Austell, GA January 2019 - If our clients are successful, then we’re successful. That’s why we’re republishing this article, The 5 Essential Support Channels Every New Business Should Consider, from September 25, 2018 by Sarah Blackstock of Shopify. It’s about a 9 minute read, so please enjoy. You never know where the next great idea will come from.
Soon after you make your first sale, you’re guaranteed to have a customer with a question or a problem they need help solving. The tricky part is deciding where you’ll meet your customers and how you’ll support them when you get there.
It’s unrealistic for most small shops to accommodate every possible point of contact that exists today, but it is essential that you choose support channels that fit your business and your customers’ needs, and commit to a presence there.
When starting out, some support channels are manageable without the need for additional tools or process. Set up an email address. Reserve a business phone number. Create social media accounts. Voilà, you can now accept incoming messages via email, phone, and social without adding any tools to your repertoire.
However, your incoming customer service workload will eventually expand, and your team may expand with it. At that point you’ll need a deliberate strategy, and a more potent set of tools, to ensure you keep your support standards high and your response times reasonably low.
Certain tools can handle a few support channels, while others specialize in getting one method just right—both have their place, but it depends on what you need. Let’s run through the most common support channels, tips for getting started on them, and the tools to consider using to make it easier to manage along the way.
Channels to Use in Your Support Strategy
If you choose just one channel to support your customers, this should probably be it. People are already comfortable sending emails to get help, and many shoppers expect an online store to have an email address or contact form on their site.
Email is also asynchronous, and comparatively easy to manage versus live support channels where someone on your team has to be present and solve issues in real-time. Your ability to set reasonable expectations is an added benefit: If you take a few hours to reply to incoming emails or don’t respond to messages on weekends, including a note on your contact page can establish that before customers get touch.
The right support tools help keep your standards high and your response times reasonably low.
On the measurement front, the record of discussion available with email lets you conduct a fairly straightforward health check for customer happiness, as it’s easy to ask for feedback and keep track of your conversations.
A final benefit is that starting with email is as simple as opening up a new inbox. While there are several great tools for managing a queue of emails, if you’re a small business with one person handling support, replying from a standard inbox is often plenty to get started.
Tools for email support
Once you outgrow a single inbox—usually due to volume or because your team is struggling to collaborate in one shared space—you’ll want to upgrade to a help desk tool or equivalent to organize, assign, and track incoming emails.
When customers contact you it’s usually because something went wrong or they’re unable to find the information they need. Equipping your customers with the right information, and making it easy to find, actually helps them become “better” customers, long before they reach your support inbox.
So before the questions start rolling in, take the time to create an FAQ page or other support documentation that shares your basic policies and answers the questions most likely to be asked. This will save you valuable time in the long run, as you won’t end up responding to questions that customers would have been happy to figure out on their own. Remember that for many questions, customers don’t want to contact you because the issue is minor and self-service is faster.
Every piece of help content you create eventually has to be maintained.
Your support content should grow and change as your store evolves and adds new products. Be sure to stay on top of updating the information there, as it’s better not to give details on something than to confuse and frustrate people with the wrong information. To this end, be careful of not adding help content too liberally, as every answer provided becomes something you eventually have to maintain—otherwise, the answer may become out of date.
For inspiration, take a look at the MeUndies FAQ page. From the search at the top to the organized display of the most popular questions, it’s a fantastic example of how to provide self-service help content. Take note of the information at the bottom of the page too: They’ve included ways to reach their team if the customer needs more help, and the hours they’re available are listed right there too.
If you haven’t been open quite long enough to answer “frequent” questions, consider proactively providing answers around these key areas:
If your product or service has any specific instructions that could be useful for a customer to know, include those too.
Tools for creating help content
Unless your documentation is extensive, a special tool may not be necessary. Create a page on your Shopify store and start writing. As your help content grows, you can break it up over separate pages and add a table of contents to help people navigate to the information they need, or consider using a tool that’ll allow you to create a neat, organized accordion-style FAQ page.
For some businesses, providing phone support is a great way to go. Many customers still prefer phone calls for urgent, time-sensitive issues. And if you sell products with a high price, your customers will likely want to reach you by phone if something goes wrong.
