What Is Customer Service?

March 7, 2012
What Is Customer Service?

It is the most fundamental of questions. Like many concepts, customer service seems to be in the eye of the beholder, a Rorschach test for how one views business and, to some degree, life.

Is customer service a mere business function, subject to the tight strictures of return on investment? Or is customer service an expression of human decency, something that transcends the mere confines of profit? Perhaps customer service is of some middle place.

To celebrate the official launch of Customers That Stick®, I thought we could attempt to answer this most basic of questions.

To do so, we went to 19 great minds from small business, customer service, and marketing to get a diverse set of opinions about what customer service is, what it means, and how it affects us all.

What Is Customer Service?

Guy Winch

Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, a speaker and the author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. In addition to Guy’s Blog, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on

“Customer Service is about creating a relationship of trust and loyalty with customers that transcends the interaction of the moment. Ironically, such bonds are best forged not when things go right but when things go wrong. Therefore complaint management becomes the premier opportunity to prove our care, responsiveness, and trustworthiness to customers.

Using complaining psychology allows us to turn crises into opportunities, to demonstrate we have the customer’s back, and by doing so to make them more loyal than they had been before a problem arose.”

Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a speaker and best selling author who works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is the author of Moments of Magic, The Loyal Customer and the bestselling The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution.

“Customer service is not a department. It is a philosophy that includes every person and aspect of the best and brightest companies.”

“Every organization has customer service. The question is, “Is it good or is it bad?”

“Customer loyalty is not about a life-time. It is about the next time – every time!”

Erica Allison

Erica Allison is the owner of Allison Development Group and a PR & Marketing Strategist who uses a combination of market research and analysis, social media applications, and traditional media approaches. Her goal is simple: help clients develop their ideas, develop their messages and ultimately, develop their business.

“Customer Service means NOT reading from a script, but instead reading the customer. It means knowing when to pay attention and when to give space. It means following through on what you say you’ll do and following up when you don’t.

“It’s an all or nothing approach to the customer where you tune in and adjust your settings based on them and not you.

Really good customer service is an art, not a science and it should be a goal for not just the business, but every person in it.

What many overlook is that good customer service is the front line team for your PR program; when it fails, there goes your positive sentiment and relations with your customers.  Investing in Customer Service is like having a supplemental insurance policy for your Public Relations program. It’s wise to make the best investment possible, don’t you think?”

Kate Nasser

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, has inspired and taught thousands of employees for over 20 years to deliver platinum quality customer service. She decries scripts and heralds personalized service at no extra expense. View footage of her on her super customer experience website.

“Customer service creates opportunities of mutual benefit.  It is always adaptable to diverse customers and conditions. It brings new vistas into view for the companies who give and customers who receive it.”

“Customer service never denigrates or blames or denies the truth. It represents the heart of a brand in the hearts of its customers.”

“Customers spark innovation through their demands. Embrace your innovators.”

“Customers are gold. Mine for it.”

“Customers keep your company alive. Feed your blood.”

“Customers pay for your performance.  Give your best show.”

“Super customer service is about making simply great choices. Choose wisely.”

Vernessa Taylor

Vernessa Taylor, Technology Consultant and Internet Coach, works with both online and offline business owners. She writes about small business systems such as online project management and Customer Referral Systems: Automation is Your Secret Key. 

“What is customer service? At the root of customer service is the old-fashioned notion of “serving.” I think that many companies, big and small, fail at delivering remarkable customer service because they have not built a foundation upon serving. The “something” that happens inside you when you are on the receiving end of great customer service is the same “something” that should drive our own efforts.

Some companies have placed such a premium upon customer service that they create lifetime loyalty. That’s the essence of customer service — they keep coming back irrespective of price, venue, or even convenience. For a small business, the level of customer service can be the bottom-line differentiator.  Additionally, offering strong guarantees and reasonable refund policies engender customer loyalty.”


When I asked many of these great people to come up with their thoughts on the topic What is Customer Service, I sent a few idea starters to help the process along. Bill Dorman and Richard Shapiro did something really creative and used the framework to create their answers. The part I sent is in black and their completions are in blue.

Bill Dorman

Bill Dorman is a principal insurance broker and owner of Lanier Upshaw, an Insurance and Risk Management company. Bill has an incredibly successful blog focused on social media… and life.

Customer service creates loyal customers.

Customer service is always a success indicator.

Customer service brings goodwill and word of mouth advertising.

Customer service is timeless.

Customer service means taking care of the little things first; doing what you said you would do; do it on time; and say please and thank you.

