16 Ways to Provide Outstanding Online Customer Service

The fact that customer service & support are important isn’t exactly a newsflash. It’s always been that way. However, as companies grow they often distance themselves from the customer, farming out their support to call centres and/or reducing access to any support at all. It may be a necessary evil for them, but it’s a huge opportunity for small businesses to win against competitors of all sizes.

Case in point, Amazon recently began offering to have their contractor, Intelcom, pick up returned products. No labels or boxes are required. It sounded good to me, so I went with that option. They sent an email the following Tuesday saying the driver would arrive within three hours, which wasn’t the ‘next business day’ service they promised but no big deal… except they didn’t show up. No card or call, just a no-show. According to the tracking, the pickup hadn’t even been dispatched yet.

I tried to use their contact form but none of their forced topics were applicable, so I sent them a message on Facebook – no response. Meanwhile, the tracking was updated to say it was on the way, but it wasn’t. The buried ‘updates’ said I should call because they ‘couldn’t’ pick up the item. I did call, but I couldn’t wait on hold all day. I tried their ‘live chat’ but it said they weren’t available.

Since they didn’t update the tracking, I was left to assume I had to reschedule, which I did through the contact form. The new delivery day arrived, I received their email saying they’d pick it up within three hours. Once again, they didn’t show up or call and the tracking says to reschedule. I canceled the pickup via Amazon and reprocessed the return using the Purolator option. You can be sure that I will never use Intelcom for a return again. Boxing it and printing a label is actually easier, even though it has to be dropped off with Purolator.

I don’t know if they grow too fast or too large, but the lack of customer service in these companies is absolutely unacceptable. It is, however, how smaller companies can easily outperform them.

The potential competitive advantage is clearly indicated in every research report, and the opportunity is growing. Sixty-nine percent of all Canadian customers say their standards for customer service have increased, according to a Salesforce report, yet those standards are not being met.

Report - Connected Canadian Customers on Tech, Trust, Experience

The Power of Service and Support

If you participate in online business groups, you’ve probably seen many posts by people who are looking for web hosting. While several hosts may be recommended, it usually isn’t long before a winner becomes clear. Currently, it’s Siteground, and almost every single comment cites customer service as a reason they love them.

They’re not the cheapest web hosting, nor are they the most feature-rich, but they’ve still managed to come in on top because they’re available when their customers need them. Most consumers who are at the point of purchasing website hosting are very new to it all, making customer service and tech support a top priority.

What do Canadian Consumers Expect in the Digital Age?

Canadian business customers (B2B) communicate with companies through an average of 11 channels. Individual consumers (B2C) use an average of nine channels. They fully expect to be able to contact companies through their preferred channels. The first order of the day is to find out the preferences of your target market and focus on those channels.

Canada’s Top 5 Consumer Communication Channels

  • Eighty percent use online portals most often to communicate with companies, 42 percent prefer them.
  • Seventy-seven percent use mobile apps most, 41 percent prefer them.
  • Seventy-four percent use text, 39 percent prefer it.
  • Fifty-nine percent use online communities, 26 percent prefer them.
  • Forty-four percent use voice activated devices (Alexa, Siri, etc.), 16 percent prefer them.

Win the Game with Premium Online Customer Service

There is a serious competitive advantage that can be had by businesses willing to provide excellent online customer service. Allowing your staff to address questions, concerns or issues in a friendly, personalized manner is well worth the time involved.

Statistics show that customers can be forgiving and will order from you again if the occasional problem is rectified to their satisfaction. It’s easier (and less expensive) to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one. Turn that customer into a brand advocate and their worth is immeasurable. Treat them poorly and thanks to the Internet, your brand can take a very public beating.

How to Provide Outstanding Online Customer Service

1.  If you want customer service excellence, hire excellent staff. Pay them a decent wage and treat them well. They need to be happy in their job to defend your company and work enthusiastically to please your customers.

2.  Listen to your customer support team. They’re the front line contact with your customers and they know what works and what doesn’t.

3.  Provide clear and specific guidelines to customer support staff.

4.  Equip customer support staff with the tools and authority they need to retain customers and make the sale. Coupons, refunds, etc., will all pay off in the long run but it will be most effective if you present it right away. Give agents some wiggle room so they can make customers happy on a case-by-case basis.

5.  Social media is often used as a redirection point, but that isn’t always best. For example, if I send you a note on Twitter, don’t tell me to call your customer support line unless absolutely necessary. If you can’t provide support within the platform, at least offer to initiate contact by asking for a phone number or email address via private message. Include company contact information in case the customer doesn’t want to reveal their information.

6.  Standard outgoing messages are great for frequently asked questions, but they should not replace personalized service. Scattering placating phrases throughout the communication doesn’t fool anyone either, they want you to listen to them and you should.

7.  Sincere empathy has always been my superpower in customer service situations. Call/email centres will have you believe that adding “we understand your frustration” is all you need to convey empathy, but the key to empathy is sincerity. Customer Service Representatives must always remember what it’s like to be the customer and act as an ally.

8.  Volume should only be a consideration to the point where an employee isn’t doing his job. Studies (and common sense) indicate customers would rather wait longer for great service than have their time wasted with inadequate responses. But don’t make them wait TOO long.

9.  Include a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your website for those who prefer to resolve their own issues.

10. Provide an easily accessible contact page that includes all contact options (email, social media, phone, chat, and so on).

11. Encourage feedback, not only about the customer service experience but also invite suggestions. Feedback should be organized and passed on to the appropriate department. Make sure there’s a issue status page that employees can access when applicable.

12. Ensure communication throughout the process by using customer support software that facilitates it. This can be as simple as including notes. For example, an order note added for the shipping department could suggest adding a small freebie with a card thanking the customer for their patience. Printed cards can be available in the shipping department, along with a box of company swag, samples or coupons to go with them.

13. Follow up to ensure everything is going smoothly for the customer, even if the issue has been resolved. A short, friendly note shows the customer they really are important to your company. Supposing an order was completed, personalize the note by asking if what they bought was satisfactory. No selling is allowed in this communication, it’s all about the customer.

14. Utilize tools that provide data and feedback so you can constantly tweak policies and procedures. Most customer support software comes with reporting features and they can be enhanced by stand-alone software like Hively (free for up to three team members).

15. Don’t miss this opportunity to gather and utilize data. You can use this point of contact to gather a range of data to be used in future communication, strategic development, and to better meet the needs of customers over the long-term.

16. Make sure your excellent customer support policies are broadcast on your website. They’re what sets you apart and you want shoppers to factor it into their buying decision. Free support, guarantees, and even making it clear that you’re based in Canada can convince Canadian shoppers to click the order button. Remember to include testimonials!

Don’t Stop There!

Try to get the customer onto your mailing list when they contact you, then provide true value in your communications with them. Feed them into a content-based, subtle sales funnel and watch sales soar.

Customer service is all about satisfaction, whether they have a question or aren’t satisfied with the product. No matter the scenario, if you can satisfy the customer in the end they’re probably going to buy from you again and may bring their friends with them. From satisfaction comes loyalty and loyalty is pure gold in any kind of sales scenario, be it online, offline, or both.

✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Gift-Buyer’s Journey: Content Strategy Doubles Sales (Infographic)
Ecommerce Report: Customer Experience Can Make or Break You


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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In 25 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and ecommerce websites. Her book, 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start From Home, is available on Amazon.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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Rishi Raj Singh

Very insightful. A satisfied customer is the backbone of any company