Customer service glossary

Published November 14, 2018
Last updated September 21, 2021

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.

We picked these particular terms because of their prominence in our customer service guides:

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Multichannel support
Multichannel support involves giving customers multiple ways to contact a 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. Multichannel support enables customers to choose different methods at different times, based on their need and convenience, and contributes to both customer satisfaction and the overall customer experience.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.