13 Best Practices for Improving Online Customer Service When doing business in person or online, the basics are the same, while many of the details (and tools) look very different.
The same goes for online customer service. It’s about taking care of your customers, and your ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape will affect how your customers perceive your brand and the support you provide.
Maintaining a great customer experience does more than benefit your customers. It costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain the customers you already have. Changing your strategy and following online customer service best practices can mean the difference between churn problems and long-term success.
What is online customer service?
Online customer service is the process companies use to respond to customer inquiries. This usually occurs in one or more channels, including:
Some more established companies may have a larger, more process-oriented customer service strategy, while others just starting may stick to one or two different channels.
13 Best Practices for Improving Online Customer Service
13 Best Practices for Improving Online Customer ServiceFrom choosing the right support channels to using online resources for self-service and empowering teams to keeping customer happiness at the forefront, understanding how to get online support is critical to creating a great customer experience.
These are online customer service best practices to implement whether you’re just starting your support team or looking for a few new things to freshen up your strategy.
1. Make it easy to contact you
There is nothing more terrifying than trying to find a way to contact a customer service team online and coming up short. Make it as easy as possible for customers to contact you on the channel that makes the most sense to them.
It can be tempting to hide your contact form or phone number a few clicks deep on a page to try to avoid excessive support volume. However, you may be losing clients for all the rejected inquiries.
Instead, add a “Contact Us” or “Help” link to your site’s top navigation bar, so it’s easy to find right away. Work to ensure that search engines index your contact pages so that if a customer searches for it outside of your site, it is still easy to find.
You may see an increase in conversation if you remove your invisibility cloak, but ultimately it’s one of the best things you can do for your customers.
2. Empower your employees
Your online customer service team is made up of the people in your company who know the most about your customers. While their main job is to answer questions and make sure people get help quickly, they do much more than that.
Be sure to train your staff to make changes to strategies and processes if they feel it will be better for customers.
You can put systems in place to ensure that no one makes arbitrary changes, encourage your customer service team to think about how they can improve, and then come up with ways to make those improvements.
Sure, you may have an entire leadership team that knows a lot about business plans and metrics, but your team members on the ground will have the best insight into how to make your day-to-day work more meaningful to your clients.
3. Create additional context
We all know how frustrating it is to repeat yourself. When a customer comes to your support team and has to repeat the same problem they’ve already searched through a knowledge base or a search engine, it can feel like salt in the wound.
It’s especially frustrating if it’s your second (or third or fourth!) conversation with your support team and they have to repeat themselves to real humans multiple times.
Avoid this frustrating experience by creating an additional internal context for your customer-facing teams. Ask your sales team members to take notes on customer conversations and use a CRM to track customer touchpoints with your marketing, customer success, and customer service people.
If you use a help desk, keep track of previous conversations with individual customers and ask your support team to read historical customer discussions before starting a new one.
Taking these extra steps may seem tedious at first, but is ultimately the best thing you can do to make sure your customers are taken care of.
4. Understand how you are performing
Do you know how long your customers wait for an initial response? Or how long is the average resolution time? How many times does a customer have to go back with your team before their question is answered to their satisfaction?
The longer you wait for customers to hear from you, the more time you give them to explore your competitors’ offerings. We don’t need to tell you that what gets measured gets managed. If you don’t already have an eagle eye on your customer service metrics, there are some opportunities for optimization.
Make sure your help desk is equipped with reporting tools that are powerful enough to produce the results you’re looking for.
5. Never stop learning
Just because online customer support gives you more time to look into things than in-person or phone support, doesn’t mean that support teams should rely on their reputation and only rely on what the documentation says to help customers.
Forward-thinking employees need to know the ins and outs of how your product or service works, just like any real-world power user. Having a strong product foundation allows you to help more customers faster and allows you to understand their experience so you can become their advocate.
This means they’ll spend less time asking other team members for answers and feel more empowered to write complex or technical documentation.
6. Cultivate customer centricity
Of course, you will not know the answers to all questions. Even the most experienced support professionals need to collaborate with engineers and designers on more complex conversations. (That’s when help desk features like notes and @mentions come in handy!) Customer support is a team sport.
A significant benefit of doing most of your support online is flexibility. Empowering your entire team to talk to customers and handle their questions is critical if you want to take your support from good to great.
Create a customer-centric culture within your company by implementing enterprise-wide support. This will not hinder people’s long-term company-specific skills and will ensure that each employee sees the big picture of how best to meet customer needs.
Help everyone understand the benefits they get by talking to customers instead of positioning them as a way to “help the support team.” From conversations with each team’s customers they can learn:
Sales teams learn better positioning strategies by understanding what matters to customers.
Engineering teams see firsthand how people use the things they build.
Marketing teams understand what types of content resonate or don’t resonate with their users.
The product team realizes if the functions align with the client’s needs they find them valuable.
By making sure everyone understands why customers matter, the support team can continue to focus on the customer experience.
