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9 Types of customer service: Pros, cons and when to choose each one

Types of Customer Service
Types of customer service
Which type of customer service should you choose?
Omnichannel customer support with a CRM
Final thoughts

Customer service plays a vital role in your brand’s success. However, as technology advances and customer preferences evolve, it’s not easy to decide which types of customer service to offer.

You can use a wide range of channels to serve your customers, but which ones should you invest in?

In this article, you’ll learn about the most common types of customer service and their pros and cons. You’ll also learn when each channel is most useful and how to decide which will delight your customers most.

Types of customer service

Customer service is the process of helping users feel satisfied with a product. It includes providing information, answering questions, resolving customer problems and offering assistance. Good customer service matters: in one 2023 study by Hyken, almost half (48%) of respondents said customer service was more important than price when considering where to do business.

Customer service isn’t just about addressing problems, it’s also about fostering relationships. High-quality support enhances the customer experience, promotes repeat business and reduces churn.

Here are some of the most effective types of customer service.

1. In-person support

In-person support involves face-to-face interaction between a customer service representative and a customer. It’s common in settings like retail stores, service centers and kiosks.

In-person support offers several advantages:

  • Personalized service. Your representatives can provide highly personalized experiences to in-person customers because they can gauge the customer’s emotions quickly and respond accordingly.

  • Instant feedback and resolution. Customer service representatives can identify and resolve issues on the spot, providing immediate satisfaction.

  • Demonstration. Your reps can demonstrate your products or services, making it easier for customers to understand.

  • Extra salespeople. In many industries, support staff do double duty as sales representatives, helping boost your capacity to generate revenue.

In-person support also has some drawbacks, however:

  • Limited access. In-person support requires your customers to be present, which might not always be convenient or even possible.

  • Potential wait times. Depending on demand, customers may need to wait to receive assistance.

  • Inconsistency. The quality of support customers receive can vary depending on your staff’s training, experience and attitude.

  • Costs. Maintaining physical locations and staff can be expensive.

In-person support is ideal when you want to offer a personalized and human-centric experience. It’s particularly effective for handling complex issues, environments where physical demonstrations are useful or when a customer prefers to see and touch products before making decisions.

2. Phone support

Phone support is assisting customers through voice calls, either via landlines, mobile phones or computer applications. It continues to be one of the most widely used channels for customer service.

Advantages of phone support include:

  • Personalization. Phone support allows for real-time personalization. The human voice adds a personal touch that can foster trust and rapport with the customer.

  • Instant responses. Callers can get immediate answers and resolutions to their queries, enhancing overall satisfaction.

  • Accessibility. Most people have access to a phone, so it’s a convenient option for many.

  • Complex issues. Phone support is especially effective for resolving complex issues because the customer service agent can ask follow-up questions and clarify doubts immediately.

Some of the disadvantages of phone support include:

  • Costs. Maintaining a call center with trained personnel can be expensive. Costs increase even further if you want to offer extended hours or 24/7 coverage.

  • Call wait times. When there’s high demand for support, wait times can be extensive.

  • Privacy concerns. Some customers might be hesitant to discuss sensitive information over the phone.

  • Language barriers. It can be challenging to provide adequate support in the languages your customers need.

Phone support is particularly effective for handling complex or urgent issues that require immediate attention. You might also want to offer phone support if your customers include older demographics, who often prefer phone support over digital channels.

3. Email support

Email support is when your team fields customer service queries and issues electronically. Email is widely accessible for both businesses and customers, which is part of the reason it’s such a popular support channel.

Some of the advantages of email support include:

  • Convenience. Customers can send an email from anywhere at any time.

  • Documentation. Emails provide a written record of the communication, which can be useful for reference and accountability.

  • Cost-effective. Compared to phone and in-person support, email support often costs less to operate.

  • Thoughtful responses. Agents can take time to research and provide detailed, well-thought-out answers to complex customer questions.

But some of the disadvantages of email support include:

  • Delayed responses. Unlike real-time channels like phone or chat, customers usually have to wait longer for a response, sometimes days or weeks.

  • Potential miscommunication. Without instant feedback and the ability to check for customer comprehension, email support can lead to misunderstandings.

  • It can feel impersonal. Email lacks the immediacy and personal touch of other channels, so it could feel less personal for customers.

  • Management challenges. Handling a large volume of emails efficiently requires robust systems and processes to prevent issues from falling through the cracks.

Email support is well-suited for troubleshooting, non-urgent queries and issues that require detailed explanations or attachments. It’s also ideal for customers who prefer to have a documented trail of communication or want to refer to instructions over and over again.

Email Support Pipedrive

Pipedrive’s email software helps you keep track of all your email communications to customers. You see a complete history of your communication and send personalized emails based on customer preferences.

4. SMS support

Short message service (SMS) support involves customer service through text messages to mobile devices. This channel is popular now that smartphones are common and texting is increasingly convenient.

Some of the advantages of SMS support include:

  • Ubiquity. With the widespread use of mobile phones, SMS support can reach most target audiences, including those without internet access.

