In some industries, customers demand a higher level of service than others. People expect more, for example, from luxury retailers and financial services companies than discount stores. But while standards may vary, we wanted to dig into what truly differentiates good service from bad.

To get started, we commissioned independent market researcher Vanson Bourne to survey 3,000 consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. and asked them to identify the elements of good customer service. They zeroed in on these five essential traits:

  1. Knowledgeable staff (73%)
  2. Friendly staff (72%)
  3. Quickly resolving my issue (72%)
  4. A positive attitude from the person helping me (70%)
  5. Being shown care as an individual (54%)

Interestingly, only 32% cited a “customer is always right” approach as important to good service.

Industries Don’t Always Meet Expectations (And That’s a Problem)

The research found that people expected the best service from financial services (53%), home electronics (52%), hotels (51%) and high-value retail goods (51%). And while 63% reported a good experience in high-value retail in the last 12 months, only 38% reported the same for financial services.  Some industries are clearly not stepping up. And that can prove problematic for growth.

Industries with the highest customer expectations, like financial services, will compete increasingly on the quality of their service. Even those with a good track record, such as high-value retail, will have to focus on continually developing the five traits of customer service to stay on top.

Good Technology = Excellent Customer Experience

Providing customer service interactions that deliver the brand-differentiating customer experience today’s consumers expect starts with a culture of happy and supported agents. When businesses support their agents with effective desktop tools, integrated data dashboards and a low-stress culture, contact centers can deliver on the most important customer expectations. Here’s what’s important:

  1. Knowledgeable agents have the answers at their fingertips.

Feature-rich products and complex business procedures require agents to learn large amounts of information to do their jobs successfully. Even with good training, it can take years for one person to master everything required. But customers expect agents to be experts on day one. Fortunately, desktop applications can fill in learning gaps by connecting employees to a centralized knowledge base. With these applications, agents can easily locate information needed to resolve issues. Better yet, if the knowledge base is integrated with the company’s CRM, it can identify recent purchases and prepopulate relevant information as calls come in.

  1. Friendly staff has the skills and data to connect with customers.

Shared histories strengthen connections. A customer and a company have a shared history, and just as people expect someone they’ve met before to remember their names, they expect companies to remember who they are.

But agents can’t know that history unless they have access to customer information on their desktops. For each contact, they should see purchases, account details, website activity, social comments, recent emails, texts, chats and personal preferences. With complete data, they can treat callers like friends rather than strangers.

  1. Efficient technologies enable quick resolution.

Customers can throw any variety of problems at a contact center. To quickly handle whatever might come along, agents need a suite of intelligent support tools. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) can route callers to the best agent based on customer intent, account history and even personality. And chatbots or IVR call flows handle the initial steps of a call. They determine what the customer needs and answer basic questions, transferring the caller and the conversation to an agent.

AI further facilitates quick resolution by enhancing automation across all channels. Self-service applications incorporate customer history and context to personalize interactions, increasing completions and lightening the load on the contact center. If needed, callers can transfer to a human with all relevant data from any touchpoint.

  1. Positive agents know the company has their backs.

A helpful attitude comes not just from the agent but also from the company culture. An agent may be trained to say, “Let me find out for you,” instead of, “I don’t know,” but if they have limited access to information or if they don’t have the authority to remedy common problems, the customer won’t consider them helpful regardless of a positive and cheery attitude.

When they have the information, tools and authority to act for the customer, and leadership supports problem-solving, agents know their efforts will pay off. They’re more likely to think creatively and invest extra effort in finding solutions, earning customer loyalty in the process. This kind of empowerment is especially helpful—and desired—by the youngest generations of contact center employees like Millennials and Gen Z, which are the fastest growing group of contact center employees.

  1. Relaxed, confident agents show care toward customers.

In order to help customers feel important, agents need the emotional energy to connect with people, even the angry ones. But when agents are stressed, their attention is focused inward on performance metrics, frustration with confusing desktop tools or just simple exhaustion.

Every job has stress, but handling customer service calls can wear people down at a particularly fast rate. Contact centers can guard against this and balance call metrics with more qualitative performance assessment. A good workforce management tool helps plan for peak times to keep stress low. And quality monitoring enables more nuanced performance assessment and coaching, so agents stay focused on the customers, not the stresses of the job.

Good Customer Service Is Good for Business

Businesses that live up to customer service expectations typically see revenue rise along with their brand reputation. Good service retains more customers.

Vanson Bourne’s research revealed that 73% of respondents would make additional purchases after an excellent experience. And satisfied consumers attract new fans. Seventy percent of those we surveyed would recommend the company to family and friends. Twenty-three percent said they would share a good experience on social media. While that’s a relatively small proportion, the nature of social shares means exponential impact.

 Good Customer Service Leads to Outstanding Customer Service

The efforts required to improve these five traits of good customer service lay a foundation for exceptional customer service. Integrated data, intuitive and capable desktop applications, and data analytics open the way for companies to develop cutting-edge, personalized and proactive interactions that rise above the competition.

Read more about the research here.