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Customer Experience
The Complete Guide to Online Customer Service
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Table of contents

10,000+ teams use Hiver to delight customers!

The Complete Guide to Online Customer Service

Jan 31, 2024
10 min read
Hiver HQ

Table of contents

In the 1950s, a boy named David Bell wrote a complaint letter to Pearson’s Candy Company. The reason? He was not happy with a piece of his favorite salted nut roll bought from them, and he wanted a free candy bar in return.
To his disappointment, he received nothing.

Sixty years later, in 2013, 74-year-old Bell tried his luck again. He emailed Pearson this time, and they responded with a package* of several candy bars, including a five-pound salted nut roll.

This is the power of online customer service in a nutshell. It’s made it easier for customers to seek assistance and for companies to be more accessible to their customers.

Today, online customer service shapes a brand’s reputation in the digital space. So, getting it right is essential. Let’s dive into this ultimate guide that will help you with everything you need to know about online customer service.

Table of Contents

What is online customer service?

Online customer service is the process through which companies help their customers digitally. It can be through email, live chat, social media, or any other digital communication platform. It’s like a store’s help desk but online! 

So, if your customers have questions or problems with a product or the service of your brand, they have the option to reach out to you digitally and seek assistance.

Online customer service is quite different from the traditional method. Here’s how:

  • Digital Interaction: Online customer service enables real-time conversations between brands and customers via chatbots, social media, and even email.
  • Quicker Response Time: Traditional customer service may involve standing in queues or waiting on a call, which can delay the response time. On the contrary, online customer service is quicker. Communication through mediums like live chat or social media can be instant or within minutes. 
  • Round the clock availability – Online customer service enables brands to assist their customers round the clock. Unlike traditional service, online customer service is not limited to specific locations or regions because interactions happen digitally. 
Deliver great customer service from your Gmail inboxSee how

Benefits of Online Customer Service

A Hiver report found that around 52% of customers want fast, personalized, and interactive support at any given point in time. 

Online customer service can help with this. It benefits both businesses and customers in several ways:

  • Instant Accessibility: Online customer service is available 24/7, allowing customers to seek assistance at any time, even outside of regular business hours. This accessibility is convenient for customers in different time zones.
  • Convenience: Customers can access support from the comfort of their homes or on the go, eliminating the need for them to travel to a physical location.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Online customer service can be more cost-effective than traditional in-person or phone support. It reduces the need for physical facilities and can empower support teams to handle a higher volume of inquiries with fewer staff members.
  • Documentation and Transparency: Digital interactions, such as chats and emails, provide a clear record of conversations. This can be crucial for reference, ensuring both the customer and service provider remain on the same page.
  • Personalized Assistance: Online platforms often offer data-driven insights about users. This enables brands to offer more tailored solutions or product recommendations, enhancing the overall customer experience.
  • Smooth Integration with Technology: Online customer service platforms can integrate with other digital tools and software, allowing for more in-depth data analysis and automations, all of which improves the overall quality of service.

Key Components of Effective Online Customer Service

Great online customer service hinges on a couple of foundational elements like:

  • Live Chat Support: This feature allows businesses to interact with customers in real time on their websites or mobile apps. Live chat helps provide instant assistance by answering questions from customers on the go.
  • Email Support: While live chats offer immediacy, email support provides a space for more in-depth interactions. Customers can send detailed queries, and businesses can cater to them through tailored and personalized responses. Also, the one-on-one interaction via email provides an opportunity for businesses to share in-depth resources and how-to guides, ensuring customers feel valued and understood.
  • Social Media Support: Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have also become popular support channels. Customers often share their experiences, ask questions or voice concerns on social media. An active and responsive presence here is crucial for businesses to address feedback and ensure public trust. 
  • FAQs and Self-Service Portals: These portals are dedicated sections on websites or apps where customers can find answers to common asked questions. By having a well-organized and detailed FAQ section, businesses empower customers to solve their issues without the need for direct interaction, saving both parties’ time.
  • Feedback Systems and Surveys: To continuously improve, businesses need to understand their customers’ opinions. Feedback systems allow customers to share their experiences, while surveys can be used to gather specific insights about products, services, or overall customer satisfaction levels. You integrate these within a business’s online customer service efforts to offer support that matches your customers’ expectations. 

