Article | 16 min read

60+ customer service terms and definitions: the ultimate glossary

Find out the key terms every customer support agent should know with this easy-to-use customer service glossary.

By Courtney Gupta, Customer service enthusiast

Published November 14, 2018
Last updated July 14, 2022

The customer support business has its own vocabulary. Some of the words and phrases may be straightforward enough for newcomers to figure out, while the meanings of others can be unclear even to experienced leaders. To help ensure everyone can gain an accurate understanding of the language of the field, Zendesk has created this easy-to-use customer service glossary.

Read on to find definitions and important context for common words used in the customer service profession.

Top customer service terms

1. Customer service

Customer service is the act of supporting and advocating for customers in their discovery, use, optimization, and troubleshooting of a product or service. It’s also the processes that support the teams making good customer service happen. A successful customer service team is important for attracting new business, boosting retention, and increasing sales among your existing customer base.

2. Customer support

Customer support is the team of people who provide help when customers have trouble with a company’s products or services. It’s ultimately about making sure customers are successful in solving whatever issues they came to your business to help solve.

3. Customer success

Customer success is a company initiative or department focused on making customers love your business so much that they want to continue buying your products or services. It centers on building strong relationships and understanding customers’ goals.

4. Benchmarking

Benchmarking is a comparison of agent or team performance against the performance of peers or competitors. It can also be used to compare the current and past performance of the same agent or team. Benchmarking helps in assessing a relative position versus the competition, and in developing plans to maintain or improve on that position.

5. Business hours

Business hours are the days and times that a company’s customers can access agents for support. Though customers may consider 24/7 support ideal, a company can set business hours based on regional demand by looking at its customer types, available support channels, and customer feedback. This data provides insights into a company’s optimal hours for agent staffing.

6. Business process outsourcing

Business process outsourcing, or BPO, involves assigning responsibility for a function or operation to an external party. A growing company can use this strategy to maintain service standards and meet an increased demand for support as its business expands. BPO options include onshore (same country), near shore (same hemisphere), offshore (any location in the world with lower labor costs), and virtual or home-based operations.

7. Business rules

Business rules refer to automations, triggers, and macros that automate operational workflows such as routing or escalating tickets to the right departments and agents.

8. Change management

Change management is the process of overseeing and implementing change within a company. These could be organizational changes or shifts in procedure or technology. Effective change management employs processes, tools, and techniques that minimize disruptions to productivity and promote acceptance and adoption of the change.

9. Customer experience

Customer experience describes a customer’s relationship with a company over the duration of their interactions. Evaluating the customer experience enables a company to better meet customer expectations and increase satisfaction and retention. Evidence shows that customers today expect consistency in the quality of their interactions with a company and to be able set the terms of these interactions at all times.

10. Customer journey mapping

Customer journey mapping involves documenting the steps a customer takes in interacting with a company. Companies can use this tool to better understand the customer experience, identify areas for improvement, and increase customer satisfaction.

11. Customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction, or CSAT, is a metric that measures a customer’s immediate happiness with a company’s service as well as a customer’s overall loyalty. CSAT is determined using customer service metrics collected from a clear and simple survey sent to a customer soon after an interaction with a company is complete. Companies can use this transactional metric to fine-tune service and track the effect of new customer support measures.

12. Customer segments

Customer segments are groupings of customers who share a common need or characteristic. A company’s customer base might be divided into segments according to location, industry, product usage, organization size, revenue, or any other meaningful distinction. Creating these segments allows a company to tailor its approach and interactions to the specific needs of each group of customers.

13. Escalation management

Escalation management involves identifying tickets that call for extra attention and routing them to the appropriate agents to provide the support. Effective escalation management ensures high-priority and difficult tickets can be handled and resolved quickly and capably, leading to more efficient operations and happier customers.

14. Feedback loop

A feedback loop is a mechanism enabling customers to communicate with a company about their individual service experiences and how they think the organization can improve. A closed feedback loop allows the company to collect and learn from the customer input, take necessary action, and communicate this follow-up directly to the customer.

15. First reply time

First reply time is a calculation of the number of minutes that pass between ticket creation and the first publicly visible agent comment on that ticket. Companies know that customers do not like to wait, leading to a clear correlation between a low first reply time and high customer satisfaction.

16. Knowledge base

A knowledge base is an organized online repository of information that serves as a resource for customers and agents seeking answers to common questions and issues. A knowledge base often complements a company help desk and can include articles, news, product information, and answers to frequently asked questions. Maintaining a knowledge base saves a company time and money by eliminating the need to respond to the same questions repeatedly and encouraging community members to interact with each other. One-to-many solution resources like this can compel customer traffic to deepen community participation and facilitate many-to-many operational gains.

17. Knowledge-centered service

Developed by the Consortium for Service Innovation™, Knowledge-Centered Service, or KCS®, is a method of empowering agents to capture new information and expand the company’s collective knowledge. It is based on the principle that agents are best equipped to create the knowledge base and evidence that they are more likely to capture information when given the responsibility. KCS incorporates content guidelines and quality measures to assist agents in developing useful knowledge to enhance customer service.

