8 customer service standards to elevate your business
Customer service is a key differentiator in today’s competitive business landscape. Set customer service standards and regularly refine them to delight your audience and boost brand loyalty.
Published June 6, 2019
Last updated March 25, 2022
When AT&T introduced the toll-free number in 1967, consumers rejoiced because they no longer had to call collect to speak to a company representative.
Let’s just say we’ve come a long way in customer communication since then. These days, 53 percent of consumers give up after 10 minutes of waiting for a live agent.
As service channels expand and evolve, customer expectations change along with them. To keep your audience satisfied and build brand loyalty, you need to set clear customer service standards that emphasize speed, thoroughness, and kindness.
What are customer service standards?
Customer service standards are benchmarks for customer satisfaction. Support teams measure a variety of performance KPIs—like first-response time and wrap-up time—to assess whether they’re providing high-quality experiences and meeting customer expectations.
It’s important to define these standards so your agents understand the level of customer service they need to deliver daily. Oftentimes, buyers base their expectations on stellar service provided by other companies—and it doesn’t matter if those businesses are competitors or not. When consumers experience excellent customer service, the bar is raised across the board. Your support team must meet those expectations and always be ready to adapt.
What are the benefits of customer service standards?
Great customer service isn’t just a nice-to-have—it enables companies to scale. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 64 percent of business leaders said that good customer service had a positive impact on their organization’s growth. Customer service standards empower your support team to offer the level of care and attention that drives company success.
Customer service plays a huge role in generating more business and revenue. 70 percent of consumers say they’ve made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service.
A set of clear standards helps support teams deliver customer service that differentiates their brand.
Say your support team values speed and aims for a first-contact resolution rate of 75 percent. That customer service standard pushes your team to adopt live chat. With this new channel, your team can answer potential customers’ questions more quickly and leave a positive impression—increasing the likelihood that they’ll do business with you over a competitor.
Excellent support is also key to keeping customers: 60 percent of business owners say great customer service improves retention.
Nail down your customer service standards to improve customer retention.
Imagine your monthly churn rate increases by five percent, and you wonder if poor customer support is the culprit. Because you value consistency across your support channels, you send Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®) surveys to repeat buyers. You learn many support emails go unanswered, so you hire an agent who focuses only on this channel. You notice higher NPS® scores two months later.
Given the demise of third-party data and the ensuing lack of customer insights, 34 percent of marketers are frustrated. Customer service can be a valuable channel for making up lost ground.
With each interaction, you gather insights not just on how to improve your support but also on how well your products or services are meeting expectations.
Let’s say your agents receive an influx of calls about a product not working. You realize there’s a defect. You value complete transparency with your customers, so you proactively send them an email with an apology and the option to get a refund or a replacement. If a higher percentage of buyers choose a replacement, you gain a better understanding of how they feel about your brand.
8 customer service quality standards for your business
Customer service guidelines and standards vary from team to team. It all depends on your company’s values and specific goals. That being said, most support teams use these customer service quality standards as benchmarks.
1. A fast average resolution time
Regardless of channel, consumers expect speedy customer service interactions. You’ll not only need to provide immediate responses but also fast resolutions.
Track whether your team is problem-solving quickly with average resolution time, which measures how long it takes to close a newly opened ticket.
While there isn’t necessarily an “ideal” rate, we recommend tracking resolution time over long periods and segmenting the metric by issue type. After a few months, you should have a sense of how long it takes on average to resolve common problems.
2. An agent occupancy rate of 75 to 85 percent
While you want support agents to handle customer inquiries swiftly and accurately, you don’t want to overwork them in the process. You don’t want burned-out, apathetic agents handling complaints—61 percent of consumers will switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience.
Occupancy helps you gauge burnout by measuring how hard your agents are working. It includes the time spent interacting with customers and any necessary follow-up tasks once the interaction ends.
Typically, an occupancy rate that surpasses 85 percent means your agents are at risk. You either need to hire more staff or find ways to improve efficiency.
3. A high cross-sell or upsell close rate
You may not think of your support team as a sales channel, but your agents can be the push existing customers need to buy another product or make an upgrade. 47 percent of business owners say customer service increases their ability to cross-sell.
Say a potential customer calls your support team to ask about two bicycles you have in stock. If they decide to purchase one at the end of the exchange, the agent might suggest a helmet to go with it. Base your team performance benchmark on the number of closed sales per number of tickets your agents handle in a month.
