Customer Service in 2021: Everything You Need To Know

Customer service might sound easy, but it isn’t.

All it takes is one badly-thought-out reply from a customer service agent to go viral and you have a PR headache on your hands. On a more granular level, a single customer who leaves any interaction with you feeling deflated isn’t going to be referring their friends your way.

Your customers’ needs are complex and their expectations are constantly changing, and you need to evolve with them. 

With the right approach, training, and support, your customer service agents can make even the most challenging customer interaction a positive experience. In this article, we’ll dive into the essentials of customer service, why it matters, and how you can empower your team to deliver the kind of customer experience your customers will rave about in 2021.

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What is Customer Service?

Customer service refers to the support and advice you provide to your customers. It covers everything from the way you respond to email enquiries to the way you handle feedback from your customers. Customer service can be offered in-person, on the phone and over digital channels such as email, web live chat, social media and messaging apps. 

Customer service is also referred to as customer support, and while the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between customer service and customer support.

How is Customer Service Different from Customer Support?

Customer service is all about helping your customer. Your customer service team’s role involves helping customers find the right products, directing them to relevant resources, and managing complaints (both online and on-field).

Customer support is more specific, and centers around offering support for your products and services. Customer support agents mainly focus on troubleshooting tech issues, explaining how to use features, and dealing with errors as they arise.

While they are slightly different, customer support ultimately falls under the customer service banner. Now that we’ve understood what customer service is, let’s find out why customer service is critical to the success of a business.

Why is Customer Service So Important?

Great customer service can turn an ordinary product into an extraordinary experience. Meanwhile, bad customer service can lead to people abandoning your product or service – no matter how good it is. Here’s how customer service adds values to your business:

#1 Build brand loyalty and increase retention

With acquisition more expensive than retention, offering great customer service is an affordable way to create future demand for your products and services. 48% of customers are willing to spend more money with a company that provides good service1

#2 Create opportunities to resell and upsell

The blurring lines between sales and customer service is one of the major customer service trends for 2021. Plus, the probability of selling to an existing customer is rated at 60-70%, compared to 5-20% for a  new customer2. This means your existing customers are the perfect target for upsells to a premier tier product or subscription. Staying in constant contact with customers gives you the opportunity to understand their needs better and pitch the right solution accordingly.

#3 Lead to future referrals

82% of consumers read online reviews for businesses3, and 60% of customers will tell friends and family about a brand they’re loyal to4. Positive customer experiences can gain popularity, especially with the help of social media and online reviews. For instance, Zappos is famously known more for their service than their products.

#4 Gain a competitive advantage

With so many companies delivering average customer service (or worse), you can gain a powerful competitive advantage by being better.

Even though customers can be famously loyal, they won’t stand for an experience that’s below their expectations. 50% of people have left a brand they were loyal to for one that better meets their needs5. This means there’s plenty of space for you to win over a customer by offering a better service than their last provider.

Use customer insights and customer success software to deliver personalized experiences for your most valued customers.

What are The Types of Customer Service?

There are two broad categories of customer service — proactive and reactive customer service. Understanding the scope of the two types gives you the knowledge you need to offer good customer service.

Let’s take a look at two types of customer service in more detail.

Proactive vs. Reactive Customer Service

As a customer service agent, you can deal with customer issues in two main ways — reactively or proactively.

Reactive customer service or customer support happens when a customer encounters a problem, and gets in touch with you directly. Customers might send you an email or reach out to you on Twitter to ask for some help. You then handle their query as it comes in, usually respond on the same channel.

Here are some common channels that are used to provide reactive customer service:

  • Email
  • Phone 
  • Twitter
  • Facebook Messenger

Proactive customer service is all about offering a solution to your customer before they get in touch with you. Proactive customer service requires you to thoroughly understand the customer journey. By studying how your customers buy and interact with your product or service, you can find patterns in the issues they report at each stage of the journey. This helps you anticipate customer issues in advance and set up mechanisms in place to resolve these issues proactively.

