Great Online Customer Service: Techniques for Teaching and Problem Solving

We’ve been talking the dramatic impact that top-notch online customer service can have on the success of your business.

Some people may be under the false impression that providing customer support is a no brainer, but actually that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes skill, self-control, tact, sensitivity, compassion and the ability to write clearly and teach effectively.

A huge part of providing customer support is teaching and problem solving. Here are some tips for giving information in a way that is easy to understand:

1 – Use visual explanations.

Recently I showed you how a video capture tool like SnagIt can greatly aid in teaching customers how to do technical things that may otherwise be very confusing.

Another great tool is a simpe screen shot with boldly written instructions telling what to do on the page.

I’ve worked in the online business world for several years now, and one of the things I’ve learned is that people learn from seeing. If at all possible include a visual aid.

2 – Tell the person exactly what to do.

It helps to assume no knowledge–you know all the little steps for doing a particular task, but the customer doesn’t. Start from square one and get as basic as possible.

Ideally, break your instructions down into steps that you number–people find it easier to follow instructions that are clearly numbered. Get as detailed in your instructions as you can. For example, start with “Step 1: Log into your account”.

I once heard an internet business guru evaluating a membership site that was newly launched. He pointed something out that struck me as being spot on. He said:

When I go to a website, I want to be told exactly what to do in language that I can’t miss. If I’m supposed to enter my email and name and hit a “submit” button, spell that out and make the button big and orange or yellow and have the word “submit” on it.

Above all, don’t make me feel stupid. If I go to your site and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, it makes me feel dumb. When people feel stupid when looking at your website, it makes them get frustrated and mad (at you). Nobody likes to be in a situation where they feel like they can’t figure out something that lots of other people have been able to figure out fine.

That sentiment is also true of customer support–your answer to the customer’s question should be so thorough that the customer cannot miss the answer. If there are steps to do, each step should be specified in order.

3 – Be sure to answer all the customer’s questions.

If someone has several involved questions, I recommend listing the questions, numbering them, and then underneath each question writing “Answer:” and then listing the answer. That will help you not to overlook any of the customer’s questions.

It is really annoying to customers when they write in with several questions, and then only their first question is answered. Then they have to write back again to get the rest of the answers. It ends up taking longer for both the customer and the support person, and it frustrates the customer.

Take the time to read the customer’s questions and be sure that all of them are answered thoroughly.

4 – Anticipate questions.

Part of being a teacher to the customer is giving him information that he needs to know that perhaps he didn’t know to ask. Go ahead and give the extra information. It takes a little extra time on the front end, but it ends up saving time in the long run. It saves the customer from having to run into a problem and then contact support again. It also saves the customer support person from having to process another support ticket. It’s easier to process a person’s questions all at one time than to keep re-opening a ticket.

5 – Appreciate and encourage questions.

Your attitude in handling customer support requests will be evident in your reply. If you’re annoyed at having to answer the question, the customer will be able to detect that in your reply. If you’re happy to hear from the person and eager to help, the customer will also be able to pick that up.

This is my attitude when doing customer service or teaching others how to do it:

We are so glad that you got in touch. We’re happy to hear from you, and your questions are great. I enjoy the chance to be able to help you do something new. I’m confident that we can turn this into a positive experience for you. 

Some words that come to mind as far as attitude goes when answering customer support questions are:

  • Graciousness, hospitality, welcoming–The customer should feel like his questions are welcome, that you are eager to provide the knowledge that he needs, and that you want him or her to feel totally comfortable with using your service or product.
  • Validating–There are no silly questions. It is helpful to empathize with the customer in understanding how the question came up, even if the answer seems obvious to you.
  • Nurturing–Customer service is for people who need help, and that’s a vulnerable position to be in. They are depending on people they don’t know for information that they need. It can make a huge impression on the customer if they feel like they are “being taken care of”.
  • Investing in the future of the relationship–Each question that a customer asks is not just a question–it’s an opportunity to build a relationship with him or her. That is why customers who have problems that are ultimately solved will feel more loyalty to your business than people who never needed any customer support in the first place.

Next time we’ll cover one of the hardest aspects of serving customers–how to deal with customers who are upset.

Stellar Customer Service for Online Businesses

One of the most powerful opportunities for growing your online business is through developing an absolutely amazing customer service experience.

You may think of your business as being all about your product, but any time you have customers, part of your product is the customer support you offer.

Here’s something that I find fascinating, and I don’t remember where I heard this, but did you know that a customer who has had a problem that has been adequately addressed through customer service will usually have a higher level of satisfaction with your business than a person who has never had any problems at all?

When dealing with the general public, it is inevitable that some sort of problems or questions will come up that customers will bring to your attention and expect to be fixed or addressed. It’s empowering to realize that that challenging experience can actually be a springboard for improving your relationship with the customer and causing him to tell others about how great your business is.

