What is Customer Service?

By John Strohmeyer

So what is Customer Service? Customer service is the experience that a business provides beyond its physical or technical product.


As with any good definition, there’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with some business basics. As you know, every business engages in the same fundamental transaction:


a hand holds out money to a hand holding out a bag


The business exchanges its product for the client’s money, and at the end of the transaction, both parties are better off. The client has a product that they value more than  the money, and the business has money that it valued more than the product.

Here are a few examples:

• Amazon sells book to a customer. While Amazon’s inventory is depleted, it has received money in exchange, and the customer has received a book they value more than the money.

• The Four Seasons rents a room to guest for the night. The guest values the experience of staying at a Four Seasons more than the money spent (or what could have been done with that money). The Four Seasons has to serve the guest during their stay, but ultimately values the money received more than letting the room remain empty.

• A lawyer provides legal advice to a client. The client has the benefit of the representation, and the lawyer has the money.

In each of these transactions, a customer, guest, or client exchanges money for a product that is a combination of three different, though intertwined, components: a physical product, a technical product, and a service product. All three components are present in every transaction, but the relative composition of each product varies. But with these three components in mind, let’s take a look at each of the products that comes from these components.

• The product could be physical, such as a pound of Land O’Lakes butter, a ream of Hammermill copy paper, a Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, or the Lego Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon. The customer is primarily purchasing a physical product, even if there is some technical know-how or service during the sale that goes into that product.

• The product could be technical, such as a patent, a copyright, investment advice, or legal advice. The client is purchasing knowledge from the provider. Additional value can also be added to a physical product by including intellectual property (think of the additional price that can be charged for the Lego Millennium Falcon because it adds Star Wars intellectual property to the plastic construction bricks).

• The product could be a service, such as dinner at the Union Square Cafe in New York, a flight on Southwest Airlines, or a night at the Four Seasons in Shanghai. The client is primarily purchasing the experience that is delivered by the humans who are delivering the physical and technical product of the business. And this service component is how the client interacts with the business, and how the business ensures that delivery of the product is as easy as possible.

So, as part of a business focused on service, your goal should be to make it as easy and pleasant as possible for clients to work with you—so they continue to do so.

To take an example from the hotel, when a guest orders room service, the employee taking their order isn’t doing so because it’s easy for them. Instead, their job is to make ite process as quick and easy as possible for the guest.

Imagine if hotel employees weren’t focused on making room service easy. The guest might call down multiple times. The order taker wouldn’t know what was available. The guest would have to find the kitchen to pick up their meal.

The idea of encountering this type of scenario in a modern, competent hotel is absurd. It sounds like a scene out of Fawlty Towers. Yet often lawyers deliver a service experience that doesn’t feel much different.

So, what is good customer service, and how can we make delivering our services easier on our clients?

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