Some agents will be better than others at cross-selling and upselling. Give struggling agents time to listen to successful sales call recordings and see if that improves your monthly metric.
4. A low Customer Effort Score
Convenience is king in today’s world. So, you want to make life as simple as possible for your customers. Especially considering that 96 percent of customers with a high-effort service interaction become less loyal compared to nine percent with a low-effort experience.
Customer Effort Score (CES) helps measure how easy it is for consumers to accomplish a task, whether that’s finding your customer support phone number or getting connected to the right agent.
To measure CES, start by surveying customers after support interactions. Ask them, “On a scale of 1 (very easy) to 5 (very difficult), how easy was it for you to resolve your issue?” Include an open-ended follow-up question such as, “What did you find most difficult about your experience?” Then, calculate the average number based on all your survey responses.
High CES scores can drag down other important metrics, such as customer satisfaction score and Net Promoter Score®, so keep customers happy by addressing negative feedback quickly.
5. An average customer satisfaction score of 80 percent
As you may have guessed, customer satisfaction (CSAT) score measures how happy people are with your business, products, or services. It helps you identify customer pain points and gives you an opening to ask for specific feedback.
To measure CSAT, send customer surveys that ask, “On a scale of 1 (very unsatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), how would you rate your overall satisfaction with the service you received?” Similar to CES surveys, your CSAT survey should also include an open-ended question to better understand what people liked (or disliked) about their experience.
CSAT benchmarks vary by industry. According to our research, it hovers around 88 percent for retail and 90 percent for financial services.
6. A high Net Promoter Score®
Satisfied customers aren’t necessarily loyal customers. Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®) helps you determine the percentage of customers most likely to stick with you.
NPS® asks a single question: “On a scale of 1 (not likely) to 10 (extremely likely), how likely are you to recommend us to someone you know?” Based on their answers, respondents are placed into one of three categories:
- Detractors (respondents who answer 0–6): unhappy customers who aren’t likely to recommend your business, suggesting a poor service experience.
- Passives (respondents who answer 7 or 8): customers who might recommend your business if they continue to have good experiences.
- Promoters (respondents who answer 9 or 10): very loyal customers who will likely recommend your business through word of mouth, indicating positive experiences.
Like CSAT and CES surveys, your NPS® survey can include an optional open-ended question that prompts the customer to give a reason for their score. Once you have your responses, you can calculate NPS® using a simple formula:
Again, NPS® benchmarks vary by industry—they can range from 2 for Internet services to 58 for department stores. If your score is low compared to your industry’s standards, use the customer feedback you collected to make department improvements.
7. A wrap-up time of 10 minutes or less
When an agent ends a conversation with a customer, their work isn’t done. They still need to record details about the interaction and complete any promised follow-up actions—like sending resources to the customer or requesting a replacement product.
This period is known as wrap-up time, or the amount of time it takes an agent to complete post-interaction tasks. While agents shouldn’t rush through these activities, their wrap-up time should be somewhat short. A slow follow-up could leave the customer unhappy and result in long wait times for other customers in the queue.
Gauge whether your support team is promptly completing follow-up actions by calculating this metric.
The industry standard is six minutes. But agents might need more time depending on their post-interaction duties, such as sending an empathetic thank you message to a customer. If CSAT scores remain positive and churn rates don’t increase, the investment in wrap-up time was likely worth it. That said, a good practice is to limit wrap-up time to 10 minutes.
8. A high net sentiment score
Online conversations and comments reveal what customers think of your brand. Net sentiment scores help you evaluate whether these mentions skew positive or negative.
Not all online conversations mention customer service, but support teams can heavily influence the direction of these interactions. According to a Statista study, 47 percent of consumers viewed companies more favorably when they responded to customer service questions or complaints on social media.
Social media management tools like Sprout Social can automatically compute net sentiment scores within your specified time frames.
Tools like Sprout Social often integrate with contact-center-as-a-service (CCaaS) software, so your agents can readily view negative social media conversations and attempt to turn them around. The integration creates a dashboard where agents can associate negative posts with customer records and proactively reach out to them with solutions.
While a perfect net sentiment score of 100 percent is highly unlikely, a month-over-month improvement indicates your agents’ efforts are paying off.
How to improve customer service standards
Due to the pandemic, 61 percent of consumers say they now have higher customer service standards. The pressure is on for support teams to rise to the occasion. Here are some tips for moving your performance metrics in the right direction and continuing to nurture customer relationships.
