Last week, after our Toronto office space blog writer had a not so satisfactory customer service experience with the public transit authority with how they handled his complaint, we decided to help our readers to better understand customer service and how you can deliver not only better customer service, but the best customer service.

Before we can explore with our readers what good, bad or exceptional customer service is, we have to first answer the question: “What is Customer Service?” If you were to go to an online dictionary like, you would get this answer” “All interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter. Customer service adds value to a product and builds enduring relationships.” But that really does not explain what customer service is, so maybe Wikipedia would be more helpful with “Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase…”.

Let us explore a little more about what customer service means to not only the customer, but also to a business. The goal of all customers is to be sold a product or service that meets their needs and wants, without any problems or glitches along the way. The goal of every business is to deliver its product or service to the customer in a manor that will retain the customer for repeat business. Businesses prefer not to have a busy customer service department, because that indicates they are not doing right by the customer or client.

In considering what customer service is, we should look back at it history. Long before there was the phrase “customer service” or even before goods and services were exchanged for currency, there was always that desire by those exchanging products or services to be fair. When one caveman traded a wheel to another caveman in exchange for fire, they both had expectations that the other was dealing in fairness.

Fast forward to 1909 when Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s Department Store coined the phrase  “The customer is always right” which revolutionized what we now know as customer service. As early as the 1900’s,  stores like Macy’s and Filene’s had early reputations as customer-oriented stores with slogans like “money back if not satisfied” or “money back guarantee.” These policies were quickly adopted by other major department stores across the United States and Canada.

Many will say that it was not until the invention and popularity of the telephone that the way customer service was delivered was truly revolutionized. Before most homes had telephones, they would need to visit the store they purchased the product from or write a letter to the manufacturer of the product. But as more people in the 1940’s and 1950’s had telephones installed in their homes, businesses had to set up switchboards to handle the incoming calls and inquiries. Then in the 1960’s the invention of the touch-tone phone and toll free 1-800 number came along and offered customers an easier way of contacting vendors in other parts of the country.

With the 1990’s, a new technology called the Internet was making its way into homes and businesses. While it had traditionally been used mostly by government, military and academia, it became more popular with consumers with the invention of HTML. HTML allowed graphics to be sent along with text to create hypertext pages customized to the sender’s preference. Businesses began to realize that this new technology could not only be a great sales tool, but also a new way to deliver customer service.

In 1994, one of the first successful businesses to make sales on the Internet was Seattle-based Amazon. It started selling books and quickly expanded to selling CD’s, DVD’s and almost any consumer product you can think of. Today Amazon is the largest online retailer. With large sales came a greater need to deliver quality customer service online. Amazon went beyond just delivering customer service and started a system of ratings for the products they sold. Amazon allowed its users to submit reviews to the web page of each product. Customer reviewers could rate the product on a scale from one to five stars. In 2010, Amazon was reported as being the largest single source of Internet consumer reviews.

These days, the internet is not only a place for reviews of products, but there are websites dedicated to allowing customers to post reviews of businesses and how they handle customer service. It is key for businesses to know what customers and other consumers are saying about them and where they are posting their comments. It is also important to address the complaints or issues on other sites.

Recently, Telsec office space Toronto had to address an online comment that had been made about them over a year ago. Our customer service had resolved the issue privately with the Toronto virtual office customer immediately at the time the issue was brought to them, but did not address it publicly. The negative comment was surrounded by positive feedback and it was not a problem until a potential client asked about the issue. So the lesson that was learned was that we have to address online comments as soon as they are made.

In our next blog, we will be discussing more about good customer service, bad customer service and exceptional customer service – and how some good companies with good intentions are delivering bad customer service without even knowing it!