7. Say “thank you” and “I’m sorry”
You don’t need a reason to say thank you. Even if you start your support response with “Thank you so much for reaching out,” it can help defuse a potentially tense situation.
Beyond that, don’t hesitate to apologize if you’ve made a mistake. Yes, you’re supposed to be an expert, but clients also expect you to be honest. Acknowledging fault and directly addressing a problem is far more meaningful to a customer’s experience than trying to sweep it under the rug.
Customers are more inclined to understand a problem if you’ve already worked to build a relationship with them. A big part of building relationships is establishing common ground, and using friendly, polite phrases is one of the best ways to do that.
8. Understand what your customers want
One of the most important things to consider when it comes to online customer service is what your customers want and need from your support team
Often when companies first start offering support, they try to offer only the most basic offerings to their customers: answering their emails, answering their phone calls, and fixing their bugs.
Once you figure that out, it’s time to start considering what your customers care about and value instead of trying to meet the bare minimum of what they expect.
As an example, imagine you are a customer looking for a company to host your website. It can be important that they offer live chat because you want to make sure that you can get an immediate response if your site goes down.
In that case, you will not be sent through the ticket system or forum. It’s great if they offer phone support, but what matters is their live chat.
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 their customers’ needs.
If your customers don’t care about phone support but value reaching out via live chat, consider moving your resources from your phone support team over to live chat.
Beyond providing excellent service in the channels they care about, 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 discover contextual help without leaving your site.
9. Empower your customers
Self-service through a knowledge base like HelpScout’s docs can be a huge benefit to your customers. When you have the resources to find the answers your customers need at your fingertips, you save both your customers and your team time.
However, for self-service support to be beneficial, your team needs to be strategic about it. Instead of focusing on writing as much as you can, write the content that people search for the most. View metrics such as:
Most searched term
The search returned no results
Most popular documents
Most Viewed Sites
The most common conversation tag
Document with the lowest satisfaction rating
Understanding how your customers are currently using your knowledge base and where they end up when searching can give your team a target to hit when writing new content. Instead of just writing more and hoping it meets their needs, your team can start writing with metrics in mind.
10. Be more human
When you’re dealing with clients online, via email, or chat, the temptation may be to just go for the fact-style, ma’am, especially if you’re just starting.
When you’re building a support team and strategy, it’s enough to simply respond to customers without thinking too much about the specific tone you use with them. After all, a nice style (or any particular tone, really) is hard to convey through text, where you don’t have additional cues like changes in tone of voice or friendly body language.
That said, conveying empathy through your virtual tone is a critical online customer service best practice. So as you begin to develop your strategy more fully, one of the best ways to improve your online customer service is to set the tone for your support team.
If you’re not sure what final tone your outfit should take, consider doubling down. Mirroring is when you match the tone your client uses and let them know you’re on their side.
When a client is formal, keep your tone strictly professional. If they’re more casual, relax your tone, too: If the customer seems to have a sense of humor, it’s okay to crack a joke or include a funny GIF in your response.
11. Track customer requests everywhere
Make sure your business keeps track of customer requests everywhere, especially where you least expect them. Some of the best insights into how your customers feel come from channels where you don’t ask them.
For example, you may receive comments about your product under a product review written on someone else’s site, in a blog post or YouTube video, or in a Twitter conversation where commenters did not include your company’s Twitter identifier.
While many companies already routinely follow up on customer requests, one of the best ways to improve your current strategy is to listen where people least expect you.
Social listening tools like Mention can help your customer support teams track what’s being said about you online, both directly and indirectly.
Keep in mind, though: That’s great to hear, but a conversation where no one is mentioned may offend some consumers. Whether the ideas are positive or critical, consider how they will make people feel before responding to comments.
12. Use negative experiences to turn things around
Did you know that if one of your users has a bad online customer service experience and your team goes to great lengths to repair the relationship, that customer is likely to be more loyal to you than they would have been without the issue?
Studies of the Service Recovery Paradox show that teams that have successfully resolved customers with specific problems are more loyal than customers who have not had the same experience:
One of the best ways to improve your online customer service is to take the opportunity to focus on troubleshooting when things go wrong. For example, if you’re a physical product company that experiences shipping delays, include a small free add-on in every package.
Or, if you’re a SaaS company and experience downtime, you can credit the customer account for making your product unavailable.
These small, relatively inexpensive things can make a big difference in your customers’ overall experience and their continued loyalty.
13 Best Practices for Improving Online Customer Service
13 Best Practices for Improving Online Customer Service When you’re just starting, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is customizing your support content Sure, you write a customer’s first and last name in your support emails, but that’s enough, right? Wrong.
Personalization is one of the best online customer service practices that can significantly impact the overall improvement of your team.
Start small. In-app tools, tips, or time-based email campaigns that are triggered by behavior are great ways to make customers feel like you understand them without digging deep into customer data.
Reminding customers about an abandoned shopping cart, or simply remembering what was in their cart the next time they visit your site via the “Recently Viewed Items” section, can make a difference.