For any online business, great customer service is key.
Customer service online is all about looking after your customers, adapting to ever-changing digital landscapes, and offering fair and reasonable resolutions.
It doesn’t just benefit your customers either. If your customers leave your website happy they’ll be much more likely to return, meaning you can’t afford to be offering anything but amazing online customer service.
Luckily for you, we know a thing or two about providing support and assistance to customers online which is why we’ve put together nine top tips for offering practical online customer service.
Online customer service is the process of answering queries from your customers online.
There are various ways that a customer can reach out to you but the most traditional ways of delivering online customer service are:
- Live Chat
- Social Media
- Video Calls
Larger businesses tend to offer multiple ways to provide customer support, but if you’re a smaller company with fewer resources and budget then we recommend choosing one or two methods that you can deliver well.
They say it takes years to build up a good reputation and just five minutes to ruin it. The importance of having a good online customer service strategy in place therefore shouldn’t be underestimated.
Adopting a good customer service strategy has various benefits including:
- Reputation Management – Offering excellent customer service helps to build your reputation as a brand that cares about customers. Poor service and responses will have a negative impact on your reputation and in turn, your business will suffer.
- Increase Repeat Custom – If a customer leaves your website feeling satisfied that their query has been solved they’ll be much more likely to come back and buy from you again. Likewise, a bad experience will leave them unlikely to return.
- Referrals – Businesses rely on word of mouth referrals and if you provide excellent customer service your customers may well recommend you to a friend.
An excellent customer experience creates loyal customers – and loyal customers spend more, make more purchases, and refer you to friends and family.
Whether your online business is product or service based, having excellent online customer service is essential. If you struggle to deliver your online customer service, customers will leave your website, never to return.
Let’s take a look at our nine tips for providing great online customer service.
A customer service strategy is a thorough plan for the online customer service your business will provide.
It covers everything from the platforms and methods you will use to deliver customer service, the answers to common questions and problems, how to speak to customers, and timescales for responses and resolutions.
Having a clear online customer service strategy in place will make delivering your customer service much easier and ensures all of your staff are on the same page.
The key to offering online customer service is knowing what your customers really want.
Firstly, you need to understand how your customers want to access customer service. Do they want to be able to contact you via phone? Or are they more likely to use a live chat service?
Figuring out which way your customers want to contact you will help you to ensure you’re offering the right kind of customer support.
Implementing audience research and surveys when people check out or finish a customer support query is a great way to get to know what your customers are looking for when it comes to online customer service.
If you’re currently offering multiple customer service methods, take a look at your analytics to see which are proving the most popular and if any can be removed due to lack of use.
Getting to know what your customers want from a customer service experience also allows you to create simple answers to common questions to help make the process run even smoother. Speaking of which…
Having a good FAQ page on your website will help to answer common questions without customers needing to use your customer service channels.
Often online customer service platforms (such as phone lines and live chats) get filled up with people asking questions that could be included on an FAQ page instead.
Common questions to cover in your FAQ often include generic product information, delivery and returns methods, warranties, opening hours, and tutorials.
A good way to find out what the most common questions are is to poll your support staff. Ask the people who are delivering the customer service what questions they get asked regularly and include it in your FAQ instead.
Signpost the FAQ page on your website so that your online customer service team can focus on more urgent inquiries.
If you decide to include a chatbot on your website you can input the answers to variants of common questions to make the process even easier for your customers.
There’s nothing worse than wanting to contact a business and then having to spend 20 minutes searching through page after page on their website to find their contact information.
Whatever method you decide to use for your online customer service, make sure it’s clear what it is and how to use it.
Include a contact page within the sitemap of your website and feature all of the relevant contact information here.
You can also include details in the footer of your website, and some brands even opt for a chat icon to appear in the corner of the screen which when clicked on will open up a live chat window.
Offering customer service on social media is also a great way to improve the lines of communication between you and your customers.
Often customers will easily find your social media accounts and contact you either via a direct message or by leaving a comment on your page. If you ignore these because you haven’t implemented social media as a customer service method, you’ll ruin any chance of building a relationship with them.
Reply promptly to any queries you receive on social media and train your staff to use an appropriate tone of voice, which may be different from the tone of voice they use for your social media posts.