Due to the pandemic, 61 percent of consumers say they now have higher customer service standards.
Create a memorable on-hold experience
It’s no secret that customers hate long wait times. Some refuse to wait on hold for even one minute, so be sure to offer a callback service.
For everyone who does decide to wait on hold, they might be more forgiving if you add value to the experience. Don’t just thank them for waiting—consider offering them a promo code on their next purchase as a token of your gratitude. The gesture will not only make customers feel special but also turn the on-hold experience into a revenue-generating opportunity.
It helps to play the right hold music, too. If your brand is edgy or unconventional, don’t use annoying elevator music. Plenty of free and fee-based hold music options exist.
Send a CSAT survey to on-hold customers who end up speaking with agents. Compare these scores to those you calculated before you introduced your new on-hold experience.
Train and assess agents regularly
To meet your customer service standards, agents need the right skills to excel in each of your target areas. Set up customer service training based on the benchmarks you’re hoping to meet.
Of course, training agents isn’t a straightforward process. If it were, 54 percent of consumers probably wouldn’t say it feels like customer service is an afterthought for most businesses. Your agents will need to balance training with handling customers, so it’s best to focus on one standard at a time.
Say you have three agents whose average resolution times lag behind those of their peers. These struggling agents might not be asking customers the right questions, so have them shadow agents who are excelling. Then, track their resolution times over the next month to see if they improve.
Develop self-service resources
Offering customer self-service will free agents from routine inquiries, giving them more time to focus on complex customer issues. Plus, 89 percent of shoppers will spend more with companies that empower them to find answers independently. Clearly, self-service is a win-win and an effective way to raise your customer service standards.
When Stanley Black and Decker implemented self-service, they saw a 300-percent increase in agent efficiency. Their average CSAT score also jumped from 85 percent to 90 percent.
When developing your self-service materials, start with the most common requests and questions that can easily be addressed on an FAQ page, in a product guide, or by a chatbot. Explore different self-service content types and run tests to determine what’s most successful.
Install an easy-to-navigate IVR menu
Busy call centers often struggle to meet customer service standards around speed. Interactive voice response systems (IVRs) can help.
IVR software automatically welcomes callers with a series of options that guides them toward a solution. Customers respond to prompts with their voice or phone touch screen.
An IVR can often resolve the customer’s issue without the help of an agent. In cases where it can’t, the system will route the caller to the appropriate agent, bypassing the hassle of multiple transfers.
While IVR systems can expedite support interactions, a faulty program can create more work for the customer. They have to press numerous buttons to find the right agent—or worse, they never receive help from an agent. Gauge the efficacy of your IVR system by sending a survey to customers post-interaction.
Invest in conversational customer service
Consumers expect high-quality support experiences across channels. But as the number of channels expands, it becomes more difficult to stay consistent and keep CSAT scores near the 80-percent target.
To meet and elevate their customer service standards, companies must prioritize conversational customer service: the ability to offer fast, personalized, uninterrupted support across web, mobile, and social apps.
In 2021, support inquiries over social messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat jumped 36 percent—higher than any other channel. If you neglect these popular support channels, you’ll see a negative impact on your bottom line. 93 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that offer their preferred customer service channel.
Conversational customer service enables consumers to use their preferred channel and allows agents to see the entire interaction history in a unified workspace. Instead of siloed conversations that start and stop every time a customer reaches out (or switches channels), each interaction becomes part of a larger conversation that carries over a lifetime of interactions with the company.
Say a customer opens a support ticket via live chat but needs to continue the conversation over the phone. With conversational customer service, the customer doesn’t need to repeat themselves to the agent who helps them on the phone. The agent already has all the context they need to resolve the issue quickly. You can send a CSAT survey at the end of both sessions to ensure the customer was satisfied with each interaction.
Over time, consider complementing your CSAT surveys with NPS® surveys to determine whether your conversational customer service strategy is boosting customer loyalty.
Reward agents who uphold high customer service standards
Once you’ve set expectations for your team, reward those who meet their goals, and develop improvement plans for those who don’t. Empowered agents will work harder to provide excellent customer service.
Use customer service software like Zendesk to track key metrics and ensure you’re delivering on customer expectations. It’s also important to regularly revisit your customer service quality standards and see where you can up your game. When you consistently delight your customers, they’ll reward you with their loyalty and their dollars.
Net Promoter, NPS, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.