9 Ways to Provide Stellar Online Customer Service

9-ways-to-provide-stellar-customer-service

Customer service: It’s something that has always been a necessity. But nowadays, you have to offer more than just the basics. People don’t want to be put on hold or have to wade through tons of text on your website just to find your contact info, and they certainly don’t want to have to wait hours and hours for a response to their queries. In today’s fast-paced world, your customers will want to get a hold of you, and they will want to do it quickly and easily. So how can you make sure that you’re streamlining the process and keeping your customers as happy as you can?

Create the essential “FAQ page” first

If you create a page that specifically addresses the questions you receive the most frequently, this can cut unnecessary contact off before it begins. While this might sound a bit “cold”, people will appreciate the chance to find a solution to their problem without having to go to the trouble of calling or emailing. So take note of the questions you’re getting the most frequently and take the time to put together a clear, concise, and easy-to-find guide that can help your customers solve any simple issues on their own.

Create a customer-service schedule and strategy in line with your business model.

What do we mean by that? Well, for example, if you’re an emergency plumber, you’d better have someone available 24/7 to answer questions–if you claim you’re open 24 hours a day, you need to be able to back that claim up.

On the other hand, if you’re a dog walker who only works Tuesday through Friday, be sure you have your phone connected to your email account and check it occasionally while you’re on call. You might also want to check your social media once or twice a day to make sure you can address any of your customers’ needs or requests. This should be more than enough for someone who works part-time and interacts with clients so personally.

Finally, if you’re a larger operation, you’ll need to set up some kind of customer service department–no ifs, ands, or buts about it! (I.e., you can’t make the graphics department also do customer service in their spare time, because that’s just inefficient for everyone!) Make sure that your customers don’t have to wait for extended periods of time to talk to a representative, and perhaps most importantly, hire customer service professionals who can answer questions professionally and calmly–it’s a tough job, but there are some out there who really excel at it. Find them!

Be compassionate

Your customers will be out for blood sometimes. Sometimes they’re justified in their vitriol; other times not so much. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t all receive a quality customer service experience. As mentioned above, hire thick-skinned customer service people who can be compassionate toward your clients–especially under the most stressful of situations. So, if you have a livid customer ready to cancel with you, rather than saying something like:

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” (Sounds robotic and scripted)

Try this instead:

“I can certainly understand why that would be frustrating. Let me take care of this right away for you. I’ll send this case straight to a manager.”

It shows that you understand his or her urgency and can empathize with them.

Speak like a customer

This is a biggie, and one that people probably forget about a lot: Refrain from using technical jargon. It can be difficult when you’ve worked with your products for so long–it becomes like second nature to use jargon. But it just confuses and frustrates most people who want customer service. So put yourself in their shoes and think about what they need. Do they need an answer to a simple question? Answer it simply. Do they need help with troubleshooting? Be patient and describe things in detail. Thinking and speaking like your customers do is essential to providing a superior customer service experience.

Have resources readily available

No one wants to call in and hear someone say, “Let me check into that… I’ll get back to you”. While you obviously can’t be prepared for every possible situation, you can be prepared for most of them. Be sure to train your customer service representatives thoroughly and make it a requirement that they be able to walk customers through the most commonly-seen situations. For situations that are less common, make scripts and resources readily available. Knowing that the answers are at their fingertips lets your employees relax a bit, and it also sets them up for a higher chance of success in helping a customer with a more complicated case, if it becomes necessary to do so.

Be available on social media

Some businesses go on social media because everyone else is on social media. They send out periodic updates and go about their daily routine without much further thought to their social media strategy.

This is a mistake. Not only do regular updates and interactions with your fans and followers help you grow your potential customer base, they also provide a prime foundation for customer service. When your customers contact you through social media with questions or concerns, you should respond to them accordingly. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be able to publicly demonstrate your concern for your customers’ needs.

Be timely–whether through email, social media, or by phone

No matter how you choose to address your customer service needs, there’s one thing for certain: You need to be prompt in your responses. As noted above, customers do not like waiting very long for assistance. In today’s fast-paced, technology-based world, they expect an email, phone call, or online chat system so that they can quickly get the answers they need. Check out Zendesk if you need some help streamlining the process.