If you’re able, set up a phone number where they can reach you directly or leave a voicemail so you can return their call. Even though the phone line can stay on all the time, it’s rare that customers expect 24/7 phone access to a small business. If you're not able to answer the phone around the clock, offer limited hours and post the hours of operation clearly so customers know what to expect. If you go this route, when phone support isn't active, remind customers of the other ways they can reach you, too.
Tools for phone support
When you’re just starting out, providing customer support over the phone can be as simple as getting a phone number through Google Voice and having one person answer the calls and check voicemails as needed. For more features as your phone support grows, consider one of the following tools:
Live chat is a fantastic way to provide quick, easily accessible support to your current and potential customers. As you consider launching live chat, think about where you want customers to access chat and what you’re hoping to accomplish with it.
You may want to invite potential customers who are browsing but haven’t finished an order to start a live chat conversation, or enable live chat for customers after they’ve made a purchase to help quickly resolve any issues.
Bellroy provides live chat on their homepage to help customers locate exactly what they need. They’ve also opted to display a “typically replies in” time based on historical data—this can help reassure customers that someone will be with them soon to lend a hand, but that a reply may not be instant.
Beyond who can access live chat, think about when it should be available. It doesn’t have to be around the clock. You can set hours to open live chat and post those on your website so your customers know when they’ll find you there. Alternatively, you could offer live chat based on your highest-traffic times, like during a promotion or immediately after sending an email to your list.
Tools for live chat support
There’s an ever-increasing number chat and messaging tools out there, so for ease of setup and use, we’ve included two top options that integrate with Shopify here, and you can search the Shopify App Store for all of the chat integration options available.
Social support differs from the other channels in one fundamental way: It’s visible to anyone who wants to see it. Every interaction with a customer over social is a chance to show people who you are, and that can make or break a potential relationship with each person who comes across the conversation.
You probably can’t cover every social media platform, so a good way to narrow your options is to support current customers where you’ll already be marketing to future customers. To decide, be sure to not only consider which channels you want to spend time on, but also which ones your customers like the most.
You want your business to stand out because of the quality of your support conversations.
Pew Research Center’s Social Media Use in 2018 report is a great place to find data to make an educated guess about which ones fit your business. If you’ve already got an existing shop, ask your customers and pay attention to where they try to reach you.
Tools for social media support
When you’re just starting out, using social media apps directly can go a long way. Once your follower counts expand and the incoming support volume becomes difficult to track in native social tools, it’s time to start using a tool that manages social messages more like a proper inbox.
Beyond support: Monitoring reviews and conversations
If your business picks up traction, you’ll soon find mentions and discussions about your products on blogs, niche publications, review sites, and online communities. While these aren’t direct support requests, it’s important to stay on top of the chatter about your store so you know what people say about you to their friends and peers.
Use social listening tools to protect your online reputation and influence opinions, follow discussions about your business on websites like Reddit, and read customer reviews wherever people are posting them. While it’s not necessary—or recommended—that you dive into every conversation about your business, by staying aware of them you can intervene when necessary.
If a customer leaves a bad review and it sounds like a situation you can improve, reply and offer to find a solution.
Picking your channels of choice
Choosing your customer service channels might seem like a secondary concern, but deciding where you can support your customers is a fundamental part of your support strategy. Adding channels without knowing what you’re getting into can spread your resources and attention thin. It’s better to not offer a particular channel at all than to drop your standards to accommodate every option.
If you’re just starting out, why not pick three support options to tackle now? Get your FAQ page going, create that email inbox, and start interacting with your customers on your favorite social channels. As your business grows, don’t be afraid to add more support options or adjust the way you’re managing them.
The key, as always, is execution: When you juggle too many channels at once, you’re bound to drop the ball somewhere. If you find a particular channel isn’t working for your business, change your availability or sunset it completely. You want your business to stand out because of the quality of your support conversations, and for your ability to solve problems as they arise, not because there are infinite ways to reach you.
About the Author
Sarah Blackstock is a writer specializing in technology and customer support for Supported Content, and former Happiness Engineer at Automattic. When she’s not renovating her house in Dallas, you’ll find her baking in her kitchen or reading romance novels.