8 Steps to Create a Customer Service Strategy

Maryna Paryvai
by Maryna Paryvai

Everyone has a story about how poor customer service made them never want to engage with the same brand again. On the other hand, excellent customer service makes customers feel appreciated and plays a key role in their buying journeys (alongside factors like quality and price).

Customer service strategy

PwC’s research underscores this fact, revealing that 42% of consumers are ready to pay more for friendly, welcoming customer service. That's right – customers are ready to open their wallets if you don’t drop the ball in assisting them.

But recognizing the importance of customer support is just the first step. Without a strategic approach, your valuable time, resources, and energy will get wasted on unnecessary actions and tasks, resulting in a less-than-optimal customer service experience.

To turn customer service into a competitive advantage, you need to act strategically and ensure that your every action contributes to providing excellent customer care.

What Is a Customer Service Strategy?

Your customer service strategy is the action plan for how your organization will consistently deliver high-quality customer service across your customer base. It’s the roadmap you’ll follow to create satisfied customers and to develop a customer-centric strategy.

At the core of an effective customer service strategy lies a proactive and purposeful approach to meeting customer expectations.

A good strategy outlines specific goals and processes for your customer service team so they can deliver a positive experience to your customers. It helps allocate your company's resources to create an optimal customer experience and service efficiency, ensuring consistently great experiences across all customer support interactions. But it’s not just about the tactical — how you’ll answer customer questions or handle complaints — it's also about maximizing your organization's resources to create a customer-first company culture.

When creating a customer service strategy, start by understanding your customer needs and take into account factors such as market dynamics, competitor research, and your brand’s overall mission and value prop.

The Impact of an Effective Customer Service Strategy

Investing in a strong customer service strategy has hardly any downsides. Instead, it brings a ton of benefits, all of which help maximize the impact of your sales and service efforts, driving long-term growth. The key benefits include:

  1. Improved customer relationships. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping customers have a good experience, you’re working intentionally to build a positive experience for them across the customer journey.
  2. Lower churn and increased customer loyalty. More positive experiences make it more likely for customers to stick around. They’re also willing to pay more money for those experiences. 
  3. Increased operational efficiency. A customer service strategy keeps your entire team aligned on what’s most important. As your customer service team grows, it gives clear direction and KPIs that show new team members what you value.

You’ve likely heard about tools like Buffer, Zapier or Basecamp — companies that have seen massive growth by placing big bets on great customer service. Why? Because happy, loyal customers tend to have a higher life-time value and become strong brand advocates, spreading the word and driving referrals.

In an era where trust in traditional marketing is declining, satisfied customers advocating for your brand become a powerful force for attracting new customers. According to Hubspot, 75% of consumers don’t trust advertisements, but 90% of people believe the purchase recommendations of their friends.

That’s why acting strategically and consistently elevating your customer service is crucial for sustained business growth.

8 Steps to Create a Customer Service Strategy

If you’re just starting to develop your customer service strategy from scratch, the journey may seem daunting. But fear not. Below, we’ll go over the key components of crafting a winning strategy that drives lasting success.

Each step here is a critical building block toward a customer service culture that stands the test of time, even in the middle of ever-changing market demands.

1. Understand your customers’ needs

Researching and understanding your customers' unique needs is the cornerstone of building a robust customer service strategy. Really knowing your customers — being customer first — is how you take a generic plan and tailor it into something transformational for your business.

