Brett Borgeson

Assistant Vice President, Practice Development

5 tips to Improve Your Company’s Customer Service on the Web

Assistant Vice President, Practice Development

Online Customer SupportCompanies that still provide phone support for customers are looking to the Internet to provide a lower cost, more efficient channel to connect customers with the resources they need to solve their problem.  From the customer perspective, though, the Web can be the least satisfying channel through which to seek customer service, especially if those resources are difficult to find and use. This is particularly true for customers who are accustomed to, or feel they require, the human interaction available via phone.  Migrating customer support to the web and improving customer experience often do not go hand-in-hand – unless care is taken to create a human-oriented, easy-to-use Customer Support area on your company’s website.

Your customer support pages must be designed to address customer goals, and provide easy to find (and implement) solutions.  Otherwise, your customers will end up calling phone-support or resorting to other more costly alternatives. The first step in leveraging the web to economize your customer support efforts is often to provide highly visible links addressing the most common support issues, provide basic service request forms, and a provide a general support phone number.  If your forms are simple, have few fields, and offer choices addressing their specific products/issues, your customers may choose to use them rather than pick up the phone. This may be doubly true if you can set and meet a customer’s expectation for quick response.  Of course, a workflow needs to be established to ensure that each type of question is routed to the right people and responded to promptly.

Customer Support on the web is more than putting forms and email addresses in a section of the site, however. Creating a consistent customer experience across all products, channels, and services is a challenge that must be addressed or customers will find other ways to get their answers, which could eventually include going to a competitor and result in significant loss of revenue.

In addition to adhering to commonly understood usability best practices and conducting studies and focus groups with actual customers to optimize the user experience, here are five tips for creating a positive customer support experience that will meet user needs and lower call center costs:

  1. Create a consistent experience that takes into account regional and international considerations. One challenge to providing great online support is creating an experience for international customers that is consistent with their experience on other parts of the site.  Ensure that customers always know where they are on the site by using highly visible indicators (for example, country icons or two-letter language logos at the top of the page).  Regional contact information should be updated and easy to find.
  2. Allow customers to personalize the customer service experience. Provide tools for customizing the elements users want to see when they log in, such as account summary, recent activity, and relevant blog posts. This provides ways for customers to transact and get the information they need very quickly.  For a good example of a personalized customer service interface, check out Starwood Hotels Preferred Guest Program.
  3. Create a way for customers to help each other. Providing a support forum or wiki on which customers share their own insights on product use or troubleshooting can be another way of generating additional information and allowing customers to bypass the call center.  Make sure to provide guidelines for best use of the tools (what information to include and not to include) and create an internal workflow to monitor the conversation and to ensure a quick response.  Dell’s support forums provide an example of a well maintained and useful customer community.
  4. Provide customers help on their own terms. Many sites provide a chat interface to allow immediate text-based contact with a customer representative.  Others allow customers to schedule appointments by phone, or even to request a call back, which is a service Amazon.com provides (Amazon also provides the option of being contacted via email).  Providing options like these allow the customer to feel like they are controlling the interaction with Customer Support and set very specific expectations for the time frame in which the customer will be contacted.
  5. Monitor customer behavior to optimize the experience and identify shifting needs. Develop a strategy to determine the route customers took to find the support they needed, whether they used one of the online options you provided or resorted to picking up the phone.  This can be done statistically using analytics packages or individually using various web technologies (a marketing automation system for example). A more direct and inexpensive way to find out if the customer accomplished what they intended is to pop up a short (one or two questions) survey after an action is taken.  Questions might include “What did you come to do today?”, “Did you accomplish your goal?”, and “If Not, Why Not.” Make surveys easier by having the answers be pull downs or radio buttons, and if you need several questions answered, rotate them between customers so you don’t present any one customer with a long form to fill in (they won’t).

Regardless of which features you choose to enhance the customer service experience for your company, it is best to start slowly and add features based on customer feedback, rather than to try solving all the call center problems at once.  Start by adding simple request forms and increasing the visibility of links to the most common problems.  This will encourage customers to get used to using your customer service portal as the first stop when they interact with Support.  As you find out more about how customers interact, adding more complex features such as those mentioned above can then be implemented with the appropriate customer goals in mind.