I love doing online customer service and teaching others how to do it. Online customer service is very different from doing “in person” customer service in that you communicate totally via the written word. Great online customer service is an art form that requires finesse, sensitivity, and ingenuity.

Here are a few tips for developing a customer support system that works as a tool for building your business.

Online customer support people fill the roles of Teachers and Problem Solvers.


Customer support people are on the “front line” of the business, and they are perhaps the only “real people” associated with the business that the customer will interact with.

Each customer support person works on behalf of the business as a teacher. People will write in because they want to do something that they don’t know how to do. Much of a customer support person’s job may simply be teaching customers how to use the service and what to expect from the service. The better you are at teaching, the more satisfied the customer will be with the service or product.

Problem solvers

Inevitably a customer will contact you with a problem–something is not working right or something didn’t get done that should have. It is the customer support person’s job to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it (or contact someone on the team who has the knowledge to figure out what the issue is).

There will always be people asking you questions that you don’t know the answer to, but that’s a great opportunity. Every time someone comes up with an off-the-wall question or an intricate question that you’re just not sure about, it’s a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge of the business.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone with more knowledge how to address a hard question. Then, once you get the answer make a note of both the question and the answer so that when that question comes up again you’ll know how to answer it.

An online procedure manual is great for this purpose–anytime someone asks a common or difficult question, enter it in the manual along with the answer. It saves time in the long run, and it makes it so that your entire customer service team has access to that new knowledge.

Today we’re just covering the tip of the iceburg with online customer service. Next time we’ll go more in depth and cover actual techniques for teaching and problem solving in ways that will impress your customers.

For now though, have you ever had an absolutely outstanding customer support experience? What made it so good/memorable?

How To Put Together College Care Packages

This year I have a niece and a nephew who have gone away to college for the first time. I know what a shock it can be to be away from your family for the first time, so I really wanted to get into the habit of sending them care packages on a regular basis.

My first thought was–What do you put in a college student care package? I have a boy and a girl (young man and young woman) to do this for, so there will probably be some differences in the types of packages I send. Also, the girl is living in a dorm room (no kitchen), and the boy is living in an apartment with 3 other guys. The apartment has a kitchen.

Also, I am not sure if college is the same as it was when I went–when I went I really did eat ramen noodles–do students still do that? I think they have a meal card where they can go to a cafeteria any time they need food. I don’t think they’re going hungry, at least not these two kids I’ll be sending to.

I knew for sure I wanted to include homemade cookies or brownies though–nothing says “home” like homemade treats!

I also knew I wanted to include a photograph that the student could tape to their mirror and get a little lift from each time he or she looked at it.

But what else?

I did some research online and found this great resource: Make The Best College Care Packages Ever. From all the suggestions there, these are the things I picked out as being the best ideas for the college kids I know.

  • Homemade baked goods (be sure to package them tightly in a plastic container or tin–you don’t want them sliding around in transit)
  • Brownie mix (if the student has an oven). There are also microwavable single serving brownie and cake treats, and all you need to add is water. I’ve had some of those before and they were pretty good, all things considered.
  • Mini first aid kit with band-aids, antibiotic ointment, etc
  • A nice smelling plug-in for their room
  • School supplies like highlighters, pens, pencils, scotch tape and post-its. I also thought some homemade bookmarks would be sweet.
  • Photos of family and friends. I don’t think they need to be framed or anything–they can just tape the photo to their mirror or wall.
  • Mints and gum
  • Those little pocket-sized Kleenex packets
  • Holiday themed treats or decorations–there could be a Halloween themed care package, a Christmas one, Easter, Springtime, Thanksgiving, etc.
  • Small crock pot with a few simple recipes. I am thinking of doing that for my nephew who is in the apartment. He likes to cook, so he might enjoy putting stuff into the crock pot in the morning and coming home to an apartment that smells like a home cooked meal. I bet he would be very popular with his 3 other roommates too!
  • Cologne or perfume samples–you can get those for free from Sephora. Just tell them which scents you want samples of and they will squirt a few sprays into a little plastic sample bottle and then pop a spray head on it. They will also write the name of the scent either on the bottle or on a tiny plastic bag that you can put the perfume in. I would ask them for that tiny plastic bag so you can keep the scents separate and also to help to contain them in the care package.
  • I am also thinking of making a pillow for my nephew–it is a pillow idea that I got from the book “A Homemade Year” by Jerusalem Greer. The pillow has a cross and a heart on it, and there is a meaning to the pillow that I won’t go into in this post, but let’s just say that the intention is to let someone who is alone know that they are not alone. If I make that pillow, I’ll put a tutorial here so you can see how to do it.

Those are all the ideas–now to decide which ones to incorporate into the first care package!