Here are some common ways to deliver proactive customer service:

  • FAQs
  • Walkthroughs
  • Knowledge bases
  • Videos
  • Guides

Some customer service tools also come with a proactive customer service module. For instance, Freshdesk has a proactive customer service feature that recognizes frustration signals such as rage clicks, cart abandonment, or dead clicks and triggers a popup asking customers if they need assistance with something.

Proactive customer service

Proactive customer support like this is great because it reduces customer frustration, and also frees up your team to handle more challenging requests. 

Where Does Customer Service Happen?

Customer service channelsCustomer service can happen anywhere that your customers can reach you. With mobile-first customer service experience gaining popularity, customer engagement in 2021 will also occur on live chat and mobile applications. So the list of customer service channels includes:

#1 Live Chat

In today’s fast-moving world, customers want a swift fix for their problems. In fact, chat is one of the most popular support channels today, with 63% of millennials saying they prefer live chat over other methods of service6

Live chat enables agents to help customers out as soon as a problem arises. Agents can engage in multiple conversations simultaneously and work through issues in real-time.

#2 Chatbots

67% of shoppers expect 24/7 customer service7, and one of the easiest ways to deliver that is through chatbots.

Today’s technology allows you to design and deploy a chatbot in no-time. For instance, Freddy AI for CX offers a no-code chatbot builder that enables you to deploy a chatbot without relying on any technical assistance.

You can build a chatbot that automates resolutions to complex issues in addition to answering simple questions.


Customers can follow the guided troubleshooting flows to arrive at a fix for their problem, even if there are no support agents available.

#3 Messaging Applications

A survey conducted revealed that 69% of people who message businesses help them feel more confident about the brand8.

Business messaging includes applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Apple Business Chat. Messaging applications like these are like live chat — customers can get in touch with support teams instantly on a platform they are already active on.

#4 Social Media

Most of the popular social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be used for customer service. Since social media interactions are out in the open and get a lot of eyeballs, it’s important to respond quickly, positively, and offer all the help customers (and even potential customers) need.

#5 Email

Sometimes customers will opt for a more traditional channel of communication like email.

It’s a great platform for complex questions that are harder to answer through chatbots or social media.

The problem with email is that it’s easy for things to disappear since there is no effective way of tracking customer emails. So, it’s important to use good email management software or customer service software to stay on top of all customer emails.

#6 Knowledge Base

Knowledge bases are directories filled with useful guides, walkthroughs, and articles to help customers solve an issue or find the right feature. Self-service portals are a great way to enable customers to find a fix for their problem without having to contact your customer service team.

#7 Discussion Forums

Discussion forums can be a powerful way to help customers with issues — especially errors or situations that others might find themselves in too.

Community forums for customer feedback

While they often require some level of dedicated moderation, an active discussion forum can be a great way to empower customers, create community, and stand out from your competition.

#8 Phone

While most of today’s customers prefer conversing online, a few customers still prefer to pick up a phone and call your service team directly. Having a well-trained customer service team available to take calls can help you improve brand loyalty and upsell products.

People will often call to negotiate a deal or to leave for a competitor, and this conversation gives you a chance to impress them.

#9 In Person

If you run a store, restaurant, or other venues, your team on the ground is your source of customer service. People can ask them for directions, questions about your product or service, or how to solve a problem.

With most brands transitioning to an online business model in the past one year, and this trend continuing this year with 30% of customers planning to shop more online in the futuresup>9, in-person customer service is likely to see a decline. 

If you need to offer in-person customer service in 2021, make sure to take necessary precautions to keep your employees and customers safe (95% of customers want companies to implement physical protection and distancing measures to help keep them healthy9).

Not sure which customer service channels suit your company best? Use our guide to help you find the perfect combination.

The Customer Service Skills Your Team Needs to Work On Most

Your customer service team interacts with your customers every single day. They are your customers’ gateway to your company, so it’s essential that they all have the right skills to deliver an impressive experience.

Let’s take a look at some of the top skills your team needs to have or develop in order to deliver top-notch customer service in 2021.