For help with using the right language and tone when communicating with your customers, see our list of common customer service phrases.
Online customer service should be an instant thing. For example, if a customer is debating buying an item of clothing from your online store and has a question about sizing, they should be able to pop on live chat and get an instant response.
Similarly, if a customer contacts you via email or phone the last thing they want to receive is an automated response that says you’ll reply within seven working days. In today’s digital world, long response times are no longer good enough.
If you leave a customer waiting for a response for too long they’ll simply take their custom elsewhere, and if they are looking for help with an urgent inquiry, slow responses will damage your reputation.
As part of your initial online customer service strategy, you need to determine the target response times that you want your staff to aim for. These times will depend on a number of factors including the method used to deliver the customer service, the amount of staff and resources you have dedicated to offering customer support, and the budget you have available.
We recommend ensuring that response times are as instant as possible but certainly no longer than 48 hours for email inquiries.
Personalization is one of the best ways to make your online customer service stand out and excel.
You don’t need to know the name of your customer’s pet or what they had for dinner last night to personalize your communication.
Simple steps such as using their first name and remembering previous purchases and interactions can have a big impact on building a relationship.
Once you’ve mastered that you can personalize other aspects of your communications, such as sending emails to remind people about abandoned carts, which help to boost the quality of the customer service and experience you offer.
Personalized customer service signals to customers that you care about them.
Overpromising within your customer service can be deadly.
No matter how much you want to help your customers it’s important that you only promise what you know you can deliver.
For example, if a customer gets in touch to find out when an item will be back in stock, be honest with them. If it’s not due back in stock until next month, don’t tell them it might be back next week. This will just lead to disgruntled customers further down the line.
Much like how you put together the commonly asked questions for an FAQ, list the common things that you know you can deliver e.g. a timeframe for a refund.
If in doubt, escalate the issue further and get back to the customer promptly with an update. It’s better to not have an answer straight away than to promise something completely false.
If you start overpromising and underdelivering this could lead to bad customer reviews and a hit to your reputation.
Customer service etiquette is important to get right. It doesn’t matter how quickly they respond, if your staff are rude or uneducated then the relationship between you and your customer is going to plummet.
The key is ensuring that you have properly trained your staff. Make sure they have access to your customer service strategy and are aware of key targets such as response times.
Training your staff well ensures that whoever is on the other end of a customer response can answer questions and give the best possible advice.
The better you have trained your staff the more knowledgeable and professional your company will look.
Although it’s important to never overpromise, going the extra mile and delivering above expectations can help to boost your brand and overall customer experience.
Easy ways to deliver customer service that exceeds expectations include responding quicker than you stated, getting back in touch with customers to check they are happy with the service provided, and offering a discount or free gift to resolve any issues.
If you go the extra mile for your customers they won’t forget it in a hurry and will be more likely to leave a good review, shout about you on social media, or recommend you to a friend.
As you can see, offering excellent customer service online is crucial to building a successful online brand.
It doesn’t matter how good your products or services are, if your customer service is letting you down your brand’s reputation is going to take a big hit.
To recap, our nine top tips for providing great online customer service are:
- Create a strategy
- Know your customers
- Create a FAQ
- Offer clear channels of communication
- Reply to questions quickly
- Make it personal
- Practice integrity
- Train your staff well
- Go the extra mile
The real key to online customer service success and the thing that all of these tips come back to is listening.
Whether it’s listening to your customers, your team members, or the data, listening and learning will help you to deliver the level of online customer service that your customers want and deserve.
For more information on how to optimize managing your online brand, check out our article on AI marketing tools.
There are various ways to provide and deliver online customer service including via phone, email, chatbots, live chat, social media, and video calls.
The budget you need to deliver great online customer service all depends on the method you choose. While larger businesses will often offer multiple methods which cost more and requires more staff, smaller businesses can easily offer just one or two methods and still provide a great service.
Budget requirements are usually spent on staff to fulfill the customer service and any initial tech set-up such as a live chat function.
Managing customer expectations is key to offering good customer service. Create an initial strategy that will include main targets and terms for your staff to follow such as response times, refund times, and stock availability.