18. Lifetime value

Lifetime value is a measure of the projected revenue a customer will generate for a company over the entirety of their relationship. Increasing customer satisfaction has been shown to have a positive influence on lifetime value.

19. Customer service channels

Customer service channels are the multiple ways customers can contact your company for assistance, based on their preferences. These channels can include phone, email, online information, text support, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, chat, and SMS messaging. Omnichannel support enables customers to choose different methods at different times, based on their need and convenience, and ensures customers don’t have to repeat themselves as they move from channel to channel.

20. Conversational customer service

Customers hate repeating themselves, and they certainly don’t want to wait on hold while an agent hunts around for information that should be readily available. Enter conversational customer service—the ability to offer fast, personalized, uninterrupted service across web, mobile, and social apps.

21. Net Promote score℠

Net promoter score, or NPS®, is a metric developed to predict a customer’s loyalty toward a company. An NPS score is typically determined by collecting data from a simple survey that asks customers how likely they would be to recommend the company to someone else, using a scale of 1 to 10. Studies link a high NPS score to long-term business growth.

22. Quality assurance

Quality assurance is the process of monitoring and maintaining a predetermined customer support standard. This process defines the appropriate level of service, sets expectations for agents, and helps in measuring performance. Quality assurance methods include email, chat, and call monitoring; contact scoring based on the support standard; and regular feedback to agents.

23. Self-service

Self-service most frequently refers to when customers independently access information and resolve issues rather than interact with a company’s agent or submit a request for support. Self-service can also benefit a company internally, helping agents find information easily and resolve customer issues quickly.

24. Self-service ratio

The self-service ratio compares the number of help center views with the number of tickets submitted to agents. This measure helps determine how readily customers are able to find information on their own, by going to the help center rather than needing to submit a ticket. A company can use a self-service ratio to understand whether users feel empowered to serve themselves, when new content is needed for the knowledge base, or whether business changes may account for customer behavior.

25. Service-level agreements

A service-level agreement is the standard a company and customer set as the target for a support team’s average ticket response and resolution times. Service-level agreements give a team a predetermined level of support to maintain, enable tracking of performance against goals, and help a company both deliver predictable service and meet obligations to customers.

26. Subject-matter experts

Subject-matter experts are support team members who have deep knowledge of a particular product, topic, or technology. These experts serve as a valuable source of information and support to agents and others on the team, and are often responsible for creating and updating knowledge-base content.

27. Support operations

The support operation represents the entire team responsible for providing, measuring, and improving customer service. A support operation may include several job functions in addition to a general customer service agent, including workforce management, training, quality assurance, customer relationship management, specialist agent, and analyst.

28. Support ticket

A support ticket provides a means of communication about a customer request, tracking the actions taken from the time it is created through its resolution. A ticket can be generated via a variety of support channels and captures the pertinent details about the request.

29. Ticket routing

Ticket routing is a process used to determine which agent on a support team will resolve a customer request. Assignments can be based on skill level, how long an agent has gone without a ticket, prioritizing the most important tickets, or routing to the agent or group best suited to resolve the particular ticket. These ticket-routing strategies help support teams stay organized and deliver high-quality customer service.

30. Ticket volume

Ticket volume represents the number of tickets created on a regular basis and is a measure of the scale of a support organization.

31. Tiered support

Tiered support involves organizing agents according to the types of tickets assigned to them. Doing this helps a company manage the support workflow, including ticket escalation. Tiered support often has three levels with Tier 1 made up of generalists who handle basic requests, Tier 2 requiring agents with a higher level of technical knowledge, and Tier 3 consisting of specialists who can respond to complex issues.

32. Converstional AI

Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) is a set of technologies that can recognize and respond to speech and text inputs. In customer service, the term describes the use of AI-based tools—such as chatbots or voice-based assistants—to interact with customers.

33. Chatbot

A chatbot is a type of conversational AI that enables businesses to put a layer of automation or self-service in front of customers in a friendly and familiar way. And with companies increasingly adding messaging channels to provide faster resolutions and always-on support, bots have quickly become a key component of any messaging strategy. They can be deployed over any messaging app or channel and ensure customers get instant responses when an agent is busy helping other customers.

34. Help desk

A help desk is a centralized team within a company that serves employees or customers en masse, using a software product to organize conversations.

35. Ticketing system

A ticketing system is a help desk software program used to process, manage, and track customer issues from submission to resolution. Ticketing systems automatically organize and prioritize support requests in a central dashboard. Users can tag, categorize, and assign tickets as they come in. These systems also indicate ticket status so you can keep tabs on active requests.

36. Messaging platform

A messaging platform is a type of customer experience software that equips developers or admins with tools to build interactive messaging experiences. These tools include APIs and integrated development environments that empower companies to go beyond SMS (Short Message Service) with RCS (Rich Communication Services)—think: chatbots, quick replies, carousels, picklists, audio, video, and more.

37. Call center

A call center is an organization of sales and customer service agents and managers who handle incoming and outgoing communications from prospective and existing customers.