Offer security

While we’ve been stressing the need for online customer assistance, there’s one big issue that you’ll have to address: Customer security (especially if you do online chat). You want to make sure that the customers understand where and when it’s appropriate to share sensitive data. For example, if they email you, they could include a brief description of the problem and a way to contact them, but they shouldn’t include sensitive data like credit card numbers.

Some more examples: If calls are recorded, of course you must let the customers know. Online chat systems must be done through secure software, and you should always let the customers know that their privacy will always be maintained. If you still want to take customer service requests through email, you could consider having a secure form that they can fill out, and that will be automatically emailed to you.

Be overly courteous

While this is true for anything said over the phone–being empathetic, offering friendly solutions, using the customer’s name–it’s especially true for anything put in writing. You and your team members might think you’re being polite, but sometimes text gets misconstrued. It’s not an uncommon thing, actually. So what’s the solution? We think it works well to be overly polite and courteous. It sounds a bit pandering, but it’s better to err on the side of being too friendly rather than cold or indifferent.

So what do you think? Are there other tips you’d suggest for stellar online customer service? Let us know in the comments!

Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to discover how we can help you be seen online.

Advertisements

Why You Need to Be Using Social Media for Customer Service

why-you-need-to-be-using-social-media-for-customer-service

The way you choose to interact with your customers online can really set the tone for your business. If you’re responsive, engaging, and present a positive image for your company, people are more likely to interact with you and spread the word.

On the other hand, if you’re quick to pick fights with customers who complain or you’re not willing to listen to constructive criticism, you might find yourself in hot water faster than you ever thought possible–social media lets information travel far faster than word of mouth alone, and the effects last a long time. It’s really difficult to clean up a tarnished image in the digital age!

This is why your social media platforms need to be regularly maintained and easily accessible to your customers. Let them feel comfortable reaching out to you via social media. When you do communicate with your customers, be polite and understanding. Providing great customer service should be your #1 priority on social media–just as it should be elsewhere.

Companies that rock customer service via social media: JetBlue and Seamless

If you need a little bit of guidance in getting started, check out the customer service that JetBlue provides over Twitter. They engage with their customers in a timely and positive manner. And the don’t just interact with the customers who are happy–instead, they take the time to find the people who are talking about their company negatively, and they do their best to remedy the situation. That’s going above and beyond for their customers, and it has netted the airline a great reputation for customer service.

Seamless, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach: They’re available 24 hours a day to help you with any troubles you might have, from a late order to a technical glitch on their website. No matter what problem you’re facing, you can tweet Seamless and they’ll get someone to help you ASAP.

How can you emulate JetBlue’s practice as a small business?

First monitor social media channels for mention of your brand’s name. When you see people talking about you, make sure you engage with them: If they’re saying something positive, retweet them or “like” their post. Leave an encouraging comment thanking them for taking the time to share their thoughts. If they’re saying something negative, put on your best happy face and try to find out why they’re disappointed. If you can remedy the situation, others will see that you care–and they’ll be more likely to remember you positively!

How can you emulate Seamless’s approach as a small business?

Obviously most small businesses can’t have someone there to help customers 24 hours a day. But what you can do is make sure that a dedicated team has access to the social media accounts. Does your webmaster run the technical side of things while you man the helm? Make sure he or she can deliver timely news to you about any website errors or downtime; or, alternatively, allow him or her to have access to the accounts to let customers and fans know for you. Make sure you respond to questions as soon as you have the chance, and your customers will thank you for it. (Customers expect a fairly fast response time–the average Twitter response time is 5.1 hours, with 10% of companies answering within an hour, and 93% of companies answering within 48 hours.)

Run a medium-sized company? Take cues from Nike and Blizzard Entertainment.

If you get fairly high traffic on your company website or on your social media pages, you might want to try creating a separate handle for your customer service. You can see how Nike does it here–look at the number of tweets that have come from that account! However, with a team dedicated to providing customer service managing this account, you can bet that anyone who needs help can get it faster than if they were to call. It’s also a great option for your customers who can’t speak and/or hear–there are TTY phones that Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers can use, but many would prefer to bypass that and use social media.

Blizzard Entertainment also takes this approach. Whenever servers are down, a website glitch pops up, or a game is getting a new patch, @BlizzardCS tweets about it. Players can also tweet at this account to report bugs or to let the team know of server issues. people have even reported in-game harassment here. By providing an account separate from their main game accounts, they’ve created a dedicated space to better assist customers without any game promotions or advertisements between tweets.