Customer service should never be taken for granted.

Customer service represents a culture; a direct reflection on ownership/management.

Richard Shapiro

Richard Shapiro is the Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention, which provides research, training and consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations on how to improve the customer experience. He just released The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business. Richard also has a customer service blog.

“Customer service creates an opportunity to create a new relationship with a “person” and covert them into a loyal “customer.”

Customer service is always an important component of the loyalty journey, but it must be coupled with a strategy of building or maintaining a stronger customer relationships.

Customer service brings two people together to have a meaningful dialogue.

Customer service is all about helping people find what they need or want, even if your establishment does not stock those goods or provide that specific service.

Customer service means delivering a memorable experience; otherwise it was just a robotic transaction.

Customer service should never be delivered in a vacuum; companies need to obtain comprehensive customer feedback to regularly determine what works and what doesn’t work from a customer perspective to continually improve the customer experience.

Customer service represents the face of company, where first impressions are created and lasting impressions will either result in repeat patrons or just a one-time transaction. Customer service professionals need to extend customer appreciation and employers need to appreciate their associates. It’s a two way street!“


Extreme John

Extreme John is an entrepreneur, social media author, and CEO/Founder of Extreme Tan and Smoothies, Inc, Insane Limos, Inc, and Extreme Spray Tan, Inc. Learn more about Extreme John at his small business and marketing blog. Also, get great advice from his eBook How To Succeed With Social Media.

“Customer service is stupid. Not the concept, but the term. “Passion for customer satisfaction” seems more fitting. Because without it, your business will flounder and fail. Having passion, true passion for your customers and their complete overall satisfaction and happiness is where success is found. How hard would it be to be passionate about needing a paycheck, or a meal or clothes for your children? I would imagine that passion would flow from you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

Find that passion for customer satisfaction, harness it and do it better than anyone around you, because your customers demand it and you owe it to them!”

Debbie Szumylo is an Experience Marketing Design Specialist for Deluxe Corporation with 16 years of experience and loyalty expertise, event planning, project management and big picture planning expertise with a strong and versatile communications background.

“Customer service is the act of providing your customer with something they need, want or value. It’s the sum of the experience of doing business with you: before, during and after a purchase.”

Laura Click

Laura Click is founder and CEO of Blue Kite Marketing, a strategic marketing and social media consulting company based in Nashville, Tenn. Laura is focused on helping service-based businesses because she loves helping them create memorable and extraordinary experiences for their clients.

“Delivering outstanding customer service means creating memorable and extraordinary experiences for customers. It goes beyond having a friendly face at the reception desk answering the phone – customer service should be woven into your entire business and emphasized with every employee.

The companies that get it right are the ones who think about how to delight and surprise their customers with every interaction.”


I originally asked Michelle Quillin to participate in the roundup and when I got her response I just had to include the double entry. Here is the back story: “So, a funny thing…as soon as I finished writing my customer service paragraph for your blog post, Scott walked into my office to take a break. I told him what I was doing and asked him if I could run it by him. He stopped me and said, “Let me tell you what I think customer service is without by being influenced by what you say.” So I typed as he wrote. The results are below.

Michelle and Scott Quillin

Michelle and Scott Quillin run New England Multimedia, a true multimedia company focused on strategic web, social media, and video to help companies get their message out.

MICHELLE: “We have a strong desire to be servant leaders, that is, to allow serving others to lead us in our business, rather than leading with our own needs being our compass. There’s a big difference between a leader who serves and a servant who leads. How can we serve our customers with the servant-leadership model? By putting our customers’ interests first — not our own.

By putting our customer’s needs first — not our own. By treating our customer the way we would want to be treated in the same situation they’re in. It takes conscious, deliberate practice to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes, to see things through their eyes, to understand their perspective. When a business owner is a servant-leader, the customer has a completely different experience. He knows he is the priority.”

SCOTT: “Customer service at the end of the day is really just about sacrifice and empathy. Sacrifice requires being willing to put your own needs aside — whether they’re work-related, personal, or whatever — and really listen to what somebody else needs. And what somebody else needs is often not what they’re saying. The ability to empathize with one’s situation and put yourself in their shoes — even at your own expense — will insure that they walk away knowing that you were attentive, sensitive to their needs, and empathetic towards their situation/project.

At the end of the day, good customer service isn’t something that we ‘do.’ It’s not a hat we put on when the phone rings, and it’s not a mask we wear. Good customer service will always result in the customer feeling like you’re giving them as much time as they need. That’s the outcome of the greatest customer service experience.”


