The top customer service skills for exceptional customer experience

Customer service is indispensable if you want to retain customers. Benjamin Salisbury breaks down the best practices you need to woo your clients.

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All startup businesses know that customer relationship management is important, and that customer service is a critical part of this. But, only the best providers deliver a special customer experience that can take a startup's reputation and sales to the next level.

In this article we examine why customer service is so important, what benefits it provides startups and reveal the most important customer service skills that elevate customer experience so consumers want to return to a business and spread the word about the special service they received.

The top 8 customer service skills for customer experience

1. Empathy

Offering empathy to a customer can diffuse the rage they may be feeling when something goes wrong. It also helps a business understand the problem and then find the right solution.

“Consumers yearn for interactions where they feel heard and understood,” says Dr. Mollie Newton, founder of PetMeTwice. “Demonstrating empathy not only builds trust but also fosters a strong customer-business relationship.”

2. Efficiency

Nowadays, with so many transactions taking place online, customers expect fast problem fixes. Being able to quickly, but accurately solve a customer service issue will help your startup build a positive brand and reputation.

“By delivering prompt and efficient responses and solutions, you build more customer satisfaction and loyalty,” points out Stringer.

3. Communication skills

It is important to be honest with customers if there is no easy solution. Clear and upfront messaging sets expectations and you will please a customer by meeting or exceeding them.

Live chat capabilities, digital communication skills and good quality audio on phone calls can help. Combined with trained real people, they can assist customers with product enquiries, order tracking and problem resolution.

4. Product knowledge

It is vital that customer service agents understand the products and services they are dealing with inside out. If they don’t, the organisation's reputation will suffer. If they do, they can solve problems quickly and effectively.

Startups must keep on top of product updates, new launches and common problems linked to the product or service so they can quickly identify and solve problems.

5. Understanding customer needs

When a customer needs a problem resolved, they do not want to repeat themselves. They expect the person they are dealing with to quickly understand what they want and to anticipate how to respond and solve the issue.

“To understand and address customer needs you need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively, with a personalised touch that enhances their experience,” emphasises Stringer.

6. Problem solving

This is one of the most difficult skills to master, which also makes it one of the most important. It involves thinking laterally and bringing new insights to a specific scenario.

“Problem-solving abilities are indispensable,” says Dr. Mollie Newton. “Customers appreciate proactive and swift, practical solutions. This skill also leaves a lasting positive impression, encouraging customer loyalty.”

7. Taking ownership

Your customers have chosen your business because they want and expect a good service. With any business/customer relationship, things can go wrong but when they do, take ownership of the problem.

“Imagine how it would be for the customer,” advises Britt-Marie Monks, founder of The Holiday Fixer. “What would your expectations be? Walk in their shoes.”

8. The personal touch

There is no better way to retain customers and build a brand through superb customer service that creates a memorable customer experience than by providing a personal touch to make your customers feel special. “This is critical to any gold standard customer service,” says Stringer.

UK customer service levels at 8-year low

The UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) as measured by The Institute of Customer Service in its survey from July 2023 recorded its lowest score since 2015, 76.6 out of 100, a fall of 1.8 points compared to July 2022.

It showed customer satisfaction regarding solving problems increased, organisations have taken longer to resolve complaints and more remain unsolved. Each of the 13 sectors measured had lower customer satisfaction than a year ago.

Why is customer service so important?

The ICS said consumer trust has become “a priceless commodity” during times of economic instability. It is also something that doesn’t require huge financial investment to master, so startups have more than a level playing field from which to operate from in this area.

Consumers now have many options for any product or service they want or need. In a few seconds by browsing the internet, numerous buying options are available so businesses must stand out and offer something above and beyond simple, competent services.

By providing exceptional customer service and building a reputation for doing so, startups can rise above competitors and offer a compelling, clear reason for customers to select and return to them and increase revenue and profit, vital for any business.

What benefits can it bring to startups?

The most important benefit of providing excellent customer service is customer retention. Gaining repeat business is easier and more cost-effective than the costs and use of resources needed to win a new customer.

Indeed, the ICS estimates that it costs five times more to win new customers through traditional marketing spend than to retain existing customers.

A reputation for providing superb customer experiences is invaluable in building a brand for a startup. “Exceptional customer service can be a significant differentiator for start-ups looking to establish a strong presence and build a loyal customer base,” said Hannah Stringer, Marketing Director at business support service Moneypenny.

