80% of customers say they’ve stopped doing business with a company based on poor customer service.
Meanwhile, 56% of customers prefer to shop online, according to a study by Raydiant.
Add those data points above together and you’ll understand why you can’t ignore online customer service.
“The online experience your customers have with your team shapes their perception of your product and your brand as a whole. It can either build brand loyalty or damage your reputation — both of which, can happen very quickly,” says Emma Sinai, Director of Customer Success at PartnerStack.
If your online experience hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, read on. We’ve taken service data, plus expert commentary, and used it to create 16 actionable tips to improve your online customer service.
What is online customer service?
In short, online customer service means addressing customer needs through your digital presence. That may mean answering questions, solving problems, or providing product support. It includes active service – like live chat, email, or social media – and passive service, like your website, chatbot, or knowledge base.
Why Online Customer Service is Important
While phone remains the most used method for customer service, its popularity has been declining for years. Meanwhile, more than half of consumers prefer some form of online communication. And that number is only growing, according to data from Gladly.
In fact, Forrester research found that as far back as 2016 customer service by phone was seen as a form of escalation, and often not the first choice for customer care.
It’s easy to see why. Customers value the speed, ease, and simplicity of being online. If you’re still not convinced, consider these stats:
All of those numbers add up to one thing: providing good customer care online is crucial. And it’s getting more important every year.
“A positive online service experience is now a leading indicator of customer loyalty.” Bri Adams, Manager of Customer Success for ChurnZero
How to Improve Your Online Customer Service
- Offer self-service resources.
- Create customer-led communities.
- Make it easy to contact you.
- Use the channels your customers use.
- Use a universal inbox or shared team email.
- Think omnichannel, not just multi-channel.
- Be proactive, not just reactive.
- Respond quickly.
- Offer personalization.
- Invest in help desk or ticketing software.
- Keep good customer records with a CRM.
- Invest in soft-skill training.
- Seek regular feedback.
- Track your service KPIs.
- Watch your reviews (and act on them.)
- Reply to your reviews.
1. Offer self-service resources.
This may seem like an odd suggestion to improve your customer service, but customer care starts with the customer. An overwhelming 69% of consumers prefer to try to resolve their issues on their own, according to research by Zendesk.
You can put this into action by offering resources like:
These tools let customers take control of their support when and where they want it.
Bri Adams, manager of customer success for ChurnZero, puts it this way, “Ultimately, online service experiences allow customers to be proactive about their own success and allow companies to efficiently support them without being constrained by availability or accessibility.”
2. Create customer-led communities.
In addition to helping customers help themselves, you can help customers help each other. This can take the shape of a public forum, private Facebook group, or dedicated social space. Customer-led communities allow people to share their knowledge and experiences with your products and services.
Even though these spaces are community-led, you should check in regularly to set guidelines and monitor feedback. A dedicated Community Manager can engage with users to answer common questions and show appreciation.
3. Make it easy to contact you.
When your customers are ready to go beyond self-service, the transition to speaking with a real person should be quick and easy.
Here are a few best practices to consider:
- Offer a clickable phone number or email address on your website.
- Allow customers to contact you via social media and messaging apps.
- Display your contact information on social media.
- Make your live chat widget visible and prominent.
- Make your live chat widget appear proactively.
4. Use the channels your customers use.
28% of survey respondents use messaging apps for resolving customer service issues, according to Zendesk, and 9% use social media. And when you focus on Millenials and Gen Z customers, those numbers jump to 40% and 20% respectively.
If your customers are on WhatsApp, then you should be, too. If they’re using video chat, then so should your support reps.
Emma Sinai, director of customer success for PartnerStack, tells us, “Where some people learn best from self-serve written guides, others may benefit most from video responses or real-time voice support. Meeting them where they prefer is the most effective way to understand what they’re looking for and to deliver on those expectations.”
5. Use a universal inbox or shared team email.
70% of customers expect companies to collaborate internally on their behalf. Why? Nobody likes to repeat themselves to every new agent they speak to.
All of those shiny new channels you’ve added come with a big new risk: If a customer needs to switch channels, they have to tell their story a second (or third) time. Or worse, their issue gets lost, forgotten, or ignored.
A universal inbox – like HubSpot Conversations – allows you to manage all of your channels from one place. You can see and reply to messages from email, live chat, chatbot, and Messenger app conversations in one shared inbox.
6. Think omnichannel, not just multi-channel.
While we’re on the topic of multiple channels: Your customer experience should be integrated and consistent across all of them.
When most people hear “omnichannel experience” they think of marketing, but the same principles apply to your customer service.
Your service agents should have access to your customers’ full conversation history and purchase activity (including interactions with your sales and marketing teams). They should have access to all of the various channels. And they should use the same brand messaging and strategy regardless of which channel the customer uses.
7. Be proactive, not just reactive.
Proactive customer service is about offering support before an issue arises, and online channels are uniquely effective for this.
Here are a few examples to help you get thinking in the right direction:
- Include an FAQ about your product or service along with your order confirmation.
- Automatically send feedback surveys shortly after purchases and service requests.
- Notify your customers about product changes, pricing changes, or maintenance actions before they happen.
