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A Customer Service Plan for Every Site

By Julie Gomoll

March 10, 2006

For site visitors to trust you and take you seriously, you must give them some way to contact a human being.

A support plan can be as simple as an eMail link, or as elaborate as 24/7 online chat and phone banks. No matter which solution you choose, know that people expect quick response. Strive to provide same-day response.

HELP SCREENS

The least expensive customer support is making “help” unnecessary through great user-centered design. Make sure to provide self-service, context-sensitive help right where it’s most needed, at key decision points or through tricky points of navigation. Include FAQs and analyze the traffic around key functionality — that can tell you where customers need help most.

EMAIL

For a very small site, a simple eMail address prominently displayed may be enough. Add a link to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on every page of the site.

  • Make sure more than one person has access to the eMail account so you can take a break.
  • Think ahead about what you’ll do if no one is available to answer support mail. What if the two people who share the support eMail address both want the weekend off? Juggling coverage can be tricky and time-consuming, and invite gaps that will lose you key business.

WEB-BASED HELP DESK

Forums — allowing your customers and staff to post questions, solutions and recommendations — can be a great solution for small- to medium-sized companies. It’s best used in conjunction with another solution.

  • Multiple people can access all help requests.
  • It’s easy to search archived requests and answers.
  • You can set up templates for often-answered questions.
  • Help tickets are threaded; that is, a single request number is used to track multiple questions and answers.
  • You’ll be able to get reports on your support activities, such as number of requests filled and average time to respond.

FORUMS

This is the most common, flexible solution for small- to medium-sized companies. Advantages:

  • Police the boards for spam and offensive material. Get interns, find community volunteers, do it yourself in your spare time. However you do it, make sure you find a way to keep the junk off your forums. Clean them up on a regular basis.
  • People expect quick response. As with any support method, response time is important. Forums make your response time public. A neglected support request on a public forum makes your company look bad.

ONE-ON-ONE CHAT

If an individual prospect or customer represents significant potential revenue, consider investing in direct customer support chat. Customer support chat can work on its own, but is best used in conjunction with another support solution. Consider these implications:

  • Customer support chat requires presence. If you tell your customers they can get support by starting a chat session, you'd better be there to answer the call. You can offer chat support during certain hours, but remember your customers may be in a variety of time zones.
  • Be prepared to quickly switch to a more robust system. If too many people want to use chat to get support, you'll end up with customers “on hold,” which defeats the purpose of using chat. Customers accustomed to quick chat response for support matters will want something equally quick – so plan on switching to phone support.

PHONE SUPPORT

Phone support can be resource and cost-intensive, so is most appropriate for websites that support smaller groups, such as a local audience or intranet, or where one-on-one sales are key to revenues. If phone support is a key component of your customer support plan, consider investing in call-routing software and phone equipment.

  • Choose software that will give you robust reports. You'll need to know how many calls you're handling, how long they're taking, and where the trouble spots are.
  • Invest in support staff training. Make sure your reps know what to say and how to say it — and follow their scripts. Test support regularly to see that procedures are correctly followed. Provide a convenient way for your customers to report on their satisfaction — that's vital information to you, especially when it's bad news.
  • Be ready for growth. You need to stay ahead of the curve and keep support staff balanced well with projected demand. Long hold times have a chilling effect on your customer experience and therefore your sales.

OUTSOURCING SUPPORT

Keep in mind that customer support is work that can be outsourced. Companies all over the world specialize in handling customer support affordably, 24/7. Tight communication, great site design, and well-produced support scripts and content are key to making an outsourced solution work.

WE CAN HELP

Firecat Studio can help you create a support plan, write phone scripts, and make design recommendations to minimize the amount of support your customers need. Contact us to discuss your own customer support plan.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is an industry expert in chat and online community. This article originally appeared on the MediaRich website.