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.