38. IT service desk

An IT service desk is where your employees go if they need something fixed. It traditionally supports a business’ technology infrastructure.

39. Average resolution time

The average resolution time is a customer service KPI that refers to the average time it takes for a customer care agent to resolve a customer issue. This customer support metric directly correlates to customer satisfaction and reflects your team’s efficiency.

40. First response time

First response time (FRT) measures how long it takes for a customer support agent to reply to a request (not counting automated responses).

41. Customer Effort Score

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer service metric that measures the amount of effort a customer must expend to resolve an issue, get an answer, or complete a task.

42. Agent

An agent is the support team member who is assigned service tickets and responsible for resolving customer requests. Agents may also interact directly with customers to address service requests via communication channels such as phone, email, chat, and social media.

43. Agent experience

Agent experience refers to the quality of interactions between support team members and the company employing them. It determines how satisfied agents are with their work and career paths, and has an impact on both their interactions with customers and the company’s bottom line. It also refers to the tools and processes that enable support agents to not only provide the kind of support customers love, but avoid providing the kind of frustrating experiences customer hate.

44. Agent life cycle

An agent life cycle describes all of a customer support agent’s interactions with the company employing them, from the time of recruitment for the job through the end of the agent’s tenure. This encompasses the sourcing, screening, and hiring process as well as measuring and evaluating performance and developing career paths. For companies, the time and resources invested in the agent life cycle can have an impact on the quality of customer service, satisfaction with an individual interaction, and the lifetime value of a customer.

45. Customer loyalty

Customer loyalty is when customers reward a company with repeat business over time. Loyal buyers consistently choose to do business with a particular brand and often defend it against its competitors.

46. Customer retention

Customer retention refers to a company’s ability to turn customers into repeat buyers and prevent them from switching to a competitor. It indicates whether your product and the quality of your service please your existing customers. It’s also the lifeblood of most subscription-based companies and service providers.

47. Customer needs

Customer needs are the psychological and physical motivations that make someone want to purchase a product or service and stay loyal to that business.

48. Customer intelligence

Customer intelligence (CI) is the process of collecting customer data and pulling insights from it. CI (also known as consumer intelligence) allows companies to figure out who their customers are—where they live, what products they like, what problems they’re looking to solve, and so on. The goal is to use the information to tailor each interaction to individual customers and improve their experience.

49. Customer engagement

Customer engagement is the interactions between a brand and a buyer across various communication channels, such as social media, email, and community forums. It’s a two-way street—it doesn’t take place unless your buyers either respond or reach out to you.

50. Customer expectations

By definition, customer expectations are your customers’ ideas of how each interaction with your company should go. From how long they wait to what channels they can use, this holds true for any part of the customer journey. Customers want (and expect!) the very best, and if you don’t give it to them, they’re happy to look elsewhere.

51. Issue tracker

An issue tracker records all the problems customers experience with a software product or app. It enables support agents, engineers, and managers to monitor those issues until they’ve been resolved successfully.

52. Ticket escalation

Ticket escalation is the process a company follows to move a customer issue to a higher-level support agent or manager. The goal of escalating a ticket should always be a quick resolution. The less time you keep your customers waiting, the happier they’ll be.

53. Conversational commerce

Conversational commerce describes the interactions between companies and customers through third-party messaging apps or digital assistants. These interactions may occur through live agents, AI-powered chatbots, or a combination of the two.

54. Digital customer service

Online customer service is the process of answering customer questions digitally using tools such as email, social media, live chat, and messaging apps.

55. Customer dissatisfaction

Customer dissatisfaction is the antithesis of customer satisfaction. It happens when customer expectations are not only not meant, but also when the company fails to do anything about the complaint.

56. Customer care

Customer care is when companies treat their customers with respect and kindness and build an emotional connection with them. It’s something that can—and should—be handled by everyone on the team, not just a customer service representative or a customer success manager.

57. Personalized customer service

Personalized service is providing customer experiences that are tailored to the consumer’s individual needs and preferences. Personalization often makes customers feel more valued, which inspires greater brand loyalty.

58. 360 customer view

A 360-degree customer view is the concept of consolidating customer data from various touchpoints and systems in one place. This helps you and your team gain an accurate picture of your customer and what they need from your company.

69. IVR

IVR is an automated phone system that answers incoming calls, gathers information from callers, and directs them to the right agent or self-serve option.

60. Customer data

Customer data is the demographic, behavioral, and personal information that companies collect about the people they serve. It is critical for gaining a better understanding of consumers—from leads and prospects to current customers and those who’ve churned. Businesses can leverage those insights to improve their sales, marketing, and support efforts.

61. Customer segmentation analysis

Customer segmentation analysis is how businesses identify and group customers based on certain characteristics. These factors can range from behavior and age to purchase histories and physical location.

Why you need to know customer service lingo

Customer service lingo is important for understanding the different tools, technologies, processes, and people behind a good customer support experience. Knowing when, and how, to use the right customer service terminology can help you make better decisions for your customers, improve your communication with other support professionals, and establish your credibility in the industry.

Net Promoter and NPS are registered U.S. trademarks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld.