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What Are the Most Effective Channels for Customer Support?

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There are many channels that you can use to help your customers. Which should you choose?

When I got married, my wife had a long list of companies with whom she needed to change her last name.

Credit cards, membership programs, student loans, health insurance… she had plenty of work to do.

Of those companies – maybe 30 in total – one of them did something that had me scratching my head.

They told my wife that if she wanted to change her name, she’d have to fax them her marriage license.

For nearly everyone else, an emailed version was good enough. But this business would only accept the document via fax.

Fortunately, HelloFax made this pretty easy, but it left me wondering: in a world where almost nobody has easy access to a fax machine anymore, why make life more difficult for your loyal paying customers by limiting support to an antiquated channel?

That interaction was a minor one, and it certainly didn’t make me angry or upset. But it did change the way I thought about that company. In my eyes, they became a business that was behind the times.

While most of us don’t force our customers to send faxes, smoke signals or carrier pigeons to get help, we can learn something from this story: if you want to get support right, you need to be in the same channels where your customers are.

Which Channels Are the Most Effective for Customer Service?

It’s an incredibly important question, but one that can only be answered with that infuriatingly unsatisfying phrase: it depends.

Companies that deliver excellent customer support do so in the channels where their customers are.

If your customers are avid email users, then you’ll need to provide great email support to keep them happy.

If they’re more active on Twitter, you’ll need to be accessible to them there.

The same goes for every channel. And there are probably more channels than you think.

But don’t worry: getting multi-channel support doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Below, I’ll share the most common customer support channels that you should be exploring, and how to figure out which one(s) will be most effective for you.

7 Customer Support Channels That Every Online Business Should Consider

Note that you probably can’t (and shouldn’t) be doing support in every single one of these channels.

There are simply too many channels, and not enough time on any support team.

But by considering the available channels and then taking steps to determine exactly where your customers are (more on that below), you can understand where you should focus your limited support resources.

1) Email

In online business, email customer service is going to be a non-negotiable channel for most companies.

In fact, 91% of consumers use email every single day. In terms of channels with wide distribution, there aren’t many that come close.

2) Social Networks

Depending on who your customers are, they almost certainly spend time each day on at least one social network.

Once you figure out which one that is, you can achieve some big wins by delivering great support in that channel.

How big?

Well, one Gartner study found that companies who ignore support requests on social media see an average churn rate that’s 15% higher than companies who don’t.

That’s a pretty strong argument for including social media in your support strategy. But don’t assume that Twitter and Facebook are the only networks your customers might be using.

For example, KLM Airlines knows that many of their customers are professionals using LinkedIn. So the airline launched a special LinkedIn group that offers 24/7 customer support to KLM passengers.

Rather than having to email or call, KLM’s customers who are already on LinkedIn can get their issues resolved within a social network that they’re already on:

3) Forums/Message Boards

It’s easy to forget that many of our customers share similar interests.

For example, many Groove customers are SaaS companies and startups, whose employees often read and participate in online forums like Stack Exchange.

You might find that you have similar “shared communities” where many of your customers are active.

KVS tool is an app used by frequent fliers to track flight availability. So it makes sense that many of their customers are active on FlyerTalk, the internet’s largest frequent flier community.

To deliver excellent multi-channel support, the KVS team started a dedicated FlyerTalk thread where users can post support questions.

The thread has hundreds of posts, and has helped many KVS users get help in a way that’s more convenient for them than sending an email or picking up the phone.

4) Phone

While some see phone support as more old-fashioned than email, the reality is that most customers still expect it.

In fact, phones still account for 68% of all support interactions.

Many customers prefer the speed and convenience of being able to pick up the phone and get an answer right away.

5) Live Chat

With the speed of phone support but with a lot more convenience for customers who prefer their web browser to their telephone, live chat has been growing massively as a support channel for anyone doing business online.

In fact, 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a site can offer.

Plug-in-and-go live chat services like Olark make this easy (and of course, Olark’s integration with Groove makes connecting live chat to your help desk easy, too).

6) Self-Serve Knowledge Base

An online knowledge base can be a useful tool for helping your customers help themselves.

With answers to frequently asked questions, a knowledge base lets you deliver 24/7 support, even with a small team.

According to Forrester, 67% of consumers report that they regularly use self-service support online.

Beyond turning your help desk into a 24-hour operation, self-serve support can also dramatically cut costs and help you stretch your support resources further.

But be careful: the lure of self-serve’s cost savings can make it tempting to switch as much of your support to your knowledge base as possible.

Don’t do that.

A knowledge base is a great way to extend your support channels, but it’s not a replacement for personal support. Don’t let a knowledge base be a wall between you and your customers.

7) On-Page Support Widget

On-page support widgets turn your website into a support channel.

They give your customers an option, while browsing your site, to submit a question or request via email.

Some widgets also integrate knowledge base articles directly into the widget, allowing customers to access answers right away (without navigating to the knowledge base itself).

How to Pick the Most Effective Customer Support Channels for Your Business

As you can see, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of unique channels and sub-channels where you could deliver customer service.

So when it comes to building a multi-channel support operation, where should you start?

The good news is that this question is easy to answer.

All you have to do is ask your customers.

We’re huge fans of surveys and customer development at Groove. The insights that you get from collecting qualitative feedback from even a handful of customers can dramatically change your business.

Anytime we’re considering strategic decisions within the company, we always make sure that we’re talking directly with our customers to understand how we can make choices that help them succeed with Groove.

Choosing your support channels is no different.

Here’s all you have to do:

Make a list of all of the possible channels where you might offer support. Then, send a short survey to your customers that asks two simple questions:

  1. Where would you like to see [company] offer customer service?

    (Include a list of the channels you’re considering here)

  2. What social networks, forums and online communities do you spend the most time in?

    (Keep this one open-ended. The answers may surprise you.)

That’s it.

It seems simple, but it works. The responses that you get to these questions will be incredibly helpful in informing the direction of your multi-channel support strategy.

After all, who can give you better insight on where your customers want support, than your customers themselves?

Multi-Channel Support Is Worth It

As research has shown, it’s reducing customer effort that’s the single most important factor in creating customer loyalty.

By offering customer service in channels where your customers are most active, you can make their lives much, much easier, which in turn nurtures customer loyalty, which helps you grow your business.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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