  • Immediate and convenient. Customers can send a text at their convenience and continue the conversation on the go without staying on a phone call.

  • Automated responses. Integration with chatbots or automated systems can provide instant answers to common queries.

  • CRM support. Many SMS text messaging apps can connect directly to your support CRM, helping your teams track and coordinate customer service

While it’s convenient, SMS support may not be ideal in every situation. Here are some of its drawbacks:

  • Limited complexity. Text messages often have character limitations, which makes them unsuitable for complex queries that require detailed responses.

  • Potential security concerns. Handling sensitive information through SMS can be risky since texts might not have strong encryption.

  • Costs for businesses. Depending on the volume of text messages and the region, SMS support can become costly for businesses.

  • No rich media. Unlike other digital channels, SMS doesn’t support images, videos or other types of media, which limits the kinds of content you can send.

SMS support is best for simple inquiries, notifications, reminders or follow-up communications. It’s effective when you want quick, concise communication and when you want to reach customers on the move.

5. Social media support

Social media support leverages platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to address customer inquiries and concerns. As social media continues to dominate the digital landscape, customers are using these platforms more and more to request support from businesses.

Some of the advantages of using social media to field support requests include:

  • Wide reach. Social media platforms have billions of users. They help you to reach a vast and diverse audience.

  • Real-time interaction. Social media typically has quick response times and real-time engagement.

  • Public visibility. Your posts and responses are public. That can be a good thing, as positive interactions on social media can enhance your image with other customers.

  • Integration with marketing: Social media support can blend seamlessly with marketing efforts, reinforcing brand messaging and values.

Using social media to provide customer support can also carry risks. Some of the disadvantages are:

  • Public scrutiny. Negative interactions or unresolved issues may be publicly visible, potentially damaging a brand’s reputation.

  • Resource-intensive. Managing multiple social platforms requires a dedicated customer support team and tools, especially if 24/7 responsiveness is the goal.

  • Privacy concerns. Sensitive issues may not be suitable for public platforms. You may need private messaging or another support channel to complement your social media support.

  • More coordination. In most companies, marketing teams are responsible for social media platforms. That may require an extra level of coordination for your customer service reps.

Social media support is an effective channel for handling general inquiries and creating a more approachable, conversational voice. It is ideal for engaging with a younger and digital native demographic.

6. Live web chat support

Live web chat support refers to real-time customer service conducted through chat interfaces on websites or mobile applications. It offers visitors immediate access to assistance.

Some chat interfaces, like Pipedrive’s chatbot, offer an AI tool that provides a first level of support.

Lead Chatbot

AI chatbots can answer the most common queries your customers have and point them to further resources. If the AI can’t answer the question, it routes users to an agent to provide live chat support.

Advantages of live chat support include:

  • Immediate assistance. Live web chat provides instant access to help. Customers engage with support agents directly without leaving the webpage.

  • Multitasking capability. Customers can continue shopping or browsing while they chat with an agent.

  • Integration with other tools. Live chat can integrate seamlessly with other systems, like CRM, email or knowledge bases, to connect your support systems.

  • Cost-effective. Compared to phone support, live chat often requires fewer resources because agents can handle multiple chats simultaneously. Scripted responses and AI chatbots further reduce costs by taking care of more frequent, straightforward questions.

Disadvantages of live chat support may include:

  • Potential wait times. Even though live chat is quite efficient, customers may still wait to get service when demand is high.

  • It may lack personal touch. Although it’s more engaging than email, chat may still lack the personal warmth of a voice or in-person conversation.

  • Resource allocation. Live chat still requires dedicated staff and proper training to be effective.

  • Over-reliance on automation. While scripted responses can enhance efficiency, agents may overuse them, leading to a robotic and impersonal customer service experience.

Live web chat is effective for handling simple to moderately complex inquiries, offering guidance through the sales funnel or providing support during online transactions. It’s well-suited for online businesses, e-commerce platforms and other scenarios where users need immediate assistance without leaving the digital environment.

7. Video customer service

Video customer support involves real-time face-to-face communication between customer support representatives and customers through video conferencing tools. It leverages the benefits of visual and auditory interaction and offers an engaging support experience.

Some of the specific benefits of video customer service are:

  • Personalized interactions. Video chat lets customers talk to your staff face-to-face, which creates a more personal and engaging experience.

  • Visual assistance. Agents can demonstrate solutions, guide customers through processes or assess physical products, making explanations clearer and more effective.

  • Enhanced accessibility. The visual aspect can be more inclusive for individuals with hearing impairments, especially if features like sign language interpretation or closed captioning are available.

  • Convenience. Video chat is available from anywhere to anyone with an internet connection and a mobile device. Customers don’t need to be present in a store.

But video customer service has some downsides, including:

  • Technical requirements. Both customers and staff need adequate devices, cameras, microphones and internet connections, which could limit access for some people.

