The ABCs of Online Customer Support

Want to provide great online customer support? Want to provide the kind of customer support that will grow your business, by building customer loyalty and satisfaction? It's not as hard as it sounds! Just remember your ABC's.

A-Add value

Don't just do the bare minimum when it comes to providing customer support on your website. Go above and beyond to provide the customer with an exceptional experience. Remember, there are probably several sites out there right now trying to sell the same products or services that you are. Differentiate yourself by the high level of customer service you provide. Don't simply answer questions. Provide solutions. Don't just give a suggestion. Be an expert! If your customers or potential customers come to your site with a question or problem, help them as if you're the foremost expert in your field. For example, let's assume you run a website that sells bird houses. A potential customer visits your site and has a question about a specific model. How do you help them? First and foremost, I hope that you answer their question. But you have a great opportunity to go above and beyond. Ask the potential customer what types of birds she's hoping to attract, where she is going to be putting the bird house, and where she's located. With this information, as the world's foremost expert in bird houses, you can recommend the right model in size, style, and material for her desired result. Now, you're more than just a bird house salesman to this customer, you're a bird house expert! You've added value through your online customer support.

B-Be There

A customer is on your site looking at your information and they have a big question. Where are you? The idea of 'being there' is twofold. First, it means making customer support channels easily accessible via your website. Regardless of what channels you use, you want them to be easily accessible from any page on your site. Either put your customer support channels on each page, or provide a clear and easy-to-find link to your support page from every page. As soon as your customer has a question, you don't want them to have to look far to find a way to get in touch with you. Second, 'being there' means being available when your customers contact you. Be ready to answer the phone when they call, respond to all emails within a couple hours, or be prepared to handle incoming chats or support tickets. What good is customer support when a customer finds no one on the other end to assist them immediately? 'Be there' for your customers and you will be rewarded with better relationships and stronger loyalty.

C-Count the Cost

Let's face it, your time and money are valuable. So, how do you provide great customer support on a budget? Come up with a plan. Determine what options are available to you, weigh the advantages vs. the costs, and implement your decisions. Here are some considerations regarding different online customer support options:

Phone support: Convenient for your customers, but potentially costly and time consuming for you. If you have an 800#, that is a large expense, and you can only talk to one person at a time.

Email support: Less effective for the customer than phone support. It is quick and easy to send their questions to you, but uncertainty over the length of time for responses is a concern. For you, email is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of support. You probably already have email, and you can respond to inquiries on your time.

Live chat software: Most effective channel of online customer support for the customer. Their questions can be answered immediately on the website by a real person. For you, the key is finding quality and affordable live chat software, and it is available. Also, live chat requires that you, or an employee, are available to handle incoming chat requests as much as possible.

Knowledge Database/FAQ/Self-Help: This can be a quick and easy way to get answers for your more savvy customers. However, it can also be burdensome for customers if they aren't quickly and easily able to find answers to their questions. This is probably the easiest channel of customer support for you. After the initial time investment required to dump all of your information to the site, it is there and available for customers from then on.

These are just 4 of the channels for online customer support. You may also consider support tickets, forums, and others. As you can see, each channel has its advantages and disadvantages, both for you as the business owner, and for your customers. The best websites for online customer support usually offer a blend of several of these channels.

Providing great customer support on your website is not difficult, and it will have tremendous advantages for you. To provide excellent support for both you and your customers, simply remember the ABC's of online customer support: Add value, Be there, and Count the cost.

Dan Cavanaugh is an online customer support expert with the Customer Support Network, an organization committed to the improvement of online customer service. To learn more about online customer support and the role it plays in e-commerce, click here:

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