Micah Solomon

Micah Solomon, a customer service and marketing strategist, speaker and author of the forthcoming book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Find Micah at or his blog, College of The Customer.

“Customer service is like making love. It takes only a minute—or two—to get the general concept, but you can gainfully invest a lifetime in mastering the details. (And you’ll never get the full picture if you only practice when you’re by yourself.)

Mastering the fine points of customer service is a never-ending challenge in part because customer expectations and desires change all the time. In fact, they’re different now from the last time you spoke with your customer.”

Shonali Burke

Shonali Burke is an accredited (link no longer active), award-winning communication consultant and sought-after speaker based in the Washington, D.C., metro area with a national reach and international network. Her blog, Waxing Unlyrical, looks at public relations, communication strategy, and social media.

“Great customer service makes me feel as if, even though I may be one of several hundred, or thousand, or millions of customers of a particular company, I’m still unique enough for the company to pay attention to me and my needs. That means things like – in addition to having a great product/service – replying to me promptly; fixing my problems (if I have them), answering my questions honestly and every now and then, thanking me – especially when I don’t expect it – for being a customer.

When a company provides this kind of customer service to me, I’m a customer for life, and an ardent evangelist to boot. It’s rare that I stick with a product that might be very good if I’ve had a bad customer service experience.”

Sean McGinnis

Sean McGinnis is a digital strategist who ensures digital tactics are aligned with a compelling strategy that drives business results for clients. Sean is VP Sales & Marketing for, Principal at 312digital and can be found on his blog.

“If every senior executive in every company tested their customer service weekly, we’d all have nothing to complain about.

The very last thing every customer will remember about your company is the service they received.

Poor service can kill drag down the finest products.

Great service can overcome mediocre product design.”

Kaarina Dillabough

Kaarina Dillabough is a former Olympic coach and business consultant, coach and strategist. Her high-voltage energy, passion, expertise and experience inspire those she works with to reach beyond their grasp, to attain great things in business and in life. She can be found on her blog Decide2Do.

“For me, customer service is all about creating an environment, experience, culture and ethos that says, in actions and in words: “I’m here to solve your problem, enhance your experience and/or reduce your pain points, to the best of my ability, to meet or exceed your expectation. I care.”

It’s about seeing the situation through the customer’s eyes, never being defensive or judgmental, listening effectively and engaging with the customer in a non-intrusive, friendly way.

It’s never about “push-selling”. Pouncing on the customer, delivering stock boring statements, ignoring the customer or showing indifference are NOT customer service.

Going “above and beyond”, doing the little extras, getting to truly know the customer, smiling, showing passion and caring and always exercising best judgment: that’s what customer service is all about.”

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm (link no longer active). She is the author of the PR and marketing blog Spin Sucks, the founder the professional development site for PR and marketing pros, Spin Sucks Pro, and co-author of the forthcoming Marketing In the Round.

“Customer service, by definition, is helping the customer get what they need from a business. But the face of customer service has changed dramatically in the past three or four years. Now companies need to be concerned with serving their customers on the offline and online platforms most convenient for them, not the business.

It used to be, if you needed to talk to a company, you called or wrote a letter. Then you added the capability to email or live chat. Now there are so many platforms customers use to communicate with the companies they do business with, social media is no longer a nice-to-have. If your customers are using Twitter, for instance, you’d better be there and monitoring the conversation.”

A huge thank you to the above contributors for their excellent contributions! Please feel to share your thoughts on the essence of customer service in the comments below.

56 thoughts on “What Is Customer Service?”

    1. So many great definitions here… Really inspiring. So many companies focus on the Customer part of the term. Attracting, retaining, surveying, and selling, that they forget to teach their team the Service part. I’m a giant fan of building relationships that customers come to count on. I can’t remember who said it first but the fact is that products don’t make a business successful people do. You and me, buy from they and them…

      Thanks for the great words from wonderful leaders!

      David Mount
      Core Training Solutions

      1. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts David! You’re so right — the relationship aspects can get lost very quickly. As technology lessens human touch points more and more, we have to work even harder to establish and maintain those bonds.

        Thanks for stopping by CTS!

    1. Laura,

      Truly Delightful insight. This is one area where action and heart are needed to succeed. Too many companies do the right things without connecting with their customers and caring about their success.

      I have been enjoying your post on G+ also. See you soon… :v)

  1. Adam – thanks for inviting me to participate in this post. Customer service is so critical to ongoing business success, its a shame so many companies view it as nothing more than an expense to be managed and a cost to be controlled. Food for thought I need to keep in mind as I build out DotCO and 312 digital. I’m looking forward to learning more from you and from this great community as we all move forward together.