How can you make a dedicated customer service account work for you?

If you have the budget and resources to pull this off, go ahead and make a separate account. Hire a dedicated team to manage the account, and make sure they’re trained with customer service and dispute management. Make sure that they understand your company’s voice and your brand image. Finally, put a fail-safe in place: Allow them to direct the customers to a phone or a separate email if the situation is too complicated to deal with via text.

Tips for Excelling at Customer Service via Social Media

  • Have a priority list. Respond to things like technical issues or direct complaints first, and general comments (complaints or praise) last.
  • Set a goal for a response time–and track your success rate.
  • Are there questions you get more often than others? If so, you might want to consider an FAQ page on your website or putting together a guide covering the basics of your products and services.
  • Consider where your customers are. Most of our examples are from Twitter, but if most of your customers are on Facebook, implement your customer service strategy there.
  • Know when to take your issues away from social media. As mentioned above, there always needs to be a fail-safe. Not all customers can be appeased via social media. Make sure there’s a way for them to contact you with the method they prefer.
  • Monitor conversations about your brand and try to reply and remedy any complaints, even if they’re not directly tweeted/messaged to you.
  • Finally, keep your cool under all circumstances. Never, EVER respond when you’re angry. Step away from the computer if you’re about to tweet something angry. Even if this slows down your response time, it’s better to reply when you’re able to do so professionally–in a way that won’t damage your brand.

Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to see how we can help you be seen online.

Back to Basics #27: Keeping Up with Seasonal Demands

Every year, when the holiday season rolls around, businesses large and small alike scramble to keep up with the increased demand for products. Whether they have to hire new seasonal workers or they simply have to carry extra products to ensure they meet demand, small businesses are often stretched thin and the owners are stressed. It’s already December, so by some standards, this article is a little late (oops!), but there are still some good tips you can utilize over the next few weeks to make sure you’re adequately keeping up with seasonal demands for your small business.

Labor Costs

christmas-shopping

Spending even more money on labor is something that most small business owners shrink away from. It’s not a fun prospect—many small businesses already struggle to keep in the black. And while the holidays are a great time to spread the good word about your products and services, they’re also demanding. Customers want nearly immediate responses when they have questions, and they want fast product/service delivery. If you can’t greet and help all customers during the busiest shopping season of the year, you might find yourself at the receiving end of some pretty scathing reviews. Lots of companies choose to counter this by hiring more staff. For instance, in the retail industry, many businesses must hire greater numbers of workers during the Christmas season to handle the extra work that comes with holiday sales.

For last-minute tips, try:

  • Offering an incentive for workers to come in early or stay a bit late–but be sure to follow through! Coupons, bonuses, and prizes all work well as incentives.
  • Extending customer service hours–even if you take a few calls or answer a few emails on your personal time, your customers will appreciate it, and you don’t have to hire the extra help.
  • Setting up a comfortable area for customers to wait in your store. Providing free coffee, water, and tea can help ease tensions. And don’t forget to make sure customers understand where and how long to wait.

Putting All the Details in Place

christmas-tree

Many small business owners say that they prepare for the holiday rush months ahead of time. They double-check to make sure their websites are easily accessible, up-to-date, and properly linked to social media accounts; others go a step further and post coupons and holiday deals that can be redeemed online or in-store. Some focus mostly on PR campaigns and online contests to ensure their customers hear about holiday sales on the most popular social media channels; in turn, they hope that the customers will share information with friends to spread the word. Still others prepare written materials to hand out to customers for word-of-mouth marketing purposes.

While some companies choose to plan everything to a T, there are others who choose to do things more “organically”. They might opt for casual online events to save on the costs of printing or advertising, or they might try to prepare the best they can without actually crunching numbers or hiring anyone new.

Which method would be best for you? Well, it really depends on your industry and the flow of your holiday traffic. Retail stores might lean more heavily toward hiring staff, while a small, one-person business might simply stock up and hope for the best. Read this thread at The Guardian for some more advice from other business owners.

