Five best practices for online customer service.
It's easy to complain about customer service departments: they always seem to suck. But with so many companies struggling to keep hold of customers, I'm left wondering if they realize their customer service departments are a huge part of the problem. In this economy, you must put your best feet forward on all customer-facing fronts. Today we'll look at some best practices for customer service, along with some good and bad examples.
Make Your Contact Information Easy to Find
Some companies make it notoriously difficult for users to find their contact information. Don't be afraid of your customers: make your customer service phone number easy to find.
Operate a Multichannel Customer Service Center
Customers want convenience. This means letting them contact you through whatever channels they want. This might mean the telephone, but other channels may be more preferable, such as live chat or e-mail.
Operate Live Chat When Customers Are on Your Site
One of our clients wanted to install live chat, which was to be manned by someone in their office. She could dedicate only a certain number of hours a day during the week to this. A quick look at the site's analytics revealed that most shoppers were on the site after 5 p.m., and mainly on the weekends. What's the point of having a "Live Chat" button displayed prominently on the Web site if it always says "We are offline"?
If you are going to have channels that are more convenient for customers, they must be available at convenient times for your customers. Investing in 24/7 live chat, or at least being open nights and weekends if that's what the analytics bear out, is a must.
If you accept e-mail, respond to it in a timely manner, and make it clear to the user what that timeframe is.
If You Are Multichannel, Be Multichannel
I always write about thinking like a multichannel company and building pathways between your channels. Customer service is no different. Last week I was in a live chat with a customer service agent. My problem got too complicated to explain over live chat, so I asked the agent if I could call him or if he could call me. The answer was a resounding "no." While the customer service center was technically multichannel (e-mail, live chat, and phone), there were no paths between the channels. One customer service agent could not communicate with me over multiple channels. I ended up having to end the live chat and call a customer support number and start all over again with a new agent.
Use Your Use Cases for Customer Service
This ought to be an obvious one, but it's not. In my line of work, we develop personas and use cases that explain who users are and what tasks they are likely to do on a site. Based on that, we build user experiences that let each type of person easily accomplish all the tasks she needs to.
Instead of dividing customer service by departments, divide it by customer needs. I was on the phone with Adobe for several hours over the course of the last few weeks because evidently a cross-platform upgrade to Creative Suite 4 is the most complicated thing ever invented. The real problem is that there isn't one department that handles it. I was shuttled between three or four different people, each responsible for a part of the upgrade process. Had Adobe been thinking about use cases and user needs instead of its department structure, this matter could have been handled by one person who had authority over the entire process.
Some Companies Get It
Sure, it's easy to complain about customer service because so many companies do it poorly. But then there are the shining stars. My favorite company is Sweetwater. It sells music gear, and I have bought a lot of equipment from it lately. I have a customer service agent named Dave, and he is very knowledgeable not only in the company's products but also in the best practices and general workflow to use the software I own.
I've often asked him which is the best piece of equipment to do something, given my existing workflow. And he either knows the answer (which is usually the way) or he finds out quickly. He spends a lot of time with me, making sure I can make an informed choice.
What ended up as a Google search to find the best price on a piece of software has turned into a relationship with Dave and with Sweetwater, making it my go-to location for any music equipment needs. Dave is multichannel and is happy to e-mail or talk to me on the phone.
Sweetwater is just one of many companies that are actually doing customer service right. In this economy, customer loyalty is key, and customer service is a vital part of that.
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Until next time...
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