Customers interact with brands across various platforms – from websites and apps to social media and even third-party marketplaces. An effective online customer service strategy ensures consistent support across all these touchpoints. And for that, it is important that all the channels work seamlessly, ensuring effective context switching, so that your support team can help your customers adequately. This is called providing multi-channel support.

How to Deliver Great Online Customer Service?

Now, let’s dive into some methods that will help you deliver great online customer service:

1. Be where your customers are. Go multi-channel.

If your business has an online presence, then multi-channel support is something you’d want to prioritize. Multichannel support refers to the practice of offering customer service through various communication channels, allowing customers to interact with a business through their preferred means.

These channels can include phone calls, email, live chat, social media, SMS, self-service portals and so on. In fact, research shows 60% of customer support teams offer support across three or more channels. 

provide multichannel support in online customer service
Multi-channel support for better online customer support

Tips to deliver multi-channel online customer service:

  • First, identify the platforms where your customers are most active – be it email, social media, or other community forums. Then, strategically establish your presence across these channels.
  • Ensure that the support you provide across channels is consistent. Your customers should have a seamless experience if and when they switch channels.
  • Decide on the tone of voice and messaging style. Train your support agents to follow these guidelines.

Pro tip: Ensure that the “contact us” option is easily accessible on your website. You don’t want to make your customers put in effort just to get in touch with you.

Seamlessly integrate multi-channel support from one single platform

2. Be proactive in providing assistance

Apart from reactively solving customer issues, online customer service is also about being one step ahead and anticipating customer needs. In other words, it’s about being proactive. Proactive communication helps in gaining customer loyalty.

customers expect proactive communication in online customer service
Every Interaction with customers is a step closer to better online customer service

Tips to help your support team be proactive:

  • Make sure to implement automated follow-up messages (e.g.: thank you messages or feedback emails) every time a customer makes a purchase. It shows that you are available for them.
  • Inform customers about new updates, features, or new product lines beforehand and explain how these would benefit them. 
  • Enable product recommendations for your customers based on their specific purchase patterns to keep them engaged.
  • In case your product has a scheduled downtime, proactively let your customers know in advance.

Proactively resolve customer queries without leaving Gmail

3. Leverage customer records

Customer records basically include purchase history, past interactions, and complaints – information that help you understand a customer’s journey with your brand. 

Smartly leveraging all this information can help you personalize the support you offer via online channels.

leverage customer records for better customer service
Customer records help you understand your customers’ journey

Tips to make use of customer records:

  • Centralize all customer data in one place. You can invest in a CRM for this. This will help you streamline all your online customer service operations.
  • Train your service agents to personalize communication based on customer history. Past interactions can help you set the context clearly when talking to customers. For instance, let’s say you find a specific customer purchasing from your brand for a long time but recently has had many complaints. That’s someone you wouldn’t want to lose out on. 

22% of support experts like how AI predicts customer needs.[Exclusive Research]

Read more

4. Be smart about collecting feedback

To deliver good customer service, you need to know what customers think about your quality of support. 

collect different types of feedback for better analysis
Types of customer feedback surveys

Tips to collect feedback from customers:

  • Use metrics like, CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) surveys to understand your customers’ perception of your service quality. Include these surveys at the end of customer interactions to get insights about their level of satisfaction and areas of improvement.
  • Leverage your business phone system effectively for feedback collection. Implement IVR (Interactive Voice Response) surveys or post-call automated feedback requests tailored to online interactions, directly capturing customer opinions after engaging with your support team
  • Send out NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys to your customers periodically to understand how likely they are going to refer your product/service to others. You can also add a couple of open-ended questions for some suggestions.
  • Utilize social media polls to get a quick understanding of what your online audience feels about your products and services. This can also help drive real-time engagement.

Insert CSAT surveys into your emails with just one click

5. Empower your customers through self-service

A huge benefit of offering online customer service is that your customers don’t have to get in touch with you every single time. They can look up answers by themselves if your business has an up-to-date knowledge base. 

This also reduces the volume of queries your support team has to handle, and helps them focus on more complex issues.

create self-service portals of FAQs
Knowledge base can help your customers solve issues independently

Tips to implement a knowledge base:

  • Create a knowledge base that consists of how-to guides, troubleshooting tips, FAQs and best practices. Include links that redirect your customers to relevant solutions.