    1. I appreciate the insights Sean and your contribution! You hit the nail on the head when you talk about customer service being viewed as a cost and not an investment. We’ll definitely have to talk about that topic some more. Thanks again for the kind words!

  2. We spend so much time trying to figure out the ROI of our marketing and advertising efforts, and yet so many of us don’t understand how closely customer service is tied to those. The ROI of great customer service is priceless.

    Great list, Adam, and thanks for including me!

    1. I couldn’t leave out my personal Facebook guru! I loved your contribution, and as always, the small business perspective (which we share). Thanks so much for participating!

  3. Shonali Burke

    Dang. Shep’s quote is better than mine. :p

    I loved reading this, Adam. Thank you for the inclusion! And boy do I have a customer service story for you when we meet next week!

    1. Shep is a touch act to follow!

      I loved your quote, I only hated that it was in print and didn’t come with your most excellent accent.

      Looking forward to hearing your story next week. Be careful or I might wrangle you into our Customer Service Stories series. 🙂

  4. Adam, thanks so much for including me in such fine company. What a great read! It’s clear that customer service, or in Extreme John’s words, “passion for customer satisfaction” is a priority for success in business. Congrats again on your new site, logo and direction: I’ll be staying tuned:) Cheers! Kaarina

  5. Wow, what great thoughts and esteemed company I’m in here! 😉 Seriously great insights into customer service and I’m very honored to have been included. Something that touches so many people on every level in business should not be overlooked – I’m off to share it now!

    1. It did end up being quite the assemblage of people, didn’t it? I loved you quote about “reading the customer” instead of a script — great point!

      Many thanks as always — for the comments and the shares!

  6. Do I get a royalty check? How about a drink next Wednesday?

    Cool beans; I am absolutely in some high cotton here. We can say that down south, except I’m more in orange groves than cotton………:).

    It’s interesting to see everybody’s take on this. After I simplistically answered the questions you posed to me, I have to say I still like what came out from me. To me, if you are taking care of the little things and becoming REALLY good at it, you will stand out.

    I’m out the door for tennis; but I will be back.

    1. I think I can work the drink; you’ll have to talk to my accounting dept. (you know who) about royalties. As for high cotton… now, you’re getting old school Southern.

      I loved how you and Richard took the thought starters and filled them in. My favorite of yours was actually “customer service should never be taken for granted”

      Thanks so much for taking part… and all the other stuff!

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  9. An honor to be part of this prestigious group of experts. Thank you for including me. You have offered up a great service to your readers. So many great thoughts and ideas. Your readers should ask their people the same question: What is customer service? There are many right answers? Some amazing conversations might take place comparing answers to the the ones posted above in this article.

    1. I appreciate it Shep! It was a honor to have your participation — and your insights. You make a great point: the question could be an amazing conversation starter in the field as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Adam,
    Thanks for including me among such amazing people! You asked us to respond to a simple question and it’s wonderful to see the incredible diversity of thoughts and opinions it generated. Psychology is such a huge aspect of customer service and I was honored when you asked me to contribute my thoughts. This is a terrific start to an exciting blog–congrat!

  11. Hi Adam,

    Without a doubt, you’ve compiled a set of quotes from small business owners and industry professionals that should be the de facto standard for every person serving the public. Some of the voices here are one’s I haven’t encountered before but each one is worth heeding. Thanks for sharing these, Adam (and including me in the bunch).

    It’s a great start to Customers That Stick!

    1. Thank you for your contribution Vernessa! I must say the post far exceeded my expectations. I agree that the diversity and depth of answers is just phenomenal.

      I appreciate the support!

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  14. Jayme Soulati

    A veritable Who’s Who, Adam! I need to remark about Scott Quillin’s remarks. I can verify that he walks the talk and wanted to say so. The very keen thing I would share is his listening skills. He #RocksHot.

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  19. Wow! There are so many posts on so many blogs that try to tell you the ONE way to do customer service. It is so refreshing to see such a wide range of opinions. Really makes you step back and think about it more critically than those other posts do 🙂 Thanks for this!

  20. Dear Adam,

    Great insights, I work in the hotel industry in Sri Lanka and it is easy for us to forget about the relationship part when we are ‘Booming”. The posts are great Eye-openers, and I will share it with my colleagues.
    thanks again, and I will be tuned,

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  26. There are many definitions of customer service, as we all know customer is the backbone of the business and we should provide well and accurate service to satisfy their needs and wants.

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