Ten Tips for Live Customer Service

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With the emergence of e-commerce, customer service is rapidly being recognized as the key to improving online sales, customer loyalty and brand equity.


While much of the focus has been on e-mail management systems, many Internet companies are now recognizing the need for immediate service. Hence, the emergence of live text-based customer service.


Providing live customer service, however, presents a different set of challenges vs. fielding e-mail inquiries. Here are 10 tips your customer service staff should follow when addressing live text-based inquiries via the Web.


1. One or two typos per conversation are OK. It's all right to make a couple of mistakes while typing a response. It lets people know you're real and not an automated response. But be careful. Too many errors will make you look sloppy and unprofessional.


2. Type as you speak. Type in a conversational manner. Unlike a more formal letter or memorandum, this is a real-time dialogue. Be wary of using tone in your message, as this is difficult to detect in a text-based conversation.


3. Keep the conversation moving. If necessary, break long responses into two or three separate blocks. This avoids long pauses (see No. 8) and allows your visitor to begin reading the first part of your response while you are completing it.


4. Get straight to the point. Typing and reading a conversation takes longer than actually speaking to someone. A general rule of thumb is no more than 30 words in each response block. This will keep the conversation flowing smoothly.


5. Avoid yes/no answers. Your customer's question is important; don't shortchange your answer. The customer may have spent a couple of minutes typing his question to you. A one-word response does not convey similar effort or thought on your part. Consequently, this type of response can often be interpreted as cold and impersonal.


6. Use preformatted responses. As much as 70 percent or 80 percent of all inquiries received by a site generally fall under the category of frequently asked questions. By anticipating these questions and developing preformatted responses, you will not only save time when responding, but you will help to ensure consistency in your answers. (Caveat: If you overuse preformatted responses, you may alienate customers. Be sure your operators customize or personalize preformatted responses as needed.)


7. Get personal. Leading customer service companies generally have a common characteristic: They treat each customer individually. Live customer-service solutions help Web sites achieve this by providing a true one-to-one marketing experience. Address your customers by name, reply to their specific question and be there for them. Your customers will appreciate the attentiveness and personal service.


8. Avoid the awkward pause. You know the feeling. You're in the middle of a conversation with someone and then suddenly there's silence. Not only can that silence be discomforting, but you'll be more likely to shift your attention elsewhere. The same thing can happen during a live-text conversation. You'll have a little more time between pauses in a text conversation vs. a spoken one, but the general rule is no more than 45 seconds between responses.


9. Solve problems. Have operators ready to answer questions as they occur. A real-time service solution only works when there are people on your end to take calls. Train your operators sufficiently so they can resolve most inquiries without requiring additional assistance. Make sure they follow up at the end of each conversation to ensure the customer's questions have been answered satisfactorily. If an operator doesn't have an immediate answer for a customer, the operator should say so and get back to the customer promtly. It's the follow-up and effort that the customer will ultimately remember.


10. Close sales. Many questions occur at that critical point of sale. Consequently, it's imperative that your operators recognize this and make the most of their contact with your customer. Anticipate and answer common questions that may arise during the checkout process. Lead them through the sale.


If you are unable to offer the product a customer is looking for, use it as a chance to cross-sell and make other recommendations. Once confident they are intent on making a purchase, you can then use this opportunity to upsell. Suggest a complimentary product or add-on; recommend the next model up or a higher level of service. But, don't get pushy. Remember that the customer is typing, and this requires greater effort than speaking. Once they say no, then move on. If done well, nothing sells like a live person.
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