We used to think of customer service as retail staff at the checkout or trapped in cubicle farms in large call centers. We can all picture those images, complete with bad lighting, headsets and fake smiles.

The reality today is far different—and so are the images. Customer service has transformed from the impersonal to the very personal: we’re talking friendly, personable, engaged and informative. Regardless of the title on our business cards, we’re all in customer service now. Whether you’re a mechanic or web designer, a small business owner or financial advisor, the happier and more successful your customers, the more they’ll come back. And tell their friends. And in 2017, that’s more important than ever.

In Salesforce’s most recent State of Service report, 68% of those surveyed agreed that consumer expectations have changed: one bad experience is much worse today than it would have been 5 years ago. We can likely thank rising consumer impatience, increased competition and social media for that. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs has reported that up to 15 people will hear about a bad experience from an unhappy customer. That’s not the kind of word of mouth advertising anyone is looking for.

Ruby Newell-Legner, author of Understanding Customers, states that it takes 12 good visits to make up for one unresolved problem. While it’s unclear how many consumers actually give a brand a second chance, research has shown that up to 80% of customers buying online never return. But returning customers are key to your bottom line. Not only do they spend more on average than new acquisitions, they’re easier to sell to: you’re 60–70% more likely to convert an existing or former customer. So reducing customer churn shouldn’t just be on everyone’s list, it’s become a necessity.

Research indicates that by 2020 customer experience will become the biggest difference between your brand and your nearest competitor. Which side will you be on?

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