What is customer service?

behind register_00086[1]There are as many definitions of “customer service” as there are customer service books and gurus. And, while there is no single correct definition, I would like to submit mine for consideration:

Customer service is a voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer.

Within this short definition, there are seven elements that I suggest we explore further:

Voluntary: Providing exceptional customer service, unlike executing mandatory job functions for which an employee is paid, is always voluntary. Employees don’t have to deliver it. And most don’t. (This explains why you almost always receive the deli sandwich you ordered but may not always receive it with a smile.)

Act: Service is a verb. As such, it requires action. Without initiative, one’s readiness and ability to initiate action, there is no exceptional customer service.

Demonstrates: Exceptional customer service reflects job essence, an employee’s highest priority at work.

Genuine: Exceptional customer service is not about masking your true feelings. It’s about actualizing them. There’s no place for duplicity or phoniness in the delivery of exceptional customer service.

Desire: Employees must want to provide exceptional customer service. Exceptional customer service doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by choice.

Delight: Employees decide for themselves whether or not to expend the discretionary effort required to elevate a customer service experience from satisfactory (ordinary) to delightful (extraordinary).

Customer: Customers are our highest priority at work and the ultimate basis for our employment.

What’s your definition of customer service? Please share in the comments section below. If you don’t have one at your place of business, consider scheduling the development of a definition as a group activity at your next department meeting.

Put your staff at ease by reminding them that there’s no single correct definition of customer service. Whatever you come up with together will be just right for your work group. And, you’ll be raising awareness about the topic of customer service, which, besides actually serving customers, may be the best use of your time at work.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary (AMACOM Books) by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

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  • All4Service

    Steve, as you said there are many different ways to define this. However, I do like yours. It’s precise and an excellent way to put it. It’s a good thing to learn from a pro!

  • Thank you. My preference is for terminology that is succinct – whether a definition, mission/vision statement, etc. That way, it’s more likely to be remembered/acted upon rather than forgotten/ignored.

  • Alyssa Mendes

    Steve, great definition of customer service. I am in the industry and I always try to explain to people I work with the key aspects of our job and you nailed it. Great post!

  • “Employees decide for themselves whether or not to expend the
    discretionary effort required to elevate a customer service experience
    from satisfactory (ordinary) to delightful (extraordinary).”

    Sometimes employees want to, but corporate code stops them cold! Companies should always be evaluating their process and systems to see what could be done to give employees the ability to actually do their jobs and do it well!

  • I like your definition, Steve.

    Here’s the definition I use:
    Customer service is the extent to which the experience meets, exceeds, or falls short of customer expectations.

  • Alyssa, thank you very much! Let me know what definition your team produces if you decide to share this with them as a group activity.

  • The definition of discretionary effort I’m using is this: The level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required.
    Corporate code may influence employees’ behavior, but it does not determine their behavior. Ultimately, an employee chooses for himself whether or not he will express genuine interest, offer a sincere and specific compliment or, in some other way, expend the discretionary effort required to elevate a customer service experience from satisfactory (ordinary) to delightful (extraordinary).
    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.