associate needs, handle issues and follow through on promises and commitments.”
And they’re not alone! Customer service is critical, from the retail and food service industries to medical and trade professions and everywhere in between.
Why does customer service matter?
Good customer service leads to happy clients and customers, which positively affects a company's growth. Effective customer service can lead to the following:
- Increased loyalty and satisfaction, leading to repeat sales
- Improved word-of-mouth recommendations
- A better understanding of your customers
Most importantly, brands can't afford not to care. The quality of a company's customer service — good or bad — has a significant impact on both existing and potential customers.
- 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service.
- 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor to decide whether or not to do business with a company.
- 68% of consumers would react by telling family and friends about a bad experience by posting it on a social network.
- 50% of customers claim they would switch to a new brand after just one bad experience.
In the words of Missy Perry, a Principal Team Leader in Service and Hospitality at Chick-fil-A, “Providing excellent service helps build connections and brand loyalty that is critical to sustained success.”
Not just a process
While most organizations have processes detailing how to interact with customers, the best operations know that customer service goes beyond standard operating procedures; it's a strategy!
“We would not exist without happy customers,” says Judy Busocker, Youth Outreach Specialist at Tailored Brands. “We strive to build customers for life. Many clients first come to us for a special occasion, but we understand this is not a one-and-done opportunity. We want to be sure they are satisfied and will continue to shop with us for a lifetime. We are passionate about perfection and strive to provide a one-of-a-kind shopping experience with compelling products and world-class service. We are constantly evolving to improve our customer experience. This includes sending surveys to clients, making Medallia scores known to stores and constantly trying to improve these benchmarks."
Customer service can also provide a competitive advantage. "Our associates' primary responsibilities are to provide best-in-class service to our customers by meeting or exceeding their expectations," say Steven and Savage (Publix). "If you keep the customers’ wants and needs in mind, you’ll find many ways to improve your customers’ shopping experience." The founder of Publix, Mr. George, believed in treating customers like royalty. He had only the best in mind for his customers when dreaming up his early supermarket innovations — automatic doors, fluorescent lighting, and piped-in music, to name a few. "At Publix, we empower our associates to make the right decisions, and we schedule our associates to ensure we have the right people at the right place at the right time."
According to Chick-fil-A, genuine hospitality is a combination of service processes and caring for customers. "Whether at the front counter, in our dining rooms, in the drive-thru, or when delivering orders, our Team Members are the most critical part of supporting our customer service strategy, says Perry. "It starts with the basics, such as making eye contact, smiling and serving our Customers enthusiastically and in a friendly way. We then strive to go above and beyond, meeting Customers where they are and looking for opportunities to care for them personally in unexpected ways."
Technology provides a boost
Technology plays an increasingly important role in customer service. Whether collecting feedback, communicating with customers, providing new shopping methods or monitoring online reviews, there are endless tools that can improve customer service.
Walgreens believes in moving quickly and staying agile. Part of their customer service strategy is to build a powerful digital platform to improve customers’ omnichannel experience—allowing customers to pick up where they left off on one channel and continue the experience on another.
With the implementation of Publix.com, Publix was able to serve traditional shoppers who prefer the brick-and-mortar experience while engaging new customers through e-commerce methods. "We are continually adding self-checkout, catering, Centralized Pick-Up (CPU), curbside and prescription pickup to name a few," say Steven and Savage.
The most sought-after skills
After talking with our partners at Chick-fil-A, Publix, Men's Wearhouse and Walgreens, we noticed most in-demand customer service skills were consistent across industries:
- Active listening – Fully concentrating on others with a genuine desire to help them
- Communication – Clearly and concisely conveying information
- Empathy – Seeing things from another's point of view; understanding where they are coming from
- Positivity - Being friendly, enthusiastic and maintaining a can-do attitude without being easily frazzled by negative feedback
- Problem-solving - Developing unique, creative solutions to difficult issues or situations; thinking on your feet
As with honing any skill, practice makes perfect! You don’t have to wait until you have the job, however. Our partners offered advice on what you can do now to gain experience.
- Build relationships - Believe it or not, building strong relationships with your classmates and friends can enhance your communication skills. “At Publix, we are in the people business; we just happen to sell groceries!” says Stevens and Savage. "If students learn to effectively communicate and build solid relationships with their peers, it will benefit them in the people business."
- Be mindful of your interactions - Chick-fil-A's Perry says, "Think about how you interact personally. Are you making eye contact when having a conversation? Are you smiling? Are you listening and focusing on the other person, eliminating distractions such as cell phones? Are you treating others with respect? These are great habits to practice every day that are fundamental to great customer service."
- Practice empathy - "Practice the skills of problem-solving and empathy and understanding," says Walgreens. Empathy is the ability to sense other people's emotions and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes will enable you to better relate to them and help you think outside the box to create unique solutions.
- Work in retail - "Everyone should work in retail at some point in their work career, says Busocker (Men's Wearhouse). "It puts you face to face with the client. Every day is a new day with new experiences, filled with problem-solving opportunities."
Thank you to Chick-fil-A, Men's Wearhouse (Tailored Brands), Publix and Walgreens for sharing your customer service insights!