Stock Up

christmas-business

If you think you can handle the busy shopping season by simply stocking up on inventory and planting your feet firmly on the ground, so be it! If you’re more the kind who makes sure all holiday items are in stock well before the holidays and you’ve already hired all your seasonal workers, that’s great, too. Either way, you should always anticipate a higher demand for products and develop a plan to address that need:

  • Run through your numbers from the year. Which products sold best? Do you have enough in stock now? What if customers would like to have the items shipped?
  • Think about returns and refunds. Will you offer returns or refunds if customers decide they don’t want to keep your product? What about gift receipts?
  • Are there any special items you only carry during the holidays? How about services that will need to be provided no matter what time of year it is (e.g., plumbing, emergency electrical work)? How will you handle any extra inventory if you should have leftover products? If you provide services, how can you make sure you are available during busy or inconvenient times (say, the day before Christmas)?

Another tip you shouldn’t forget: Make sure your business is fully insured for special circumstances. If you have insurance but fail to update the cover for winter weather-related issues, you would essentially leave your business under-insured. For those who work from home, this can be even more dire: If you store your stock or products in a separate building, you might not be insured if the items are stolen or damaged. That means you’ll have to be extra careful in this rainy, cold, and snowy season! So be sure to take the extra steps to ensure you have adequate stock, and that it’s fully insured and protected as necessary. This is, after all, one of the worst times of the year to take a financial hit.

 

In the coming weeks, we hope you see a lot of success at your small business. The holidays are a great time of year—for family and friends, and for those of us who choose to serve the public through retail and skilled services. Let us know if you have any other tips that you think others should know about! It’s the season for sharing, after all 🙂

10 Reasons to Engage with Customers Online

1. You personalize your brand

Engaging with customers allows you to control the flow of the conversation. If they ask for clarification on an upcoming sale, you can give it to them. If you thank them for taking the time to promote your brand, you can choose how you want to engage. It’s all a great way to show your brand’s personality—and to demonstrate how unique your company is!

2. Customers give feedback for free

Many times, customers will respond to an image or a status that you share on your social media platforms: they’ll chime in with their thoughts, answer a question, or let you know how they feel about your most recent promotions. And this is a great way to find out what your customers are thinking without forcing them to take a survey—basically, you get free feedback. And who doesn’t love that?

3. You present a positive image

If you’re a fan of a company like Coca-Cola, you probably don’t expect a lot of interaction with the brand–they’re simply too big to get back to every person who tries to engage with them. But if you’re a fan of a local hair salon, you more than likely expect that they’ll get back to you in a timely manner–they should care about their customers. You feel they should strive to interact with customers because they’re local—which is precisely why you, as a local business owner, have to be aware of your customers’ needs. They’ll communicate their interests and thoughts to you online—whether by email, twitter, or Facebook. When you respond to their concerns, you present a positive image that lasts.

4. Customers will share content for free

A great thing about posting on your social media networks is that your customers will be eager to share your content. Whether you’re asking them to share for a chance to win a coupon, or they’re simply doing it on their own because you post such great content, you’re getting free advertisement. When you engage with your customers, they’ll be happy to share your content, and you all benefit from that.

5. Networking is good for everyone

When your customers interact with you, you may be surprised to learn that some among the group are actually quite high-status clients. You can use this to your advantage by making a real connection with them and agreeing to help one another out. Trade blog posts, promote each other’s stores or websites, or simply share social media updates. You’ll both benefit from this mutual transaction, and your fans get the benefit of seeing that you’re willing to network and share with others!

6. You might get free recommendations

When you engage with customers, you’ll find that they appreciate you taking the time out of your day to respond to them. This in turn can increase their opinion of your brand. And if they love your brand, they’ll recommend you to friends. Think of the last time a restaurant owner responded to your comment or review personally—it felt nice, didn’t it? You owe your customers this courtesy. Deliver it, and they’ll react accordingly.

7. Positive word of mouth

The beauty of online marketing is that it doesn’t have to stay online. By building your brand image and engaging with customers, you’ll make a good impression that will follow you offline, too. Whether you’re a plumber or the owner of a salon, if you’re friendly and active online, your customers will spread great news about you by word of mouth. This in turn can bring more visitors to your store or more phone calls to your office!

8. Brand awareness spreads

A natural consequence of networking, sharing, and recommendations is that your brand awareness spreads. Every time a new person learns about your business, your brand has made a new impression! So remember that even if you’re not where you’d like to be in terms of followers/fans or interactions, you are still building platform for yourself. There are some benefits that come from this, too!