  • Privacy considerations. Some customers may feel uncomfortable with video interactions, especially when discussing sensitive issues.

  • Resource-intensive. Video chat requires agents trained in both the technical and interpersonal aspects of video communication.

  • Potential bandwidth issues. Heavy reliance on internet bandwidth can lead to lag or quality issues, impacting communication effectiveness.

Video chat support is ideal for situations where visual cues and demonstrations can enhance understanding, like technical support, product setup guidance or personalized consultations. It may be particularly beneficial for healthcare companies, tech support or personalized shopping experiences in high-end retail companies.

8. Self-service support and documentation

Self-service support and help documentation empower customers to find solutions by accessing online resources like FAQs, guides, video tutorials and knowledge bases. It’s a vital component of modern customer support that emphasizes empowering customers to help themselves.

The advantages of self-service support include:

  • Availability. Self-service resources are available 24/7 and can provide support when live agents are unavailable.

  • Scalability. Self-service support can handle a large volume of inquiries efficiently without additional staffing.

  • Cost-effective. Help documentation reduces the need for live support agents, resulting in cost savings.

  • Customer preferences. Many customers prefer to solve their own issues without talking to a support agent, especially if there are long waiting times.

Some disadvantages of self-service support include:

  • Less effective for complex issues. Documentation may be unable to address complicated or highly personalized issues.

  • Maintenance required. Documentation must be accurate, relevant and updated.

  • Potential frustration. Poorly designed or outdated self-service resources can lead to frustration, decreased customer satisfaction or even angry customers.

  • It cannot replace all support. Some issues require action by an agent, like returns or refunds. Self-service support often can’t replace a help desk entirely.

Self-service support is most effective for businesses with a large customer base who need quick answers to standard questions or straightforward problems. It’s particularly suitable for tech companies and online services. When self-service can’t answer a customer’s question, forward them to more personalized options like chat or phone support.

9. Communities and forums

Online communities and forums are websites where customers can interact with each other, ask questions, share experiences and suggest solutions. These customer-led discussions can be a rich source of information, with moderation from community members or company representatives. Pipedrive’s community is an example of this type of support.

Advantages of online communities and forums include:

  • 24/7 availability. Forums are community-driven, so they provide continuous support, independent of business hours and time zones.

  • Community and loyalty. Helpful forums foster a sense of community and customer loyalty as customers engage with each other and your brand.

  • Rich content source. Over time, forums can become a valuable repository of solutions and insights. You can even integrate forum content into official support materials.

  • Cost-effective. Leveraging community knowledge can reduce the need to invest in other, more costly forms of support.

Some of the disadvantages of online communities and forums include:

  • Quality control. Information shared by community members might be incorrect or outdated, leading to potential confusion or misinformation.

  • Moderation required. Most forums require moderation to maintain a respectful and helpful environment, which could be time-consuming for your support team.

  • Potential for negative exposure. Unresolved issues or customer dissatisfaction can become public and may negatively impact brand reputation.

  • Accessibility. Not all customers may feel comfortable participating in community discussions or might find them difficult to navigate.

Communities and forums are particularly beneficial for products or services with passionate user bases, complex features or those that encourage customization and experimentation. Tech companies, gaming communities, hobbyist groups and open-source projects often find forums an invaluable part of their support ecosystem.

Which type of customer service should you choose?

To select the best customer service channels for your business, think carefully about who your customers are, the nature of your products or services and your overall business goals.

Start by understanding your customers’ preferences. Are they inclined to seek immediate assistance through live chat, or do they value in-depth support through email or phone calls?

Next, consider the complexity and nature of the inquiries you typically handle. For intricate and personalized issues, channels like video chat, phone or in-person support may be necessary. If your customers often have common, easily resolved questions, self-service support and FAQs may be more appropriate.

Balancing these options ensures your customer service team can meet various customer needs without overburdening resources.

Consider cost factors, too. Communities and forums may offer cost-effective solutions for growing businesses, but they may not be able to handle some types of customer issues. On the other hand, live web chat or phone support might offer more personalized service but come with higher operational costs.

Omnichannel customer support with a CRM

Many companies choose to offer omnichannel customer service: support through many communication channels. The challenge becomes coordinating support across those channels so customers have a seamless experience.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system helps you do that.

A CRM serves as a central hub for your contact management. It houses all your customer interactions, ensuring that no matter how a customer reaches out – whether it’s through email, phone, live chat, social media or in person – the experience is consistent.

A CRM can also help make your support more efficient. For example, Pipedrive offers many workflow automation features like trigger emails that ensure your customers get quick, responsive service. That reduces the tedious manual tasks for your service agents so they can spend more time interacting with your customers.

Final thoughts

There’s no single path to great customer service. Each different type of customer service comes with its unique benefits and challenges, so your choice has to align with customer expectations, needs and preferences.

Most companies cover their bases by offering several different service options. That way, they ensure every type of customer in their base has options to suit their needs. They use a CRM tool to coordinate and offer excellent customer service with a seamless, consistent experience.

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