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10 Best Practices for Online Customer Service

Online customer service is being adopted by a growing number of companies, government agencies, and non-profits.  It is easier and less expensive than ever to provide online knowledge bases, live chat, and social channels for customer service in addition to call centers.

infographic on US State of Customer Service


If you are just starting on the journey of online customer service, you may want to start with some fundamental best practices to chart your course.

  1. Start with executive commitment. Customer service requires significant resources and perseverance, and will become an ongoing task that will grow along with the demands of customers.  Success is unlikely without the explicit support of senior executives.  
  2. Put yourself in the customer's shoes.  Many products and services are becoming more complicated with each new version, and customers can be overwhelmed with the pace of change.  Try to consider how a new customer regards your products and find a way to fill the gap in knowledge. 
  3. Share helpful content.  Create a feedback mechanism so that answers to questions may be shared with other customer service representatives and with customers themselves.  For instance, some products offer a feature to nominate content to be published based on a help desk ticket. 
  4. Hide the complexity of your organization. Customers should not need to understand your organizational chart in order to get help.  Consolidate web pages, email addresses, and phone numbers used to reach customer service to create a goal of one-stop shopping.  
  5. Engage a community of outside experts. If it is appropriate for your product or service, online forums of outside experts can supplement your official channels and bolster the credibility of your offering.  Pay attention to these groups because they will attract complaints that can inform you of areas to improve. 
  6. Use the channels your customers use.  The majority of customers still prefer the immediacy of a telephone call, but a growing number like online chat, social media, self-service websites, and even email to communicate with your organization.  Find out where your customers live by exploring these options and tracking the traffic you receive. Try to stick to the channel where the issue is first raised rather than drive customers to other channels, as many may drop out rather than continue to search for an answer. 
  7. Treat your customer service reps like you would treat your customers. Customer service reps have a difficult job, and these jobs often have high turnover.  Treat the customer service reps well because their happiness and empowerment will be reflected in the attitude they show to customers.  Promote the most successful reps to other positions which take advantage of their product knowledge and people skills.  
  8. Set accurate expectations for response time. If you inform customers of the estimated response time for a communications channel, they can make an informed decision on which is best for them.  Post your telephone hours online, and let callers know of wait times for phone or online chat. 
  9. Empower people who help customers.  Since customer service reps are the first line of defense, arm them with knowledge and capabilities to provide customers with what they seek.  Avoid making escalation the rule rather than the exception if possible. 
  10. Use complaints as a way to improve your product.  Feedback is essential to continuous improvement, and negative feedback is more actionable than positive feedback.  Customer service is a vital way to gather feedback on products and services as well as competitive offerings. 
Customer service drives perceptions of any company or other organization, and the experience of a few people is magnified through their communication with others, especially in social media. Online customer service gives you the opportunity to expand your communications reach, make customers successful with your offerings, and ultimately increase repeat business and customer loyalty.






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