How Can We Help You Online Today?

In a recent Gallup poll, top American corporate executives ranked customer support as the top challenge facing businesses today.

It’s true; customer service is becoming a major force in consumer purchasing decisions. That means that a good online plan for support is a critical component to overall customer satisfaction.

What is the best approach?

A dedicated email account is the easiest way for a company to set up online customer support. Customers with complaints or comments can contact a specific email address — for example, With a specific account for customer support, it’s critical for someone to check for mail throughout the day. Assign more than one person to handle the support account to prevent response delays due to sickness, vacation, or travel. (Bottom line: The customer doesn’t care about your scheduling problems.) And be especially sure to respond to all customer email messages within a few hours.

Another option is to create mail aliases, so that you don’t have to create a specific account for support. This set-up automatically forwards customer mail to the appropriate person/persons. This technique works well for multiple mail addresses, where different people handle different problems. Create mail aliases for different problem areas, like and for each of the respective products.

A similar web-based approach includes a site customer support form, which makes it simple for customers to communicate their problems and comments. With a web-based form, you can guide the type of information that you will need to more quickly address your customers problems. You can provide a place for them to include a product’s serial number or customer number. Or you may have pull down menus that can group the type of problem that the customer is experiencing. With this type of information, you can route the concern to the staff person who can more quickly and effectively solve the problem.

Creating an online “help desk” can also reduce customer frustration, though at a slightly higher cost in both personnel and resources. Your online help desk could include common problems customers encounter, a searchable database of online help, and the email addresses of personnel with answers not easily accessible on your web site.

One Solution A company with a plug-and-play “help desk” is Right Now Technologies, Inc., in Bozeman, Montana. Its product is an online “help desk” that builds a database of questions already asked by customers. Called Right Now Web, the product has an efficient back-end management interface that makes responding to customers’ questions quite simple. The answers the company gives help to automatically build a database of solutions that are then made live and searchable. Right Now Technologies guarantees that you will decrease your online support costs by 25 percent.

Another form of online support is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). A FAQ is a mailing list or list maintained on an FTP site that provides answers to questions people ask most frequently. It’s proactive to provide this type of support. When companies don’t, interested users often start and maintain their own lists, which are far more difficult to control!

In addition to straight customer support, another thing an FAQ list can accomplish is to find new uses for your products. For example, clients will find new ways to use your products. Online discussion communities can be fostered. All this leads customer support into customer mining, in fact.

Doing It Right

You can find an excellent example of online support in action by going to the Hewlett-Packard web site. HP’s online customer support began before the advent of the web, when in 1991 it started offering its customers downloadable software patches from an FTP site. The company eventually set up eight mailing lists (HP calls them “electronic digests”) so customers could learn which software patches were available and request them by email. The mailing lists include a variety of information on new products, security, technical tips, and general news.

Investing some of your resources in online support pays big dividends for your company in the long run. If you take the time and effort to set it up correctly and maintain it conscientiously, there is no limit to how vital online support can be to your overall support efforts.

Here are a few tips for keeping your customer support efforts up-to-date:

  • Give online customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Query by email any customer with a question to ask about the treatment received from online service personnel.
  • Survey your site’s content often.
  • Ask yourself and your staff what types of information your customers are seeking.
  • Solicit customer and employee input for improving the site so it meets their needs.
  • Set-up user group discussions so that particular types of users can communicate — not only with you, but with each other. This will help establish that sense of an online community.
  • Reward customers who give you good advice for improving your customer support. Have a contest or rebates on future purchases for the most helpful advice.

Keep your customers happy, and they’ll not only keep coming back, they’ll also tell their friends. Your marketing efforts can either be buoyed or destroyed by your customer support after the sale. Don’t overlook how online support fits into the mix.

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