Here are key considerations that should guide your research:

  • Customer journey: Begin by mapping out the customer journey from the point of sale to onboarding through ongoing usage to potential offboarding. What are the key touchpoints that every customer hits when interacting with your brand? Can customers easily connect with customer service agents, and are self-service resources readily accessible? Assess your customer service offering for each stage of the journey to pinpoint problems and uncover opportunities for improvement.
  • Recurring themes in support inquiries: Watch out for trends in customer tickets to identify potential pain points and areas causing friction. Understanding frequently asked questions empowers you to plan improvements, whether it's improving confusing product functionality or adding knowledge base resources to enable better customer self-service.
  • Customer feedback: Customers hate not feeling listened to. Pain points from negative customer feedback highlight areas for immediate improvement and future development opportunities. Positive feedback, on the other hand, sheds light on things that contribute to customer loyalty and satisfaction. Customers may highlight things like quick response times, effective customer issue resolution, personalized interactions, or the availability of omni-channel customer support. Double down on whatever your customers seem to love.
  • Competitor analysis: Your competitors will have a significant impact on customer expectations. It’s crucial to understand what customers appreciate in competing offers — both the product and the customer experience — and to identify areas where those competitors may fall short.

2. Define your vision

With a deeper understanding of your customer needs, the next step in crafting your customer service strategy is defining your vision. A customer service vision, at its essence, is your team’s shared understanding of what good customer service looks like.

It helps get everyone on the same page and align perspectives.

At this stage, you must clearly articulate how you want your brand to be perceived by customers. Based on that vision, you’ll be able to define key elements of your customer service strategy, such as:

  • Team values - the core qualities you want your organization to uphold.
  • Customer service channels - from email support to social media, your customer service channels should match up well with your customer’s preferred communication channels.
  • Operational systems - across different areas, you’ll define how you want to embrace the efficiency of automation and AI chatbots, and where you want to invest in the warmth of personalized human support as a competitive advantage.
  • Service level objectives - including response and resolution times to manage customer's expectations.

3. Create a playbook

The next step in the process is to create a customer service playbook with guidelines that your support team should follow. It’s where you define what customer interactions should look like and serves as a reference point for your team.

Just like an NFL team uses a playbook to show every player where they should be on the field, your customer service playbook will guide your team’s actions each day.

Your playbook should cover your customer service best practices, and can include things like:

  • Team objectives, vision and values
  • Responsibilities and expectations for each role on your team
  • Communication and service standards, including the tone of voice for customer interactions
  • Available tools along with instructions on how to use them
  • Internal resources, reference materials and scripts for managing customer inquiries 
  • Internal and external communication channels
  • Escalation and outage handling procedures
  • Best practices and smart tips

As you work on creating your playbook, avoid complex terminology. Aim to keep it concise and clear, making the document easy for your team to use whenever they need it. You may want to consider using a knowledge base tool like Guru or KnowledgeOwl to make your playbook easily searchable.

4. Build your customer service team

The fourth critical step involves developing a hiring process that ensures the alignment of your new team members with your established vision and values.

A scorecard for rating candidates based on how well they resonate with the values you've defined can be a game-changer during the hiring process. It helps you translate your feelings about candidates into quantified data, which you can use to make better decisions.

This ensures that every addition to your team is not only equipped with the necessary skills but also shares a genuine commitment to the customer-centric vision and culture you aim to create.

A simple scorecard for rating customer service candidates during an interview
A simple scorecard for rating customer service candidates during an interview

By prioritizing cultural fit in the hiring process, you lay the groundwork for a team that can deliver on your strategy. But building your team doesn’t end there when a new employee starts. You’ll also need to coach and train your team to keep people engaged and motivated.

Remember, how you treat your team members shapes how they, in turn, treat your customers.

5. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

No strategy is complete without defining the KPIs for measuring your team’s success. Based on your vision, identify which metrics will best reflect successful execution.

Common customer service KPIs include:

  • Customer effort score and customer satisfaction scores (CES and CSAT)
  • First reply time
  • Issue resolution time
  • Escalation rate
  • QA evaluation score
  • Retention and churn rates
  • Net promoter score (NPS)
  • Self-service score

Remember, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Most customer service tools will include customer service analytics that will help here. Don’t feel tempted to measure every KPI under the sun. Pick a few complementary KPIs — like first reply time, CSAT, and NPS — and optimize around those metrics over time.

6. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals

Monitoring your KPIs is important, but you’ll typically improve upon them through executing specific, time-bound projects. That’s where SMART goals come into play.

If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, they’re goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Sometimes customer service leaders feel like SMART goals aren’t applicable to their teams (because support tickets never stop coming in and KPIs are ongoing), but they’re actually a helpful tool.

For instance, maybe you’re not happy with your team’s first reply time. Instead of setting a hard-to-action goal like, “Reduce First Reply Time by 10%,” SMART goals help you prioritize and manage projects that are likely to reduce first reply time:

  • Implement new AI-powered chatbot solution by end of Q2
  • Revamp existing case routing workflows in June to reduce handoffs by 10%

With SMART goals like these, you’re bound to see a positive impact on your overarching first reply time goal.

7. Establish feedback loops

Your customer support strategy is a dynamic thing. It’s continuously evolving, and you’ll need to make regular process adjustments as your customers’ needs and your company’s strategy shift.

That’s why you need feedback loops.

The two main sources of feedback on your customer service strategy are your customers and your team:

  • Create an open channel for feedback within your team. Frontline employees possess valuable insights into actual workflow challenges and customer challenges. Actively listen to their experiences, suggestions, and concerns that may elude higher management. You can solicit feedback through Q&As, brainstorming sessions, or one-on-ones.
  • Develop a process for gathering customer feedback. Customer feedback isn’t just limited to your survey tool. You can learn a ton from routine customer inquiries, call logs, and chat transcripts. You can also conduct customer interviews to dive deep into understanding a customer’s specific use case. Regardless of your preferred methods, it’s crucial to find systematic and regular ways to listen to your customers (and to act on their feedback). Feedback analytics tools like Kapiche or SentiSum can make this analysis far easier.

When boxer Mike Tyson was interviewed about his fight plan for fighting Evander Holyfield, he famously replied, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Your customer service strategy is going to take punches over time — negative feedback from customers, pivots from your product managers, and budget cuts from your board. Whatever shape those hits might take, the key is building a resilient and flexible strategy that allow for real-time adjustments whenever needed.

8. Cultivate a company-wide commitment to customer happiness

Customer service used to just be a function within a company. You had a customer service team, and they were responsible for solving customer issues.

You probably still have a customer service team, but today’s best organizations are recognizing that customer experience is far bigger than one team’s job. It’s massive and far-reaching. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “To deliver that complete customer experience, organizations must unite around the customer in ways they’ve never had to before.”

Customer-facing teams can only achieve so much in isolation; true success comes when the entire organization rallies behind the goal of making customers happy and successful.

And that means you need to foster an organizational culture where every department understands and prioritizes customer experience. It’s easier said than done, and it’s work that takes time, but your customer service strategy should include details on how you’ll affect this kind of change.

Great places to start include sharing success stories and customer feedback across the organization. It’s also a good idea to cultivate relationships with key decision-makers who impact the customer experience — from product and engineering, to sales and marketing.

The more you can help people at every level of your organization understand what customers need, how they’re feeling, and how they can become more successful, the higher your likelihood of long-term success becomes.

Implementing Your Customer Service Strategy

Providing exceptional service to your customers isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a strategic business move. A move that will improve your bottom line and lead to better long-term results.

Crafting a beautiful customer service strategy is only the beginning of that journey. A beautiful strategy on paper doesn’t change anything — it’s the implementation and execution that makes all the difference. And it starts with investing in the key tools that your customer service team is using to interact with your customers all day, every day.

That’s where Missive comes into play. Missive is a team inbox and chat app that empowers your whole team to collaborate and help customers effectively across a ton of different channels. If you’re ready to transform your customer conversations and join the ranks of high-growth companies like Buffer, try Missive out for free today.

Maryna Paryvai

Maryna is a results-driven CX executive passionate about efficient processes and human-centric customer support. With a track record of scaling ecommerce support operations, she firmly believes that exceptional customer experiences lie at the heart of every successful business.
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