Customer satisfaction has never been a higher priority than it is today, where fierce competition for space in the market means loyalties can change for the smallest reason. A strong audit and understanding of your company’s customer service can mean the difference between lifelong customers and quick consumer abandonment.

“The customer is always right” has never been truer than it is today. The perfect storm of review websites like Yelp and social media give customers more power than ever to sway public opinion about a brand or product. In order for companies to ensure that their customers are receiving the best service and experience possible, they must focus on the gold standard: ease, simplicity, beautiful design, and anticipating customer needs before the customer even knows they are needs.

Apple, for example, has been at the forefront of defining customer service and experience since the introduction of the iPod. They went on to define the world of tablets with the introduction of the iPad, even before anyone knew that the tablet was exactly what we all had been wanting.

Before the iPad’s release, tech analysts and Apple fanboys expected an even more portable laptop with a built-in keyboard — something akin to the Microsoft Tablet PC. Instead, the iPad and its “keyboardlessness” defined the tablet market and continue to influence it to this day. Consider even the packaging of an Apple product — its entire composition is designed to give the consumer a sense of thrill when they open it for the first time.

Customer Experience, Service, and Innovation

The innovation of customer experience and service doesn’t end in the tech sector. Everywhere we are seeing new ways for consumers to engage with products, brands, and organizations. You can now buy a mattress online from three different companies that have no brick-and-mortar stores, but instead a solely digital presence.

No matter your industry, though, every organization must deeply consider and potentially transform the way they handle customer service. It’s one of those topics that seems to be constantly talked about and improved upon in some form or another, yet for many companies it’s the one aspect of customer experience that consistently misses the mark.

Customer service typically spans across multiple functional areas within the organization. It’s not just siloed to one department responding to phone calls and emails, but hits teams independently working on social, digital, and marketing initiatives.

The key to tackling the beast of a customer service strategy is to first define what customer service means for an organization. Very broadly, it can mean proactive self-service solutions, intake of service requests, and subsequent management, resolution, and measurement of those requests.

Google, for instance, has taken a very strong and proactive approach to self-service solutions. Google Support provides articles for each product that offer how-to and troubleshooting help. When a customer can’t solve their issue by reading through any of these posted articles, the company encourages customers to use its Google Forum, where users discuss their particular issues and find resolution from community input. And oftentimes, Google employees monitor the various discussion boards to provide input and feedback.

Optimizing the Customer Service Cycle

In order to optimize the customer service lifecycle, the entire process should be audited to understand what is working and where roadblocks appear. Every aspect of the lifecycle should be reviewed to ensure the most effective use of every channel, tool, and team. Each technology platform, process, team, and digital ecosystem provides added value to the service situation, but can also bear its own weaknesses if improperly utilized.

For instance, if an organization sees a significant number of inbound issues on their social media platforms, but haven’t adequately socialized the idea of customer service, the social media team could be responding to issues and complaints in a language and vernacular that’s incompatible with a specific platform.

Some companies struggle with this omni-channel idea of customer service. But if they take into account all elements of customer service — self-service, intake, management, resolution, and measurement of service requests — they’ll be able to determine precisely which elements can be optimized through various solutions.

For example, when a customer can’t find their package on UPS.com, they can express initial complaint to someone via their online click-to-chat feature. But, when the responding agent doesn’t have enough information on hand, the issue is resolved when someone calls the customer once they’ve have received final confirmation on the package’s whereabouts.

Implement Digital Tools or Keep Service Associates on the Payroll?

A question that almost every company asks themselves is, when does it make sense to switch from a person-to-person interaction over to a digital experience? Or, how much will I earn in savings from such an initiative? The answer is, of course, dependent on the individual company.

But for every organization, when and where to use digital across customer service depends highly on the customer service and experience journeys that are specific to their product and industry. We do know that, 76% of telecommunications customers are satisfied with an experience that is totally digital versus 56% who are satisfied with traditional methods.

Using these types of findings, companies need to map their customer experience service journey and determine which interactions are high value enough to keep person-to-person and where there are real opportunities for boosts in experience and cost savings by switching over to a digital method.

This brings up another difficult aspect of customer service: multifunctionality. For something that is so vital to the overall customer experience, service teams really need to span across all areas of the organization, instead of sitting in a siloed department as most do today.

For some companies that have identified customer service as a top priority, this is a high-impact team that may even report directly to the CEO. When someone that high up in the ranks is devoted to customer service, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization to take the issue extremely seriously.

In turn, when customer service is done right, it’s an exceptionally pleasant experience, and your customers will notice. Digital capabilities should be taken advantage of, but it’s even more important that you create a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the multidimensional nature of your service, with an understanding that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is exceptional service.