11 Tips for Improving Your Company's Customer Support

Companies spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) promoting their brand, trying to create a positive image. Yet often they treat customer support, which can be a customer's first point of contact with the company, as a necessary evil. Many businesses make it difficult for customers to get the help they need -- creating a negative impression.

So what can you do to ensure your customers feel like they are getting the help they need, when they need it? Following are 11 expert tips on what you can do to improve your customer and tech support -- and create a positive impression of your brand.

1. Offer 24/7 customer support.

"If your company has the bandwidth to do so, provide 24/7 phone-based support," says Hossein Ghazizadeh, vice president, Technical Support, Barracuda, which provides security and storage solutions. There is "nothing worse than calling a customer support line when you need assistance only to get a recording telling you to call back during normal business hours."

2. Text-enable your customer service.

"As millennial customers take over the marketplace, traditional 1-800 customer service lines aren't cutting it," says Steve French, vice president, Product Management and Marketing, OpenMarket, a mobile engagement solution provider. These "consumers prefer to text. [So] text-enabling customer service and support can help companies best target the millennial generation and improve overall customer satisfaction."

3. Include a live chat option.

"Using a live chat facility on your website allows you to be exactly where customers need you at a moment's notice," says Rob Rebholz, cofounder & managing director, SpaceWays, a self-storage company. Moreover, live chat "removes barriers to contacting support as it's quick and easy to type a message from the current screen rather than finding an email address or taking the time to call," he explains. So customers get the help they need, when they need it, quickly.

"Most leading companies have begun incorporating live website chat into their customer service efforts to reduce costs and connect with more prospects," notes Arielle Hurst, customer experience designer, Pure Chat. "But fewer businesses are aware they can also use live chat to expedite email-based support as well," she adds. "When support teams include the link to a unique live chat page in their email signatures, customers can use that link to reach the team immediately and get their questions answered via chat," she explains. Moreover, "offering this simple option slashes response times and can cut time-consuming email exchanges by more than 40 percent."

4. Be social.

"The days of help lines and email support are slowly dwindling," says Jeanette Gibson, vice president, Community and Customer Experience, Hootsuite. "In order to implement a customer support system that meets the expectations of today's consumers, businesses must invest and incorporate social into their customer support programs," she argues.

"By responding effectively and consistently across every social channel, your business can drive customer satisfaction to new heights."

5. Cover all your bases (or channels).

"Today's consumer is constantly jumping from text messages to phone calls, from social media to email," explains Spence Mallder, CTO at Aspect Software, an enterprise call center and customer service solution provider. So businesses need to take an omni-channel approach to customer service.

"That means a) providing customers with the option of moving across channels for quick and easily accessible assistance, and b) supplying agents with the automated technology they need to pull customer information and history for quick and accurate assistance," he says. "Omni-channel solutions take the multichannel contact center to the next level, seamlessly integrating all channels for one fluid experience."

6. Really listen to customers.

That means paying attention to what they are saying or writing, "validating customers' concerns, identifying with every customer's experience and instilling confidence that you will own and resolve the issue," says Nate Rosenthal, director of Customer Support at Square.

It also means "using clear and direct language. Don't use technical terms or industry lingo," he advises. Instead use plain English, but don't talk down to customers. And "be straightforward," yet polite.

7. Provide a self-service option.

"When customers can easily and quickly find detailed answers to their problems on their own, they feel empowered and appreciative of the detailed information they can access without having to deal with customer support," says Jennifer Roberts, the marketing and integrations manager for Hubstaff, which provides time tracking solutions for remote companies.

"Building a community of engaged brand advocates around a help forum, on various platforms, also furthers their interaction with the brand by giving them a place to ask questions and collaborate with other users."

"Self-service can be the quickest way for customers to get the answers they need if it includes elements like FAQs, a portal and customer forums," adds Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport, a cloud-based customer support & help desk solution. "It also reduces agent workload."

However, remember that "self-service doesn't mean leaving customers to sort out issues on their own," he cautions. "Ideally, a self-service option [should] be provided as one choice among many, with agent support always available when needed."

8. Remember that no one likes phone trees or waiting on hold.

Provide a toll-free number; "make [it] easily accessible; and back it up with a live person to answer the phone," says Jerry Lee, founder, StoryLeather.com, an online retailer specializing in custom premium leather goods. "This sounds basic, but consumers are so turned off by auto attendants and long wait times that having a live person to answer the phone will give you the most positive first impression possible as a company."

Also consider "offering consumers a call-back option," says Liz Osborn, vice president, Product and Solution Marketing, Five9, a provider of cloud contact center software. A call-back option "is an easy option for businesses to set up based on customized customer preferences" -- and saves customers time and aggravation.

9. Make sure you have a good multichannel ticket management system in place.

"Having a ticketing system that can keep up with all the channels your clients use is imperative," says Jonathan Darcy, a tech advisor at TechnologyAdvice, which connects buyers and sellers of business technology. "For example, if a customer tweets at you, having the ability to turn that tweet into a support ticket is crucial to stay on top of incoming queries, as well as maintaining your brand's reputation."

10. Hire great customer reps, support them and give them some flexibility.

"Don't debase the customer support function," says Brad Smith, executive vice president, Customer Experience, Sage North America. "Customer support agents are your brand ambassadors. They provide engagement with your brand and demonstrate who you are as a company," he explains.

"You can't say you're all about brand and loyalty and then offer your customers an unreliable, awful help experience," he says. So in addition to providing a great product or service, "make sure it's easy to do business with your company," and provide great customer support/agents.

"If you've hired correctly, you've got a team of talented, trustworthy individuals waiting to serve your customers," says John Hebron, a technical support trainer at Bigcommerce. "Having to get manager approval for every small thing wastes their time, the manager's time and the customers' time." So "give them the ability to do what's right without having to always ask permission," he advises. Though be sure to set limits beforehand to avoid potentially costly problems.

11. Make sure you have enough customer service reps during peak times.

"Certain times of the year call for more high-level customer support than others," says Aaron Charlesworth, vice president of Marketing, Vonage Business Solutions. "For example, during the holiday season, customer care centers of retail businesses are at their busiest. Therefore, it is important to ensure there is an adequate amount of [properly trained and equipped] support on all fronts."

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