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What is Customer Service?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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Customer service can refer to the practice of providing people with a positive, helpful experience before, during or after buying something. It also can refer to a department within a company that focuses on these processes. Ideally, every worker is able to provide assistance and no client experiences discrimination. Employees can engage with individuals face-to-face, by phone or through written communications. Many businesses spend a great deal of time getting feedback and training their employees for this purpose, because it makes a client more likely to become loyal.

Definition: Process and Philosophy

When people refer to customer service, they usually are talking about the process of getting help related to a purchase. The purchase could have already happened, or it could be going on in the present. The term also refers to aid received that is related to something a person has already bought. Regardless of the timing of the sale, the main idea or guiding philosophy is that representatives from the store give the client a good experience, supplying what he needs or wants while treating him positively.

Although making a person feel good can seem simple on the surface, it requires a skill set not everyone has. A worker must not just ask questions, for example—he has to ask the right ones. He also must find solutions that are practical and distinguish one client from the next, always starting over fresh no matter how rough the last interaction was. Good representatives are also patient, hearing people out as much as time constraints allow.

Definition: Department

Sometimes people use this term when they are talking about a specific department within an agency. This section of the business focuses on how to best help shoppers, coming up with new techniques for how to interact with the public or position items for sale. People who work in this department also personally address the questions or problems people might have, such as finding something in the store or getting money back for a returned item. In either case, the general principle of positively interacting with the client always applies.

Provided by Every Worker

Even though an organization might have a customer service department, anyone who has the chance to give a shopper some assistance should do so to the best of their ability. This shows the public that the entire store, not just a single group of workers, thinks that a good experience is important. When people see this collective attitude, they usually think better of the company and keep coming back.

Received by Every Shopper

Customer service is not selective or discriminatory, meaning that workers ideally strive to give the same level of help to everybody who comes into the store or contacts the company. This is often challenging, because some people can be extremely demanding, making representatives feel frustrated. It also can be hard because men, women and children all can have different goals, backgrounds or ways of thinking and behaving. Employees therefore have to adapt when necessary to ensure that communication is effective and to solve problems.


Companies understand that some employees are naturally better at serving people than others, but because they want the public to get the impression that the entire business is willing to go the extra mile, they try to provide some basic training on how to aid shoppers. The training might include details on customer service policies, such as how long a call should be or whether certain types of transactions are allowable. It also can have a more marketing-oriented approach, such as explaining how the position of items in the store can improve how the client feels and what he buys. Workers almost always receive some formal training when they are hired, but after that, companies usually only provide it periodically as needed.


Employees can deliver service to people in three major ways: face-to-face interaction, phone calls and written communications including email. Businesses usually use all three delivery methods in some way, but some workers focus on just one, becoming specialized. This can increase efficiency.

Face-to-face interaction usually happens in brick-and-mortar stores and takes a lot of time, starting with greeting the shopper at the door. Workers ask if they can help in some way, and even if the customer says no, they stay available just in case a need develops. When he leaves, workers typically thank him for his business and tell him to have a good day.

Phone assistance usually happens in a company call center. Employees who answer the phones often have to deal with very repetitive issues, which can be boring. People also usually call only when they have a problem and are upset, so workers have to stay calm from the beginning and use whatever techniques they can to make the caller feel more comfortable. Those who take calls typically are required to document each interaction, as well, because the data collected lets managers statistically figure out what is going on and provides evidence of the assistance. Pressure is high to answer as many questions or fix as many problems as possible.

Written help can be difficult to provide, simply because putting statements in writing can make them more legally binding. As with phone service, letters or emails have to be concise, and writers have to be aware of the connotations of what they are saying. Companies usually want workers to answer email contacts very quickly, with some businesses having 24-hour response policies. Workers who concentrate on letters still have to get mail out fast, because the letters can contain time-sensitive information.

Customer Feedback

Businesses often give clients the chance to give feedback about the service they get. Companies can get the feedback through phone, mail or online surveys, as well as simply asking shoppers some questions face-to-face at store help desks. They then use the information to figure out what they are doing well or could improve. Getting feedback is especially important when a store alters its products, services, layout or general policies, because it helps managers decide whether the changes really are benefiting the company.

Many corporate executives say that the whole idea behind feedback is to understand the real motivations behind what the shoppers say, especially when their comments aren’t good. By better understanding this “complaint psychology,” the executives can develop very specific strategies or solutions to the problems people point out.

From the customers' point of view, being able to say what they did or didn’t like usually feels empowering. If the business makes a real effort to give people what they’ve asked for, then clients tend to think better of the company overall. They are more likely to come back and to give positive reviews to others as a result, and that can have a big effect on sales and profits.

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Discussion Comments
By duakerja — On Jun 09, 2013

Thanks for your great article. I got new information, and new ideas to do something.

By anon322910 — On Mar 02, 2013

I don't have any experience with customer service, and I want to apply for this position. What can I do?

By anon256950 — On Mar 24, 2012

Customer Service is where the heart is. It's one of the areas where it's a will issue more than whatever skill inputs you may administer to the trainee/coachee. --John

By anon178111 — On May 20, 2011

However, customer service gets confused with servant. Such a shame.

By cafe41 — On Jul 22, 2010

Sunny27- I bet that was a fun job. I think people that work with the public really should have great customer service skills.

For example, a waiter at a restaurant that offers excellent customer service compliments your meal and you tend to reward the waiter with a larger gratuity.

In addition, a call center representatives should also be polite and efficient. They should listen to the customer request and not just simply read a script.

Customers want a genuine experience and want to feel that you were listening. Whether it be in a store, restaurant, or on the phone, a great customer service experience is the same.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 22, 2010

Suntan12- I agree with you.I used to work behind a cosmetic counter and we were usually sent to training to not only learn about new product lines, but also to enhance our customer service skills.

In our training classes, we were taught how to approach a customer and what to say to open up dialogue. Part of our customer service training involved establishing a rapport with our customer.

We had to make idle conversation with our customers and make sure that we were always smiling and maintaining eye contact. They stressed to us that we needed to make our customer feel relaxed and happy to be at the counter.

We were also reminded to keep a client book with our customer information including their birthdates so that we could send a thank you card after a purchase and a birthday card when it was their birthday.

By suntan12 — On Jul 22, 2010

I just want to add that good customer service involves a polite demeanor with a properly inflective voice. Employees should not have a stoic or monotone voice because it demonstrates a lack of enthusiasm for the customer and should be avoided.

Also maintaining eye contact and demonstrating positive facial expressions also goes a long way.

Customers tend to feel more comfortable with employees that are smiling and appear upbeat. The use of the customer’s name is another personal touch that few customers seemed to forget. Customers always remember shopping experiences that offered a personalized service.

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