1. Money
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Customer Service


Customer Service

Customer Service

Image (c) Eileen Bach / Getty Images

At its most basic level, Customer service is an organization's ability to supply their customers' wants and needs.

But this definition leaves out the transactional nature of customer service.

You can say, for instance, that a warehouse model business, where goods are laid out and customers choose items themselves and carry them to a checkout, supplies a customer’s need for a product or products (assuming the customer finds what he wants), but from the customer’s point of view, there’s no customer service involved in such a model.

A Better Definition of Customer Service

Customers assume that customer service involves an interaction with another human being, whether that person helps them find something, choose something or buy something. (How to Help a Customer takes a closer look at the basic customer service transaction; if your business deals with customers face-to-face, you may want to use this article to educate your staff.)

For businesses, then, a more useful definition is that customer service is a business’s ability to satisfy its customers.

Companies can have all the elements of customer service in place, from wait-staff through return policies, but if customers are not satisfied with the way their transaction was handled or its results, they won’t be back.

And that’s the core of good customer service – bringing old customers back (and attracting new ones through the “good news” that current customers are spreading about your business).

Customers and business managers alike like to talk about what good customer service is (and isn't), but I think this definition by ACA Group sums up what excellent customer service is beautifully: "excellent customer service (is) the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations."

Accepting this definition means expanding our thinking about customer service; if we're going to consistently exceed customers' expectations, we have to recognize that every aspect of our business has an impact on customer service, not just those aspects of our business that involve face-to-face customer contact.

Improving customer service involves making a commitment to learning what our customers' needs and wants are, and developing action plans that implement customer friendly processes.

Customer Service Is Critical to Small Businesses

For small businesses, committing to continually strive to provide the best customer service possible is especially important because:

1) Small businesses can’t survive long-term bad press.

Customers judge the customer service of every business they deal with – and they’re much more likely to share bad ratings with other people than good.

Happy customers who have their issues resolved tell between 4-6 people about their experience. Meanwhile, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience - and about 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people about their poor experience, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.

2) Providing top-notch customer service is one of few ways small businesses can compete with larger retailers.

In fact, as Daniel Butler, vice president of Retail Operations for the National Retail Federation, points out, this “buyer experience” is where owners of small stores have a big advantage over their chain-store counterparts. “They can actually be in touch with their customers and make a personal connection.”

So for small businesses, the watchwords for customer service should be assessment and improvement. My Customer Service Makeover will show you how you can improve the basic elements of the customer service your small business provides.

Common Misspellings:

Custemer service, custumer service.


Providing excellent customer service is one way a small business can distinguish itself from the competition.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.