With the influx of web-based services and applications, customers don’t always have a brick and mortar option when it comes to customer service. Many web apps only offer customer service through email. How can these online companies still provide great customer experiences to customers?
As a follow up on my The Best Service is No Service book review, I asked the authors to share their thoughts on customer service for web-based applications.
One of the authors, David Jaffe, responded with his thoughts that I quote below.
Root Cause Analysis
We did some work a year ago with eBay and their Power sellers in Australia. There were many powerful lessons from the book for them:
a) Only some had analyzed and tried to fix the root causes of the emails they received from clients – Most had tried to put more and more information in the product descriptions and that made matters worse
Unless you identify the real reason customers are having trouble, you’re just guessing. Making assumptions based on your experience is fine, sometimes your educated first impression is correct. However, the sure way to verify your ideas is to test them. Let your customers be your real world testers and let them vote with their actions on which of your ideas is the best.
b) Many were frustrated by customer ignorance – “Don’t they know that if they want to pay that way it will take X days?”
At this year’s SXSW Interactive, Henry Jenkins stated: “People aren’t idiots. They do things for a reason.” If customers are demonstrating behavior you feel is ignorant, find out why they are doing something. The fault may very well lie with your application, the design, copy writing, etc.
Easy to Contact
c) Many made themselves hard to contact – They had auctions closing on Sundays but no one answered emails on Sundays!
Web applications often force customers to contact the company via one channel: email. If such is the case with your web app, you need to answer emails. Be timely in responses and set expectations of your response window to customer emails.
d) None of them saw emails as a way to listen to customers – Emails were an annoyance even though it was their only direct contact with customers
Emails from customers may be the only way you hear from customers. If such is the case, listen and learn. Sure, you may get repetitive questions or feedback, but this can also be a goldmine for identifying issues and generating ideas. Turn your most frequently asked questions into online help or tweak your copy writing to better explain functionality.
Work with Customers
e) The clever ones had worked out that all issues could be solved – The bad ones got a hostile customer rating and fought back. The good sellers worked with the customer to have the rating changed.
Reach out and work with customers to resolve problems. Since many companies don’t even try with customers, the simple act of engaging customers in the discussion will put you ahead of many. Sure, not everyone will be happy, but those that you do help will be happier in the end.
Listen, Change, Test, Repeat
The key to customer service for your web application is an iterative cycle. Listen to customers. Identify the root causes of problems. Make changes to your application to correct issues. Test your changes and continue the cycle.
The web offers a great forum for rapid experimentation and response. Take advantage of the technological advantage you have over more traditional, offline services and create a stellar user experience for your customers.