- Trigger your chat window to expand when a customer appears stuck.
Some may fear seeming pushy or intrusive, but the data shows that customers like proactive customer service. For example, Gladly also found that 81% of customers found it helpful when a chat window appeared proactively.
8. Respond quickly.
90% of customers consider an “immediate response” as important when they have a customer service question.
Just how fast is “immediate”? For 60% of customers, it means 10 minutes or less.
Make sure your team knows who’s responsible for monitoring each channel and that they have the resources to find answers quickly. You can speed up the answering process by building a resource library that holds your help articles, videos, and product documentation in one place.
Pro tip: HubSpot users can use the Playbooks tool as a resource library that automatically surfaces recommended content.
9. Offer personalization.
Personalization is about more than just using your customer’s name. It’s about crafting the entire customer experience.
“What does that look like? Sending in-app communications when users are primed for engagement. Triggering personalized outreach based on customer behavior. Offering on-demand peer support through active communities. Delivering just-in-time learning via a knowledge base for access to expertise, in the moment, as needs arise,” says Adams from ChurnZero.
Some other simple personalization wins that you can put into place:
- Make past purchases visible to your service team.
- Auto-filling service forms for returning customers.
- Sending how-to articles or tutorial videos that align with recent purchases.
10. Invest in help desk or ticketing software.
As you grow your business, you’ll also grow your number of support requests. The bigger you get, the easier it is to lose those requests. Or forget to reply to an email. Or reply to someone who’s already been helped.
Held desk software organizes customer requests into tickets that can be assigned, tracked, and prioritized. These service tickets should include all the context your service team needs – like purchase history, service issues, and any previous conversations.
Good ticketing software can also improve your customer experience over time. By tracking tickets, you’ll get insight into metrics like your average response time, resolution time, ticket volume, and more. This data can help you spot both the weaknesses and wins in your service.
11. Keep good customer records with a CRM.
33% of customers cited “repeating yourself or information to different support representatives” as the single most frustrating part of customer service.
At the very minimum, you should be keeping a record of every customer interaction. Your agents should note when and how the customer contacted them, as well as notes about the interaction.
A CRM makes it easy to keep track of that information and make it accessible to your service, sales, and marketing teams. In fact, many CRMs will automate that data collection– putting contact information, conversation history, and customer feedback in one location.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it can have a big impact. One study by Zendesk found that companies that leverage customer data saw a 79% reduction in wait times and 36% faster resolutions.
12. Invest in soft-skill training.
Research has shown that people tend to read emails more negatively than they’re intended. That’s because it’s difficult to show empathy online, where there are no body language or vocal cues to help.
And while the study focused on emails, the same holds true for live chat and messaging apps, too.
Consider offering your service team training in conflict resolution, de-escalation, emotional intelligence, and written communication. These skills can help to convey a human touch even when text is your only tool.
13. Seek regular feedback.
Direct customer feedback is more valuable than nearly any other service metric. And it comes in many forms. While most people think of surveys, the internet provides a number of different ways to gather feedback. Some examples are:
- Feature request forums
- Comment sections
- Follow-up emails
- Social listening tools
- Customer interviews
- Third-party reviews
- Service agent notes
Again, Emma Sinai from Partner Stack suggests, “Don’t forget to speak to customers and get their feedback! The qualitative insights from these conversations are invaluable. And when you combine customer feedback with hard metrics like your team’s customer response time and customer satisfaction score, you’ll rapidly improve your retention rates, sales, and overall success.”
14. Track your customer service KPIs.
And speaking of hard metrics; measuring your customer service KPIs is just as important as customer feedback. These performance metrics allow you to pinpoint problems and scale your successes.
Online customer service channels are uniquely suited for tracking these numbers. While phone calls and in-person service must be manually tracked, your customers’ online interactions can be automatically added to your CRM or ticketing software.
This lets you easily analyze metrics like response time, resolution rate, escalation rate, and more. You can even track self-service metrics like knowledge base usage or video viewership.
15. Watch your reviews (and act on them.)
60% of consumers will consider leaving a review for a positive experience, while 50% will leave one for a negative experience, according to a survey by Brightlocal.
And since reviews are written to be public, they may contain candid opinions you won’t get from other feedback channels. This makes them valuable sources of feedback, both good and bad.
Pay especially close attention when customers start saying the same thing. Trends in reviews often point to areas that need improvement (or celebration).
“Monitor your digital channels and touchpoints for gaps, positive impacts, and trends. Capture feedback from those in the trenches to share with the wider team,” says Adams from ChurnZero.
16. Reply to your reviews.
Brightlocal also found that 89% of consumers would be “fairly likely” or “highly likely” to use a business that responds to all reviews. Meanwhile, 57% of consumers were “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to use a business that doesn’t respond to any reviews.
Responding to your reviews shows that you listen to your customers and care about their concerns. It gives you a chance to appreciate your supporters, and make unhappy customers feel heard.
Just be sure to take a deep breath before replying. Remember that other potential customers will see your response.
Service with a smile.
As more and more customers do business online, the need for online customer service grows, too. By putting these tips into action, you’ll be ready for them. You’ll increase customer satisfaction and decrease customer churn. And that adds up to what’s most important: happy customers.