If there is one thing we have learned in the last decade it's this: customers expect more.  

No longer do you simply sell a product to a consumer. You are expected to provide a service, offer an experience, and share a story, even if you're running an online business

This growth in expectations has transitioned focus to inside our organization and increased demand on the customer service component of our business. The idea of customer service has outgrown a group of people fielding phone calls in a remote office. It is now so much more than that. 

With the rise in wants and the growth of the startup marketplace, the service provided to customers matters more now than ever. Here are three smart ways to build your customer service if you want to retain and gain customers moving forward. 

1. Create community-driven support.

Build a community among your consumers. Use your product to pull people together into a committed community. Help your customers view the product not only as a tangible object but as a source to connection. 

One of the best ways to do this is to create a Facebook group where any customer can gain access. The BestSelf Journal's online Facebook group, Alliance, is an excellent example in the arena of creating a customer community. In this group, customers ask questions about their products which are then answered by other customers. They can share their personal progress by posting pictures and find other members to hold each other accountable and offer support.  

A group like this not only takes some of the weight off of customer service reps fielding product questions, but it is empowering customers to support one another. 

2. Empower your customer service team.

As the leader of your business, you are the one overseeing the amount of power handed off to your service reps. Give them an opportunity to be extremely helpful and reward them for doing something that really helps a customer. Encourage thoughtful giving, communication, and experiences with your team by empowering them to take action.

One way I have found success in my consumer business is to give the team a set budget. If the customer needs can be met within that budget then the service rep has full rein to help resolve the issue or complaint. This alleviates any need to put a customer on hold and get approval for a refund, freebie or discount. They have the power in the moment to turn a customer's day from frustration into an exciting and stress-reducing experience. 

The best part of working in customer service is making someone's day. The more opportunity your team has to do this, the more excited they will be to interact with new customers and provide them excellent service.

3. Create a product experience that is proactive, not reactive.

Begin to anticipate what your audience will need. If you know what they need before they do, you will be the knight in shining armor holding up the solution to their problems. Do your market research, review trends in business and conduct check-ins and surveys with your customers. Constantly seek to understand what issues might be peeking into society and then work to find a solution for how you can step in and help.

One company that does a great job of this is the Dollar Shave Club. They were forward-thinking and turned a product into a service that resolved an issue consumers didn't yet realize they had: paying an arm and a leg to always have a fresh razor on hand. They created an affordable solution to a real problem by taking a simple product and setting up a service that ensured customers always had them on hand, and at a lower cost. The company didn't stop there. They created an exclusive community out of a simple shaving service.

Don't be shy when it comes to selling products your audience is going to need.  

This might sound like a great deal of additional work, but when you love your product, you will want to share it with as many people as possible. And bolstering how you offer customer service is the best way to do just that. 

I have chosen to view this consumer shift as an exciting opportunity to invite more creativity into business and find inspiration to build community for the future. I suggest you do the same.