A strong, positive brand improves how people see your company and its products and services. It also increases a startup's competitive advantage and the customer lifetime value (CLV), the amount you can expect to earn from a customer over time. This is revenue that does not require more investment to achieve.

How can you market customer service expertise?

By providing customers with exceptional experiences, startups can utilise their reputation to win new business and retain existing custom.

Building a high Trustpilot score is probably the most important customer service benchmark today. Many potential customers will check a company’s Trustpilot rating to verify they are a reputable business. If the score is high, ideally with many ratings, consumers are much more likely to use them. The ICS data found that companies with high customer service ratings earn 114% more revenue per employee.

Our case study below, The Holiday Fixer, is a good example. With almost 100 reviews and the top rating of 5.0 out of 5.0, the business knows it can count on repeat custom and attract new business.

Gaining positive reviews on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, generating many followers on X and other social media platforms and engaging with followers, encouraging them to resend marketing messages and promote your business saves money on paid advertising.

“Because we get lots of repeat business through recommendations, we don’t really need to pay for advertising,” explains Britt-Marie Monks, founder of The Holiday Fixer. “If we did paid advertising, we would base it on our Trustpilot rating.”

What problems can poor customer service cause startups?

If a startup doesn’t invest in resources to deal with customers' problems, it takes longer to fix them. The ICS data showed that employees are spending almost 5 days a month dealing with customer service problems, up 25% on the prior year.

This impacts the reputation of a business as well as hitting the bottom line through lost productivity.

How live chat and digital communications can improve customer service

  • Quick response times.
  • Well-trained and knowledgeable agents.
  • Personalisation in interactions.
  • Clear and concise communication.
  • Seamless integration with other support channels.
  • Instant delivery to a global 24/7 audience.

Case study: Britt-Marie Monks, The Holiday Fixer

Britt-Marie Monks worked for a travel franchise in 2016 after organising her honeymoon in Mauritius. She soon built up an excellent reputation for tailor made holidays, gaining repeat business through recommendations.

It was the spark to set up her business The Holiday Fixer in 2018, creating luxurious bespoke holiday experiences and building a home working business. She now has 22 agents throughout the UK.

She allows her holiday fixers to run the business their own way, but one area she retains control over and is super strict about is customer service. “It’s integral to brand reputation,” Monks explains to Startups.

She wants the business to grow further and is about to launch PINCH Travel, focusing on special holiday experiences.

She does not charge her agents a fee. They earn commission as self-employed agents operating under the Holiday Fixer brand.

Customer service is the focus of everything. During COVID, clients needed constant reassurance and travel advice and updates for a rotating set of destinations.

“Every time a customer contacted us, we were there and we proactively pre-empted their questions”, she says. “As soon as a customer books with us we get to know them so we can provide a truly personalised service.”

What is your ‘secret sauce’ in terms of using customer service to strengthen your business?

“To take ownership of any problems. I hate it when I have had a problem and someone says, ‘well that has never happened before’. Well, it has now and it is our job not just to deal with it but to solve it if we possibly can.”

Monks believes it is vital to offer human interaction in a world of AI and automation. High end customers expect a special service, something out of the ordinary.

Focusing on customer service has given The Holiday Fixer a top Trustpilot rating and a superb brand reputation. “This helps our agents get more business easier because they have something trusted and successful to refer back to,” says Monks. It also helps with customer retention.

Customer service expertise has helped the business reduce advertising costs and Monks believes it is more effective.

Can you offer any expert tips for startups?

“Try and pre-empt what the customer wants, answers to likely problems and issues. Think about how you can service their needs. What would your expectations be?

“Have good processes in place for when things go wrong as they inevitably will on occasions.”

Monks believes the most important customer service skills are compassion, awareness and consideration of their situation. Company’s encounter problems every day, so could be blasé about them, but to a specific customer, the particular problem they have encountered may be very important for them.

Benjamin Salisbury - business journalist

Benjamin Salisbury is an experienced writer, editor and journalist who has worked for national newspapers, leading consumer websites like This Is Money and MoneySavingExpert.com, business analysts including Environment Analyst, AIM Group and written articles for professional bodies and financial companies. He covers news, personal finance, business, startups and property.

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