As you hire more customer service agents, providing quality support across the entire team becomes a major challenge. Without clear rules, agents may each handle key tasks — like building self-service resources or handling refund requests — in different ways.
Fortunately, a good customer service policy helps avoid these problems. But to be truly effective, your policy needs more than platitudes like “Be friendly” or “Respond quickly.” Instead, it should include specific and actionable information.
In this guide, we’ll help you create a useful customer service policy by sharing the five key topics it needs to cover. We’ll also discuss how to write and enforce your policy.
First, let’s start with the basics. Or, you can skip straight to the advice for writing a useful policy.
What is a customer service policy?
A customer service policy is a document containing a set of guidelines, rules, and standards for customer service teams. Its goal is to help agents handle day-to-day tasks and set benchmarks for great customer service.
How and where are customer service policies used?
Customer service policies are among the first documents provided to new agents during their training. They act as cornerstone documents for a business's entire customer service team, since agents can use them during difficult or process-heavy interactions, like customer complaints, order cancellations, and so on.
A customer service policy is an internal document, so you won’t share it publicly. However, you can use it as a foundation and repurpose parts of it into various customer-facing policies (like cancellation or refund policies). These policies help you set customer expectations and reduce repetitive inquiries like "What's your return policy?"
Take a look at how Marine Layer does this in a concise way:
You can share these customer-facing policies in:
- FAQ pages (like the example above) and help center documentation
- Transactional emails: For instance, emails that confirm an item has shipped from the warehouse and includes order tracking and a clear return policy
- Terms and conditions that people sign when becoming customers: These documents usually have sections dedicated to customer-facing policies around refunds, returns, order cancellations, and so on.
Customer service policy vs service-level agreement (SLA)
While similar, customer service policies and service-level agreements (SLAs) are not the same.
Customer service policies are internal documents that help agents by setting standards and policies. Service-level agreements (SLAs) are external documents that define the expected level of service between a business and its customers. Use an SLA to communicate information like:
If you have SLAs, your policy needs to reference them, as you’ll see in a bit.
For a real-life example, check out Berkley Filters’ Contact page:
Above, Berkey listed the working hours for two of their support channels, as well as their average response time. This is a clear promise to customers that sets their expectations for the level of service provided by Berkley Filters.
The importance of having a customer service policy
While customer service policies vary for each company, they bring some key benefits to all organizations. Specifically, they:
- Help customer service agents do their job. A clear, easy-to-find policy lets agents quickly find the rules they should follow in any given situation. This saves them a lot of time and effort since they don’t have to come up with (or remember) what they should do on the fly.
- Ensure consistent support for every customer. Without a policy, agents can interpret identical situations differently, resulting in inconsistent service. A good policy nips this problem in the bud and guarantees that customers get the same level of care across the board.
- Establish standards and expectations for the customer service team. A key outcome of the policy is defining what “quality customer service” is — how fast service reps should respond, how quickly they should resolve issues, and so on. This provides agents and their managers with an objective measure for evaluating performance.
When should you create a customer service policy?
Even if you're a customer service team of one, we recommend laying the foundations of your customer service policy as early as possible.
You, and any agents you hire, will be faced with some situations over and over, regardless of business size or industry. The sooner you set the rules for these scenarios, the better your chances of providing consistent service, avoiding confusion, and setting standards for your team.
For online stores, these common situations are:
- Item exchanges
- Order cancellations
- Refund and return requests
- Damaged goods and missing package complaints
Team members who handle customer inquiries should know how to deal with these from day 1.
Outside of these situations, you should continue to expand your policy as your customer service team grows. That’s a major aspect of ensuring consistent, high-quality service across a larger team. We’ll discuss some additional policy topics in the next section.
What to include in your customer service policy [checklist]
Some elements of the customer service policy will vary depending on company size and industry. For example, a clothing brand's return policy will be different from that one for a brand that sells perishable goods.
However, pretty much all policies should cover the following 5 key topics below.
1) Steps for handling common customer service workflows
This is the most important part of your customer service policy. It empowers agents with the knowledge they need to resolve customer issues and provide quality support.
Here are some common workflows to include in this section:
- Refund and return requests. Agents need clear instructions on how to act when buyers request refunds or want to return an item. For example, if the request comes in within your policy’s timeframe (say 15 days after the purchase) agents should give a no-questions-asked refund. Some businesses allow refunds and returns for repeat shoppers even after the deadline, so don’t forget to list all exceptions to this rule.
- Order cancellations. At a minimum, your policy should state how much time buyers have to cancel an order after placing it. Allowing cancellations until an item ships out of the warehouse is a simple way to handle this.
- Damaged goods complaints. Online stores usually specify a timeframe in which damaged goods claims have to be filed (e.g., 2 days after the item was received). If the complaint was made on time, agents should explain how to return the product and what to expect next. Some businesses even offer buyers a choice between exchanging their item or keeping it with a small discount when the damage is small.
- Shipping problems. Lots of factors can result in an order being delivered after the deadline you promised (or not being delivered at all), so agents must know how to handle these situations. Offering credit to the customer’s account is a commonly-used practice here.
- Item exchanges. Your policy should clearly state which items buyers can exchange and under what conditions. For example, custom items (e.g., with a person’s name) usually can’t be exchanged, while generic ones can be exchanged with others in the same category and price point.
- Dealing with angry customers. We’ve discussed how to handle these situations in our article on dealing with angry customer emails. Most importantly, instruct agents to read the complaint carefully, acknowledge the customer’s problem, and don’t let the situation affect their emotions. Also, make sure to lay out guidelines for escalation, when a manager should be involved in the conversation.
As you can see, there are many scenarios to consider here. Fortunately, once you’ve outlined them, you can easily build a library of message templates around your common processes, so your agents don’t have to waste time typing from scratch.
Gorgias’ version of templates, called Macros, include variables that automatically populate with each customer’s unique information (like names, order numbers, shipping information, and more). This means you may be able to simply pull up and send the relevant Macro without any copy/pasting.
You can also put information about these key policies in useful self-serve resources like FAQ pages or a help center. These empower visitors to instantly resolve simple issues themselves, instead of flooding your team with repetitive tickets (and having to wait for a response).
2) Guidelines for prioritizing customer inquiries
This is another crucial topic for your agents’ day-to-day that every customer support policy should include. Without prioritization rules, agents can follow their own prioritization logic, resulting in poor response times for urgent tickets.
Here are three prioritization factors to include in your policy:
- Inquiry channel. If you’re using messaging channels, consider prioritizing them to meet the built-in expectations for fast responses. As a rule of thumb, real-time channels like SMS and live chat should be answered within a few minutes, while emails should be answered within a day.
- Request urgency. Say a customer reports a bug that prevents them (and potentially other shoppers) from completing a purchase. Regardless of the channel, these types of inquiries should take priority over more generic questions.
- Customer type. You want to keep your best customers happy with priority service. On that note, consider that repeat shoppers generate 300% more revenue than new customers, as we mentioned in our Customer Experience Growth Playbook.
We have lots of useful advice on this topic, so check out our detailed guide to prioritizing customer service requests.
3) SLAs and customer service standards
As we mentioned, SLAs are customer-facing promises about your team's response and resolution times. This information should also be in your policy, so agents are aware of the expectations your SLA sets.
But what if you don’t have an SLA? Well, your agents still need to what standard they’ll be held to, i.e., what “good customer service” means for your company.
That’s why your policy needs to establish a set of customer service metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs), regardless if you have an SLA or not.
First Response Time (FRT) is the primary metric to consider here.
FRT measures how long your agents take to respond to customer inquiries, on average. You can have different FRT targets, depending on the channels you use. For example, a 1-hour FRT might be great for email support, while 1-2 minutes is usually a good target for live chat and SMS.
