Our best advice for companies transitioning to online customer support from in-person or phone support.
Erika on our Customer Success team demoed Groove to some unlikely customers this past month.
Because of COVID-19, a local food market distributor shifted to home delivery. They needed to set up email support for their new B2C consumers.
A travel company was overwhelmed with cancellations. Jammed up phone lines further frustrated customers. They needed to ramp up online support fast.
A film festival built an online portal for remote viewing. They needed to move their in-person support online. While also training their team to troubleshoot any technical issues with the new portal.
We’re in awe of how small businesses are adapting to these changes. And we want to make it a bit easier.
While we’ve always offered online customer support at Groove, many of us have also done in-person support at some point in our careers (including me!).
Having been on both sides of the table, I’ll show you how to create the same personal connections you would with in-person support over email. Use our best practices to remotely serve your customers and continue to stay in business during this crisis.
And maybe even consider moving your support channels online for good.
Here are our eight tips for moving to online customer support:
1. Turn your in-person greeting into an autoresponder
Autoresponders are pre-recorded messages that automatically send when someone emails your business. Most autoresponders include a simple message letting the customer know their email was received and when to expect a response.
In-person support offers immediate feedback. Customers know you’re listening and working on their request without written communication.
Online customer service removes all those assumptions.
Without relying on body language and nonverbal communication, customers need to know you’re paying attention. Autoresponders are the easiest way to do this.
They establish the same kind of real time response your customers are used to. Without actually requiring your team to be present for each inquiry.
When it comes to content, use similar language as your in-person or phone call scripts. Transcribe the typical greeting you use when welcoming customers into your store or venue into your autoresponder.
But don’t overlook the obvious. We tell our customers when they’re getting an automatic reply versus an original one. It prevents confusion and shows the customer respect.
If you’re moving to online customer support due to COVID-19 restrictions, let your customers know right away what to expect. Be honest and human. Tell them you’re new to online support and there may be some kinks to work out, but their satisfaction is still your top priority.
2. Turn common questions into canned replies
Canned replies allow you to pre-write answers to common customer questions. Rather than type the same email again and again, you can quickly insert a canned reply when needed.
Anyone working in a customer-facing position has a list of common inquiries. If you haven’t already documented these in some way, now is a great time.
Whether you’re typically in contact with customers or usually behind the scenes, canned replies allow everyone in your business to respond to customer emails in the same way. And save so much time.
Support reps avoid repetitive tasks and respond quicker to easy questions. And those new to engaging with customers can easily choose the right reply without worrying if they’re sending the correct information.
Label the canned replies in your ticketing system simply and obviously so anyone can understand them at a glance. And don’t hesitate to create new canned responses as soon as you get the same question twice. It’ll help you and your teammates respond quicker and stay on brand.
3. Provide self-service (finally!)
Self-service documentation or a knowledge base presents FAQs for your product or service. This allows patrons to find answers on their own, without requiring customers to contact a service team member.
Here at Groove, our knowledge base sees 3.5 times more customer engagement than our inbox.
Especially when moving from in-person to online support, you’ll likely find many of your customers didn’t really want to talk to you in the first place.
At least, not for the easy stuff.
If you already have an FAQ page on your website, moving to a full-fledged online knowledge base can help address more specific questions and allow you to organize requests. We recommend adding a section specifically for COVID-19 concerns so you can point people there for pertinent information.
As an internal resource, a knowledge base ensures everyone on your team understands the company’s policies, common requests, and brand voice. This is an especially useful management tool for remote customer support teams and new hires.
4. Get creative to enhance the (remote) customer experience
Everything from the way your employees dress to the decor on the walls defines your in-person customer experience. Keep that vibe going with your online service channels.
We customize our knowledge base to reflect Groove’s style. Our video content enhances our brand. And our blog encourages online customer engagement.
Experiment with ways to transition your in-person customer experience online. If you typically walk customers through something in person, test out using video tutorials. Or try pre-recording basic guidance to save you time with individual onboarding.
Listen to your customers, constantly track their feedback, and figure out the best way to engage with them right now to keep your business thriving.
5. Acknowledge that time is different online
Some things move faster online. Others move slower. Your company’s (and customers’) sense of time changes when switching from in-person to online support.
Email support in particular gives your team some breathing room, but lengthens wait time for customers. Most customers expect a few hours turnaround on email. Which can be jarring for customers who are used to an immediate response with in-person service.
Again, use an autoresponder to establish new expectations. We’ve found customers are far more understanding once they have clear expectations.
Allow your team to adjust to this new “online time” too. Busy hours at a brick and mortar business may not translate to remote life. Track when customers send emails and staff up during busy times.
It’s a huge adjustment. But my own experience working in-person vs. online customer service supports the theory that online is generally quicker, easier, and smarter for both parties.
6. Use automation to scale
Hopefully, automation will be your silver lining through all this.
One person can do the job of ten with automation. You can focus on more creative and difficult tasks. Let the robots do the menial work.
Set up an autoresponder to greet customers without needing to be online 24/7. Use canned replies to allow any team member to shoot out quick responses. Direct customers to your knowledge base for self-service resources to decrease wait time.
Automating parts of our customer support process here at Groove saves us hours each month. And allows us to work as a super lean team, with as few redundancies as possible.
7. Focus on process more than individual customers
A thoughtful online customer support system allows you to clone yourself (or your best employee). Helping multiple customers, rather than just one at a time. And replicating your best responses to use again later.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to most customer support advice, the focus for online customer service should be on process rather than individual customer relationships.
Personal care still lies at the heart of it. But a process-first mentality means thinking about how to successfully scale your engagement.
For example, our team turns particularly good replies into canned replies using our support software. Rather than feeling robotic, it guarantees that we’re responding with empathy and compassion to all customers instead of just one.
8. Use reports to validate customer feedback
In-person support severely lacks formal record-keeping. But online customer support intrinsically documents customer behavior.
With records and receipts, your team can now use customer data to validate requests and track issues.
Within our own customer support platform, we add CSAT surveys to the bottom of each email. This helps us poll customers on our service and make improvements over time. For tracking customer issues or feedback, we use tags. These help quantify qualitative insights and give weight to the customer voice.
If you’ve been struggling to verbalize customer thoughts as an in-person rep, online support provides all the resources you need.
Tag, organize, and track what happens in the inbox to show your team or manager. Then brainstorm better ways to improve the customer experience—whether remotely or (eventually) back in-person.
Lasting benefits of online customer support
While talking to these potential new customers, Erika noted how each of them viewed the upside of this transition.
The film fest plans to incorporate online streaming for their future events now that they have a portal. Just because something’s born out of necessity doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.
Maybe online customer support seemed like a luxury to your businesses. Now it’s a necessity. But it doesn’t need to be a temporary fix.
Once you set up the system, online customer support is much more manageable than in-person support. It’s easier to scale and requires less resources. And don’t get me started on the benefits of tracking customer data and reporting.
Look for the positives. They’re always there. You’ll learn a lot, and your business will come out better for it.