Getting your online customer service right

Customer ServiceAs a small, probably relatively localised business, you might think that worrying about online customer service is not top of your priority list right now. Your concentration is all on converting footfall through your business or shop door into real sales, or turning that phone call enquiry into a real lead.

But we’ve just come across a survey that’s been recently published that will probably make you sit up and think about your all-round online presence so that all your i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.

The survey was carried out at the end of last year by Eptica, who provide multichannel customer interaction software. They surveyed 100 UK company websites, ranging from retail to utilities, banking to insurance, and evaluated them on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions.  These questions were asked via online website contact forms, through email or via the companies’ social media sites. The results give us an interesting insight into how these quite large companies value their online customer service system. And, provide your business, which serves a smaller base of customers, with some great pointers for getting things right (and better!) online.

What did the survey say?

What is surprising is that the results revealed that the companies surveyed could only answer about half of the 10 questions posed. In comparison to Eptica’s survey carried out a year before in 2011, the response rate had actually worsened.

The message writ large was that UK consumers are being let down by second-class customer service.  The survey threw up a catalogue of inconsistent responses and disconnected processes, which were at best mediocre and at worst very slow or non-existent. Highlighted in particular was the way in which many companies had failed completely to integrate their social media sites into their customer service processes.

Nearly a quarter of companies surveyed couldn’t be emailed at all or the email addresses weren’t easily found on their websites. Only 39% responded with a correct answer to the question via email, and on average companies took 64 hours and 33 minutes to successfully reply via email! That’s astonishingly slow!

There were some shining lights in the survey in that one company took just a speedy 19 minutes to reply to an enquiry but, at the other end of the spectrum, another took a whole month to get back to the person posing the question. Fashion retailers were on the whole the best of the respondees, with DVD/CD and booksellers coming off worst.

What does this mean for you?

We all know, in times of recession, spare cash is not exactly floating around and any extra pennies you do have you want to be ploughing back into the fundamentals of your business. But we believe this is exactly the time that you want to get your customer service absolutely tip-top. If times are tough and you’re fighting to win new business from your competitors, excellent customer service is critical in winning and retaining customers.

If you’re not giving your customers great service in today’s competitive market, you’re going to take a hit on your sales figures. Savvy customers in 2013 want to be able to contact companies through the channel of their choice, making it all-important for businesses to adopt a multi-channel approach. You tend to find some companies are more successful in one channel than another, and the Eptica survey backs this up: for instance, if customers had a great response via email they got a poor one if they filled in an online ‘contact us’ form.

Customer engagement via social media channels was found to have doubled since 2011, but only 11% of the 100 companies surveyed linked their customer service to these channels. We as businesses need to understand that use of social media platforms has transformed how consumers approach customer service, as it provides a megaphone for them to broadcast their complaints as well as their positive feedback to the world.

Tips for getting your online customer service right

In light of the Eptica survey results, and taking on board what that means for your business, here are some clever tips in improving your online customer service:

  • Make sure your customer service approach is joined up across all channels – your online presence (website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog) all connect up and you have at least one person with an overview of all of these.
  • Treat any customer service enquiry seriously – whether by phone, email, website contact form, online chat, Facebook message, tweet and so on.
  • Always, always respond to an enquiry, however informal or chatty.
  • Make sure your response follows within 24-48 hours, and if you don’t yet have the answer, send them a holding email saying you’ll be back in touch as soon as possible with the information they’re looking for.
  • Very important this – make sure your contact details (email, phone number, street address, social media buttons) are visible on your website as well as your blog, Facebook & Twitter pages. You want to avoid that complaint – ‘well, I couldn’t find your email address’….
  • Remember to adopt a friendly approach and engage in a conversation with your customers. Nowadays it’s quite likely your customer engagement via Facebook or Twitter might be humorous or possibly tongue in cheek - your response to these comments all counts towards their overall customer experience.

If you’d like to access the Eptica survey, it can be downloaded at