As Brianna Christiano, Director of Support at Gorgias explains:
“We actually have members of the support team who monitor FRT every hour. This allows us to keep a pulse on our workload and pivot if necessary. If we notice that live chat or SMS inquiries are getting overwhelming, we’ll ask team members who typically do, for example, email support to help with the live messaging channels so we can maintain a low FRT.”
Also, you can use FRT to nudge buyers to try a specific customer service channel.
Let’s take another look at Berkley Filters’ Contact page:
Besides setting expectations, making the average response time public helped Berkley Filters push more buyers toward their new SMS channel.
Other useful metrics for your policy include:
- Average Resolution Time (ART): How long your customer service team takes to resolve tickets, on average. To calculate it, you first need a specific time period to analyze, like one week or a month. Then, add up the length of all resolved conversions during that period. Finally, divide that number by the number of customer conversations you had during the same period.
- Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): A measure of how satisfied visitors are immediately after an interaction with a customer service agent. You can collect feedback by running customer surveys with a question like “On a scale from 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with your experience today?” Then, to calculate your CSAT, divide the positive customer feedback (4- and 5-star responses) by the total customers and multiply the result by 100.
- Support Performance Score. This is a metric we created for our team at Gorgias and share with merchants to get a single snapshot of their team’s performance. It combines average first response time, average resolution time, and CSAT. The result is a score between 1 and 5, representing the team’s (or an individual agent’s) performance.
4) Tone of voice and acceptable language
Your support team may be the only direct point of contact with your business for many customers. That’s why it’s crucial to establish that agents’ tone of voice should match the brands’ — whether that’s professional, friendly, or a mix of both.
But this is a pretty broad rule that can be difficult to apply in real-life situations. You also want to add clear examples of what fits within your tone of voice guidelines and what doesn’t.
For instance, starting customer interactions with an energetic tone can be a good foundation. However, agents should adapt to each customer’s tone after the initial contact. After all, annoyed visitors likely won’t respond well to humor or light-hearted conversation.
Also, make sure to add an exhaustive list of words for your agents to use and avoid. For instance, agents shouldn’t sound overly apologetic when discussing fixed company policies (refunds, order cancellations, etc.) with customers. You can instruct them to avoid apologetic language and instead use empathetic — but not overly apologetic — phrases to communicate the facts.
If you use different customer support channels, it’s a good idea to include specific guidelines for them. For instance, call-center agents can be instructed to:
- Periodically reassure people that they’re listening
- Speak clearly without rushing or raising their voice
- Give people enough time to explain their problems
Of course, apply these same tone-of-voice considerations to any customer support templates or self-service resources. All of these are an extension of your brand, and ensuring consistency at the source is mission-critical.
5) Rules for proactive customer service
Customer service is much more than responding to tickets. Proactive customer service — where agents make the first move, instead of waiting for people to contact them — can help you exceed buyers’ expectations, drive revenue, and reduce repetitive questions.
If you haven’t tried proactive customer service, here are some ideas you can test and describe in your policy:
- Reach out to shoppers with items in their carts. This is one of the best ways to reduce cart abandonments. To pull it off, you need a helpdesk like Gorgias to detect shoppers who linger on specific pages — like a product page or checkout page. Learn more about how chat campaigns help you spark conversations with customers and unblock sales.
- Welcome new followers on social media with a direct message (DM). This can be as simple as thanking them for the follow. Or, you can let them know they can use the chat to ask questions. Learn more about this tactic (and how it can raise overall revenue by 4%).
- Create self-serve resources and send them to visitors. Based on Statista’s survey, 88% of customers expect brands to have self-service resources. Think FAQ pages or a help center that groups resources by topic. Making these resources available and prominently displayed makes the customer experience more convenient (and reduces repetitive support tickets that may currently be flooding your support inbox.)
Learn more about the best customer service software on the market and how it can help streamline your customer service operations and boost revenue.