9. Consistency will bring in more visitors

If you update every once in a while and never interact with your fans or followers, you’ll find that people tend to view you as unreliable. You’ll start to lose fans, and people won’t care about your updates as much as they would if you were consistent. You can prevent this by regularly updating, engaging with your community, and by presenting a friendly, consistent image. Remember that even if you’re not hitting your projected numbers, you’re still growing. You can always change up your plan, as long as you don’t quit altogether.

10. More traffic to your website and other social media accounts

Finally, your shining example of being a great business owner will help you gather more followers and fans, as well as drive more traffic to your website. Be sure to post your website’s address as well as any other contact info across all of your social networks. That way, if someone finds you on Twitter, they can still visit your website or go to “like” your Facebook page. Conversely, if they find your website and want to follow you on social media, they can easily navigate to your profiles directly from your website. Easy and simple!

As you can see, it’s important to engage with your customers for so many reasons. Your presence online can truly affect how you’re perceived both online and off. By implementing a consistent routine and keeping a positive attitude, you’ll find that the benefits of engaging with customers online are only going to better your business.

Can you think of any other benefits of engaging with customers online? Let us know!

How to Use Social Media for Customer Service

We’ve talked in the past about how a company can use social media to improve business: From keeping your existing customers happy through regular updates and promotional offers, to creating and promoting valuable content to draw in new customers, social media can be one of the most powerful tools in a small business owner’s toolbox.

But that’s just one way to use social media. Drawing in customers isn’t the only thing you can do efficiently with it—you can also appease existing customers by using your social media accounts to quickly provide excellent customer service.

In this article, we’ll give you a few tips on how you can easily start making use of your social media accounts to provide customer service!

 

Social Media is More Efficient

happy-chat

When you visit a website for technical assistance or support, you expect to easily find the company’s contact information. No one wants to click around and dig to find what they came for. Customers also don’t want to fill out some contact form and wait hours (or sometimes even days) before someone finally gets back to them. Nor do they feel like waiting on hold! Nowadays, people want immediacy–in fact, they demand it.

Using social media for customer service allows you to achieve that immediacy.

Of course, the downside to this is that you’ll have to have someone available to answer all customer support questions quickly. But if you’re serious about providing these services for your customers, there is a simple way to do this—interns, social media managers, and/or smart phone apps. Depending on your budget, you may only be able to afford one of these things, but with a little effort, you can find a way that works for you.

 

Catch Negative Feedback Before it Blows Up

happy-corgi

Another way you can use social media for customer service is to monitor your brand name as well as specific keywords: specifically, for complaints about your brand. If you reach out and respond to these complaints quickly, you may be able to smooth over some of the problems that customers are having, and provide a satisfactory solution.

Ideally, you should be doing this on a daily basis. Your customers expect quick feedback to their complaints, and negative posts can spread faster than you expect them to! By making an effort to assuage these issues at the very beginning, you may even be able to get the person to delete their post. It’s worth a shot.

However, you should take note that searching for customer complaints to respond to is really the most effective when the complaint has been made publicly.

What do we mean by that?

Well, if the complaint in question is part of a twitter conversation that seems casual, such as between two friends, it’s probably not a great idea to butt in. Many times, people feel like brands monitoring them too closely is bordering on creepy!

So, long story short: Use your best judgement and try to intervene in sticky situations when you think it will do the most good.

 

Use Social Media to Respond to Questions and Requests

happy_customer

If you see your customers asking you the same questions over and over, you will probably have to make some changes around the office. Whether your customers are unclear about your pricing options or have questions about shipping and delivery, you can use their feedback as a way to bolster your business and make it even better. Ensure that your customers can find the answers to their commonly-asked questions efficiently: Then, you can offer a number for them to call or ask them to connect with you on social media if they have any further suggestions for you, or need any extra clarification.

Think of it like a free, non-invasive way of asking your customers to take a survey. You get all the good feedback at no cost to you!

 

Hopefully, with these tips, you can begin to make some improvements to your customer service strategy. But we’re sure there are plenty of other ways you can go about it. Can you think of other ways that you can use social media for customer service? Let us know in the comments below!