For example, let’s say one of your customers orders a pair of shoes from your online store and realizes that they’ve ordered the wrong size. Now, instead of contacting the support team, they go through the knowledge base on the company’s site and find a link that redirects them to the exchange page, where they can place the exchange request. In this case, you’ve helped them solve their problem on their own within a few clicks. 

  • Regularly update the knowledge base to ensure the content stays relevant and that customers get accurate information.
  • Keep the search box easily accessible for your customers so that they can easily find what they’re looking for. Also ensure that the search box has an autocomplete functionality to help your customers find the closest possible solution quickly. 

6. Templatize your responses

Templated responses can help your customer service team easily answer commonly asked questions via online channels such as email, live chat, and social media.

Create templates for various customer queries and copy+paste them (with minor tweaks, if needed) during support interactions. This reduces response time and also saves a lot of effort.

make use of response templates to answer your customers quickly
Customers look for immediate responses when they face issues

Tips to provide instant responses with templates:

  • Use a chatbot on your website to take care of straightforward queries and questions. The chatbot will deliver templatized responses for common queries, facilitating instant ticket closure.
  • Prepare a repository of pre-written responses and use them as templates. These will help support agents provide faster responses while maintaining consistency.

Create email templates and store them in Gmail

7. Automate tasks within your support team

If automation gives you the picture of robots taking over your support team, it’s time to rethink! Today, automation helps streamline repetitive tasks so that support teams can spend more time connecting with customers and building stronger relationships with them. In short, automation is your way to provide an excellent customer service.

automate mundane tasks for your support teams
Automations save support teams from mundane tasks

Tips to make use of automation to provide a great customer support:

  • Look for a customer service platform that offers skill-based routing. This helps you auto-assign inquiries to agents based on their expertise and availability.
  • Enable round-robin assignments which ensure equal distribution of workload. 
  • Automate status updates of tickets for your customer issues. This way customers will not have to keep inquiring about their queries.

Let’s say a brand provides online streaming service. A customer reports an issue, such as a video playback problem or a billing inquiry. In this case, the streaming service can automate status updates on these customer issues. The system can send automated emails or in-app notifications to customers when their reported problems are resolved, credits are issued for billing disputes, or when technical glitches are fixed. This proactive communication reduces the need for customers to follow up on their support tickets and ensures they are kept informed. This ultimately improves customer service experience.

8. Train service agents to inculcate empathy

It’s true that most interactions between customers and businesses happen online. Even then, customers want the human touch in these interactions.

Nobody likes talking to a robot. That’s where empathy comes in. It fosters the human element in customer support and ensures that you develop strong relations with your customers.

Empathy should be well inculcated while providing online customer service
When it comes to online customer service, empathy is above all!

Tips to inculcate empathy in your customer service:

  • Train your customer support team in active listening. Use real-life examples or role-play scenarios to help them identify customers’ emotions.
  • Be vocal to acknowledge your customers’ feelings. Appreciate where you have to; apologize when you have to. 
  • Go an extra mile for your customers when required. For example, you can provide a discount coupon for a customer having a negative experience. This way you go beyond customer service and focus on customer experience.

Also read:How To Inculcate Empathy in Your Customer Service Culture

Final words: A cohesive approach to online customer support

Online customer service has become a necessity. As we are evolving digitally, face-to-face interactions are fading away. But building lasting relationships with your customers is still a priority. And that’s why, online customer service is more than just resolving queries.

One important practise that can help in delivering a great customer service is investing in the right tools. Whether it’s an efficient live chat software, an email management, or a feedback system, each plays a crucial role. Choose wisely, invest purposefully, and watch your online customer service transform from good to exceptional.

For instance, Hiver is one such customer service tool that can help with all three – live chat support, email management and collecting feedback from your customers. Also, you can resolve your customer tickets straight from your Gmail inbox! 

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A B2B marketer, Madhuporna is passionate about breaking down complex concepts into easy-to-digest nuggets with a stroke of her pen (read keyboard). Her expertise lies in crafting research-driven content around customer service, customer experience, IT and HR. When off the clock, you'll find her binge-watching suspense thrillers or basking in nature.

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