#1 Collaboration 

Regardless of the size of your customer service team, cross-collaboration and communication is essential to help deliver an impressive experience. Agents will need to talk with billing, product, and sales teams to get the answers a customer needs, so the ability to collaborate efficiently is a must-have.

#2 Empathy

Understanding your customers’ struggles and putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way in creating a memorable customer experience. Empathy helps you reason with the customer, and fix their problem in the most relevant, effective way. Being empathetic also helps ensure that customers feel heard and understood/

#3 Honesty

It can be tempting to smooth over something or upsell a product, but customer service representatives should always be honest.

This includes not upselling a product that won’t help a customer, or saying you’ll raise an issue internally that you won’t act. Honesty leads to a relationship of trust with your customer, which can help build brand loyalty.

#4 Proactivity

Being proactive and offering help and information in advance is key to delighting customers. Be proactive and keep your customers informed, so they can use this information to decide what to do next. 

Here’s how Playstation keeps customers informed about server status:

Screenshot of PlayStation's portal as an example of proactive customer service

By letting their customers know what’s working and what isn’t, their customers can make a choice over whether to wait it out or try again later.

#5 Communication Skills

Having good communication skills ensures that customers get a relevant, tailored fix or answer. So, as a customer service agent, you need to be able to listen fully to customers and take note of the problem at hand. You also need to communicate clearly, use language customers understand, and keep them informed at every step of the journey.

#6 Patience

Patience is a must-have for customer support teams. You might need to manage expectations while you wait for a reply from management, or deal with a difficult customer in a pressing situation.

Staying patient, calm, and collected can help create the same response in your customer – which leads to a more positive interaction.

#7 Time ManagementTime management - a key customer service skillCustomers want their queries dealt with fast. In fact, a survey conducted by McKinsey revealed that seventy-five percent of customers online still demand help in 5 minutes or less10.

There are only so many hours in day, and with a constant inflow of tickets, and service level agreements and targets to hit, you need to learn how to move swiftly and manage your time efficiently. 

#8 Product Knowledge

While customer support agents handle troubleshooting, customer service teams need to know about the products and services offered.

So, it’s important to stay up to date with the latest feature launches or enhancements and pricing updates. Having access to an internal knowledge base or an agent assist bot that has company and product briefings is a great way to learn and keep abreast of the latest changes.

#9 Desire to Improve

Customer service is constantly evolving. Having the desire to improve and innovate as a way to deliver high-quality experiences and gain a competitive advantage is absolutely essential.

It’s important to reflect (both on an individual and team level) on interactions with customers and suggest ways to improve the experience you deliver. Create a culture of improvement and openness to dealing with customer feedback.

What Customer Service Looks Like in 2021

According to the New CX Mandate Report that contains insights from 1,500 service leaders, here are four ways in which customer service will pan out in 2021: 

  • Delivering high-quality customer service is now more essential than ever.
    63% of people have higher expectations for customer service now compared to just a year ago.
  • Customers expect fast responses, personalization, and customer service to happen where they’re most comfortable — mobile-first channels. 44% of customer service leaders worldwide voted chat as the most critical tool in maintaining service levels through the crisis, and are investing more in live-chat and messaging apps in 2021.
  • 65% of service leaders predict remote or hybrid work models that will allow agents to work from home, as well as the office. So, it’s important to have remote-friendly software and invest in technology that improves agent productivity and increases agent wellness.
  • Since 2020 has taught us a great deal about the importance of empathy, much of the business activities that occur in 2021 will revolve around this.

The pandemic has shown that an organization’s ability to deliver great service and experience to their customers is dependent on their ability to be empathetic.

In 2021, organizations will increasingly get to grips with what that means. That will require them to start thinking holistically about it and will lead them to start thinking about developing an empathetic musculature for their organization i.e. what strategy, systems, processes, design, technology, leadership, people, and training they need to put in place to make their whole organization sustainably more empathetic to their customers. – Adrian Swinscoe, Customer Service & Experience Advisor

How to Empower Your Customer Service Team for Greatness in 2021

Customer service excellence relies on your team and the support you give them. Alongside encouraging essential skill-building, there are other ways to build your team up for success.

