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 8 Secrets for Successful Web-Based Customer Service

Effective web-based customer service is a very achievable goal with significant potential rewards. It simply requires the right principles, practices and tools. By surveying today's most effective practitioners, RightNow Technologies (Bozeman MT) offers these 8 basic attributes that make web-based customer support work:

1. Make sure your web site can "listen" to customers
Every successful salesperson knows the most important part of their job is listening to the customer—for both explicit and implicit messages. Web sites should do the same. Explicit messages are clear requests for specific information. Implicit messages are patterns of queries or usage that provide clues about customer needs and interests. Effective online service requires mechanisms and/or practices that give an attentive ear to both types of messages.

2. Give customers what they want—quickly
Once you've "heard" what kind of information customers want, you have to give it to them—quickly. The web is all about immediacy. So whether it's getting new information posted onto your site or making the information that's already on there easier to understand, you must optimize your ability to respond to your customers' needs with online content. Don't confuse this with the rapid posting of the information that marketers want to put on your site. Quality customer service requires the rapid posting of content that is completely customer-driven.

3. Make customer service resources easy to find and easy to use
Great content isn't much use if customers can't find it easily. That's why it's essential to provide customers with highly intuitive search tool that let them pinpoint the answers they need with a minimum number of steps. It's also smart to maintain a "Top 20" list of current hot topics that customers can view as soon as they come to your main self-service page.

4. Integrate all your communications channels
Different customers will use different communications channels at different times. You don't want them to get different answers depending on which channel they happen to use. So it's important to leverage your knowledge base across all channels. Ideally, the information you provide on the web should be exactly the same as what you provide via your live operators, voice self-service, email and chat.

5. The "80/20" rule
To be successful at web-based customer service, you don't have to be able to answer every conceivable customer question online. More than 80% of all customer questions are usually answered by just 20% of a support knowledge base. And many companies achieve 97-plus percent self-service rates with relatively limited—but highly customer-driven—content that they've developed over time by learning what customers need. That's why it's more important to get started with web-based customer service than it is to first develop the "perfect" knowledge base. Smart companies get the most important information up right away, and then refine their content over time.

6. Let your customers rate you
You can't improve what you don't measure. So the companies that are most successful with web self-service provide customers with a way to rate the quality of the answers they find online. Using this feedback, content that isn't useful can be quickly weeded out—thereby improving the overall effectiveness of the site.

7. Use rich content wherever appropriate
A picture is often worth a thousand words. Photographs, diagrams, and animations can therefore be very useful in helping customers solve their most common problems. Creating these types of graphics can help further improve the effectiveness of your online customer service system.

8. Connect the online world to the real world
For retailers, banks, and many others types of companies, it's important to link online operations with real-world facilities. After all, many customers come to a web site specifically to find a local store, branch office or service center. One of the best ways to do this is to provide a searchable database of real-world locations on your web site. It's also a good idea to supplement street addresses with maps and driving directions to ensure that your customers can get where they want to go without getting lost.

- RightNow Technologies (www.RightNow.com)

 
Melissa Data


 
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