7 Ways to Improve your Online Customer Service

When it comes to doing business online, the fundamentals remain the same while many of the specifics (and the tools) undergo drastic changes.

Same goes for handling customer service online: At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of your customers — but how you that hinges on your ability to adapt to the many options that online customer support offers.

7 online customer service tips

From choosing the correct support channels, to using online resources to get out of the way, to empowering teams to keep customer happiness a priority, understanding how to properly conduct online support is paramount to creating an amazing customer experience.

Here are our seven best tips for improving your online customer service.

1. Ask yourself: What are my customers’ support needs?

One of the most important things to consider when it comes to online customer service is finding what your customers typically need from your support team.

As an example: Say you’re looking for a company to host your website. You might want to make sure they offer live chat, since you’ll want to make sure you can get an immediate response should your site go down. In that instance, you don’t want to get sent through a ticket system or to a forum.

On the flip side, great companies like Loco2 have removed their phone number from their site and still provide the exceptional customer service they’re known for because they’re keenly aware of what their customers’ needs are.

Meet your customers where they are. If they’re already on your website, make sure they can find any answers they may need right from the page they’re on — e.g., with an embeddable support widget like Beacon. That way, customers can find contextual help without leaving your site.

It’s easier to succeed by placing emphasis on the support channels where your customers actually need you. Email support is still the most popular in many instances, but considering the needs of your customers takes priority over anything else.

2. Get out of your customers’ way

Self-service can be an enormous benefit to your customers — not the hindrance you may perceive it to be.

One of the better examples out there can be found over at WooCommerce. The Woo team offers WordPress themes for site owners, many of these folks being beginners. If you’ve never run a website before, even on a relatively simple platform like WordPress, know that there can be myriad headaches and questions as you take your first steps.

What’s the support team of Woo supposed to do? If they had to handle each and every customer question, they’d likely have zero time to focus on making themes. To stem the tide of common questions, Woo turns to content, coming in the form of documentation, best practices tips, FAQs, and video tutorials.

Just check out the support section on Woo’s site, and you’ll see the first option is documentation:

WooCommerce documentation

Woo understands their users don’t want to get stuck in a support forum or have to email their support team for every little question.

Even larger companies in industries notorious for lackluster support have taken charge with self-service options, such as how Comcast rebooted their online self-service system for customers who wanted more control.

3. But don’t stop at knowledge base documentation

The idea of “content as customer service” is one that many businesses can benefit from.

We’ve taken this to heart at Help Scout, taking time to create a variety of customer service resources that run the gamut of free e-books, webinars, and white papers that aim to help people excel in customer support.

When customers ask about these sorts of topics, we have an full suite of content pieces that can help them out — instead of creating a separate reply each and every time.

When you’re providing a ton of valuable content to new visitors and prospective customers, you begin the chain of Know, Like, Trust, turning random visitors into long-term customers.

4. Respect your customers’ time

Do you know how long your customers wait for an initial reply? Or how long the average time to resolution is? What about how many times a customer has to go back and forth with your team before they get their questions answered to their satisfaction?

The longer you make customers wait to hear from you, the more time you give them to start exploring your competitors’ offerings. We don’t have to tell you that what gets measured gets managed — unless you’re already keeping an eagle eye on your customer service metrics, chances are there are some opportunities for optimization.

Make sure your help desk comes equipped with reporting tools that are robust enough to drive the results you’re looking for.

5. Recognize that online service does not equal robotic service

When you’re working with customers online, via email or chat, the temptation can be toward a just-the-facts-ma’am style — but a pleasant tone (or any specific tone, really) is more difficult to convey via text, where you don’t have additional signifiers like swings in vocal pitch or friendly body language.

Conveying empathy via your virtual tone is critical in online customer service. One crucial skill that goes a long way with customers is mirroring — matching their tone lets them know you’re on their side.

When a customer is formal, keep your tone strictly professional. If they’re more casual, relax your tone too — it’s okay to crack a joke or include a funny GIF in your reply if the customer seems to have a sense of humor.

Mirroring builds rapport and puts your customer at ease, reducing the amount of interpretation needed to understand what you’re trying to communicate.

6. Beef up your product knowledge

Just because online customer support gives you more leeway and time to look things up than, say, in person or phone support does, doesn’t mean support teams should rest on their laurels and rely solely on what the documentation says to help customers.

Forward-facing employees should know the ins and outs of how your product or service works, like any power user in the real world would. Having a solid product foundation not only allows you to help more customers faster, it helps you understand their experience so you can become their advocate.

Of course, you can’t know the answer to every question. Even the most seasoned support pros need to collaborate with engineers and designers on some of the more complex conversations. (That’s when help desk features like notes and @mentions come in handy!) Customer support is a team sport. Which brings us to …

7. Empower your entire team to help customers

One of the biggest benefits of conducting most of your support online is definitely the flexibility, and empowering your entire team to talk with customers and handle their questions is critical if you want to turn your support from good to great.

Create a customer-centric culture into your employee’s mindsets by having everyone do support. It won’t hinder their long term company-specific skills, and it will make sure that each employee knows how to properly talk with customers.

With this team system for talking with customers in place, you have to actually give authority to your employees to make decisions. Consider Nordstrom’s notorious employee handbook and their #1 rule for dealing with customers:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

When your customers come to you with concerns, you can be all but certain they’re not concerned with your company policies — they want results. Let your employees give it to them without having to go through all of the needless red tape.

Have systems in place, but embrace the power of whole company support by putting your employees on your customers’ team. Nothing builds customer goodwill quite so effectively.

Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz

Emily is a Help Scout alum. You can find her on Twitter.

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