Here’s how you can empower your team to deliver expert customer service that your customers will love.

#1 Assemble a Winning Team

To deliver best in class customer service, you need a team that fully believes in the power and impact of good customer service.

Build a winning customer service team that will help you reach your targets and motivate the people around them. Invest in the right number of customer support agents, customer support managers, and leadership positions. Hire based on values, soft skills, and approach – you can train people to your specific system later.

#2 Offer Effective Training

In order to train new recruits and retrain or upskill your customer service team, you need to give them training that’s relevant, easy to access, and personalized. Effective training means your customer service reps are more able to handle customer requests, communicate effectively, and deliver great service.

The most efficient way of training your team is through an agent-facing chatbot such as the Freddy-AI-powered Assist Bot. By interacting with the Assist Bot, all agents irrespective of their work experience can get contextual assistance that empowers them to take the customer conversation forward in the right direction. Agent-facing bots thus enable agents to learn on the job and while getting familiar with the ropes of their role.

#3 Invest in the Right Tools

The right customer service tools can help cut down on wasted time, leading to better efficiency and productivity. The right toolkit also makes it easier for your team to support customers in the most effective way possible, with more relevant information, shortcuts, and streamlined processes.

Great customer service software should enable you to:

  • Deliver assistance from a unified view of conversations across channels
  • Automate support process and set up an SLA matrix
  • Build a range of self-service options such as knowledge base, customer-facing chatbots, and community forums
  • Offer proactive customer service
  • Collaborate seamlessly within and across teams
  • Increase agent productivity using canned responses and agent-facing AI
  • Track and measure importance customer service metrics

With the right software, your agents have everything possible at their disposal to support your customers. They’ll be able to do it quickly too, with the best resources and technology in their hands.

#4 Invest in Agent Wellness

You can’t deliver winning customer service if you don’t invest in your people. Agent wellness should be one of the major focuses moving forward in 2021.Key reasons why agent wellness is a high priority for customer service managersCheck in with your team regularly. Encourage them to come to you with any concerns they might have. Offer health and wellness benefits and stipends that people can customize, to create a personalized package of support. Best of all, make wellness a priority right from the top.

#5 Leverage the Power of agent-facing AI 

In order to build strong customer relationships, agents need to have ample time and mind space to think, offer solutions, and create memorable customer experiences. However, customer service agents are often bogged down with the many processes they need to follow and the tasks they need to do. As a customer service manager, you need to free up your team’s time and enable them to engage with costumes without having to worry about backend tasks. The best way to do that is by investing in an agent-facing AI, like Freddy AI.

An agent-facing AI can help your team:

  • Auto triage tickets to categorize, prioritize, and route them effectively
  • Help agents run lengthy or complicated backend support processes in one click
  • Surface relevant support content to help answer questions
  • Respond quickly with suggested canned responses
  • Prevent thank-you messages from reopening a closed ticket
  • Scan tweets to identify pressing customer requests and automatically create tickets

Here’s Freddy AI in action, suggesting a course of action for a support agent dealing with a cancellation request:

Internal agent assist bot helping an agent

With an agent-powered AI, your customer service team can prioritize their time on the tasks that matter most. No more dealing with time-consuming processes that you could automate. Freddy AI takes care of that for you, so you can focus on your customer.

#6 Set Realistic Targets and Measure Metrics

Create targets that matter and help you reach your goals, and make sure your targets and metrics are realistic. For instance, if your focus is on moving customers to a premier plan, set your team a target to increase upsells to existing customers.

Review your targets regularly to check they’re still relevant. Get feedback from your customer service teams on what’s working, and where you need to adjust targets.

Power Your Customer Service Team

Customer service takes time to perfect, but with the right mindset and support your team can deliver experiences that set you apart from your competitors. It’s all about having the right skills, resources, and tools to help you get there.

Try Freshdesk for free to find out how it can help your customer service team deliver impactful customer service in a more efficient way.

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