What is inbound service? (Including definitions and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A crucial part of customer service is ensuring that customers can get in touch with the business. By developing an inbound customer service function, a business can provide a place for customers to ask questions, get advice or offer feedback. Learning about inbound service can be useful for those that work in customer service and want to understand how to provide a more effective service. In this article, we discuss what inbound and outbound service are, look at the difference between them, review some tips for providing excellent inbound customer service and explain why it's beneficial for businesses.

What is inbound service?

Inbound service is a specific form of customer service that focuses on customers actively getting in touch with a business. When a customer calls a business's telephone number, emails the company or enters into a live chat discussion with a customer service agent, they're experiencing inbound customer service. A customer service professional who provides this type of service generally answers customer queries or troubleshoots a product or service. An example of this is when a customer calls a utility company to discuss their bills.

Customers typically receive inbound customer service from a customer service agent. This type of service is generally for customers who've already made a purchase with the company. Inbound customer service focuses on providing support to ensure customer loyalty and encourage brand advocacy. Moreover, when a customer is looking to purchase from the company, an inbound customer service agent may offer recommendations based on what the customer needs. Some examples of inbound customer service include:

  • answering questions about a customer's account or billing

  • processing payments for customers

  • providing support to customers who've received a faulty product or inadequate service

  • helping customers to instal, upgrade or replace a product

  • recommending new products or services for customers based on their needs

Related: 15 consumer service jobs that pay well (with salaries)

What is outbound service?

Outbound service is the opposite of inbound customer service and refers to when a company contacts a customer directly. For this type of service, a customer service agent may call a customer to tell them about a sale, a new line of products they have in stock or to see if they're interested in upgrading their current services with the company. An outbound service helps a business to improve its sales and customer relations, although the focus is typically on sales, upselling and prospecting.

A business may also use its outbound service to proactively receive feedback on business operations, a specific product or the customer experience. For example, a company may contact new customers after they've made a purchase to ask for their thoughts on the service they received. This is useful information for a business, as it helps them to better understand the customer journey and how they can make it more effective. Outbound service is also typically performed by a customer service professional, although businesses may also use email and SMS marketing to provide this service. Some examples of outbound service include:

  • emailing a customer regarding a new sale or promotion that the business is running

  • phoning a customer to tell them about an upgrade to their current service or product

  • texting a customer about a new product line that's launching imminently

  • phoning a customer to ask for feedback about their purchase and make recommendations on additional purchases

  • contacting a customer to ask if they had questions about using a new product

Related: Sales technique: definition and types of sales techniques

What's the difference between inbound and outbound services?

While inbound and outbound services have a small amount of overlap when it comes to customer support and recommendations, there are key differences between the two. The primary difference concerns how the customer comes into contact with the business. If the customer contacts the business first, they're usually put through to an inbound customer service agent, as it's more likely that they require support or guidance. In contrast, if a business contacts the customer first, it's generally handled by a different team that utilises a more sales-led approach.

Due to the varied nature of each customer service form, an inbound customer service professional may have different responsibilities compared to an outbound service agent. Outbound service is much more reliant on sales experience, objection handling and the ability to upsell to customers. Conversely, inbound customer service teams focus more on building trust with a customer, providing specific product knowledge and support for business operations. Together, the two teams combine to form a complete customer service function.

Related: 10 ways to consistently offer good customer service

What does an inbound customer service professional do?

An inbound customer service representative responds to any customer contact the business receives. They may respond to calls, emails, contact form submissions or run a customer live chat, depending on the business's structure. Their overall goal is to ensure that the customer receives all the help they require and leaves the experience feeling satisfied with the service.

Inbound customer service agents are typically the first point of contact for a business. Upon greeting a customer, they may use a script or general guidelines to ensure that they understand the customer's needs. If they can help immediately, they start working on the problem by using digital systems to retrieve customer account information and other details that may help. Sometimes, they may not have the right information to provide an answer, which requires them to transfer the call to the correct department. This is common in larger businesses that have multiple customer service teams.

Related: What does good customer service look like? (With examples)

Tips for providing excellent inbound customer service

Below are some tips for providing excellent inbound customer service:

Provide proper training for agents

The most crucial element of any inbound customer service is the customer service agent. It's vital that they're properly trained and can deliver a positive experience for customers. Businesses can support their customer service agents by ensuring that they receive training that focuses on the customer, which improves the chances of the customer service agents having positive interactions with customers. This includes ensuring that the customer service agent understands why it's crucial to have a positive demeanour and how this can assist them during their calls with customers.

Read more: Training plan template (with tips on how to create one)

Offer various ways for customers to contact the business

One of the best ways of providing excellent inbound customer service is by ensuring that there are plenty of ways for customers to reach the business. For instance, businesses can consider offering online live chat, phone support, email support and even text support to maximise the number of customers to which the business can provide guidance. Moreover, it's key that the business advertises these options whenever possible, including on their website, so that customers are aware of these options.

Read more: How to be customer-centric in your organisation (plus tips)

Have specific resources ready

The unpredictability of customer service means that the more prepared the agent is, the better the service is likely to be. To prepare their customer service agents adequately, businesses can consider creating a range of resources that their team can use if they require them. These resources may include documents that contain detailed product information, scripted answers to common questions and information on how to deal with challenging circumstances.

Related: Guide to understanding the expectations of a manager

Set expectations for inbound customer service agents

Building a culture of positivity and understanding can help contribute to a more effective inbound customer service. If a business communicates exactly what they expect from their inbound representatives, they have a better understanding of what to focus on during calls with customers. This creates a cohesive and consistent service across the business. Moreover, this consistency is vital for ensuring that every customer receives a similar experience and helps a business to establish best practices.

Minimise customer wait times

One of the hardest elements of inbound customer service to control is handling the number of calls the business receives. Large companies may experience busy periods, which often results in customers waiting on the phone. Businesses can minimise this time by either employing more customer service agents or making use of a call-back service, which allows customers to focus on other things while waiting for a customer service agent to respond. Additionally, businesses can use automated services to help customers direct themselves to the correct place, which reduces time-consuming transfers.

Why is inbound customer service beneficial for businesses?

Inbound customer service is one of the most critical elements of a business. A high-quality inbound customer service team can improve relationships with customers, even if these individuals have complaints or concerns. This can enhance a company's overall reputation, especially if positive reviews reflect the customer service experience. Having exceptional inbound customer service also increases brand advocacy, loyalty and the potential for repeat customers, while also improving the business's operations and creating a useful resource that solves challenges or issues.

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