How to write a useful customer service policy (outline template)
Before you dive into the policy’s content, make sure to name your document in a clear way, i.e., “Customer Service Policy” or “[Brand Name] Customer Service Policy”.
No need to get creative with the name. You just need people to be able to find it fast when they need it.
Before diving into writing the policy, consider that it should only cover topics that are specific to the customer service team. Broader topics (like code of conduct or other employee rules) should be part of larger company handbooks or other high-level documents, so the customer service policy doesn’t lose its focus.
In terms of content, it can be useful to separate the policy into two parts.
1) Information about the company’s mission, values, and products
This first section lays the foundation for the rest of the policy. Your company’s values and mission statement are a common place to start.
For example, Abel Womack — a material handling company — begins the public-facing version of their company’s policy by saying that it “has been established to be reflective of our shared values”, which are integrity, empathy, customer care, and teamwork.
Some policies also include details about the company’s products at this stage. If you sell various complex products, it can be useful to add that information. If not, you can skip it and move on to the meat of the policy.
2) Rules, guidelines, and standards for your customer service team (outline template)
The second half contains actionable information that helps agents provide excellent customer service.
Writing this part can be tricky, especially if you haven’t done it before. Fortunately, an outline makes the process much easier, compared to starting with a blank page.
Feel free to copy the outline below, which is based on the checklist from the previous section.
1) Steps for handling common workflows
- Refund and return requests
- Order cancellations
- Damaged goods complaints
- Dealing with angry customers
2) How to prioritize customer inquiries
- Factors that determine priority
- Examples of urgent inquiries
- Examples of non-urgent inquiries
📚 Useful Resources: Best practices for prioritizing customer service requests.
3) SLAs and customer service standards
- Company SLAs
- KPIs for live chat support
- KPIs for SMS support
- KPIs for email support
- KPIs for phone support
4) Tone of voice
- Guidelines for written communication (live chat, SMS, email)
- Guidelines for verbal communication (phone support)
- Rules for providing proactive customer service
- Contacting visitors with items in their cart
- Self-serve buyer resources
From here, it’s all about filling in the specifics using your brand’s terminology e.g., “customer service representatives”, instead of “customer service agents”, and so on.
Practical tips for enforcing your customer service policy
So, you’ve done the hard work of creating a detailed and actionable customer service policy. Now, let’s get agents to actually use it.
First and foremost, ensure the document is easy to find by:
- Putting it in your Google Drive, knowledge base, or wiki.
- Making it a part of the mandatory customer service training.
Also, keep in mind that the policy shouldn’t be a static document. Instead, it needs regular updates as you add new products, team members, and support channels. Entrusting a customer service team member, likely a manager, to keep it updated is a must.
Another key tip for improving enforcement is tying the policy to the metric(s) you use to evaluate agents’ performance. This will keep people accountable and give you an objective way to determine their adherence.
Here’s an example of this idea in action by Brianna Christiano, Director of Support at Gorgias:
“At Gorgias, we use an internal quality metric to gauge the support team’s performance. Each week, managers audit 3 of their agents’ tickets and determine the quality and efficiency of the provided service, based on that metric. This lets us continuously evaluate and reinforce customer service rules and standards.”
Finally, getting managers to shadow new agents is another best practice here. This lets managers reinforce your policy from day 1. Plus, it’s a useful way to check if new agents can satisfy customers’ needs.
Next steps: Evaluate your policy’s impact
After weeks of writing, introducing a new policy to the team feels great. But getting the document out there is only half the battle.
You then need to monitor if the policy is helping you reach your customer service goals.
To do that, keep a close eye on your support metrics (FRT, ART, and so on) in the weeks after the initial implementation.
It’s also crucial to determine if your new policy is truly customer-centric. This means tracking feedback metrics, like CSAT and other customer satisfaction metrics that have a major impact on customer retention.
The evaluation process is as important as creating the policy, so be careful not to overlook it. For additional practical tips, check out our guide to evaluating customer service programs.