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Get Customers to Stop Calling You--12 Easy Ways to Save Money with Online Customer Support

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Web is not dead. More people are using it, they have faster bandwidth, and in many cases Net-time is taking over TV- time. It's no wonder more users are turning to the Net for help, rather than the telephone. So why not take advantage by offering your customers help online after the sale? Given that the average customer care call is $33, it's a great way to please customers that prefer the Web over a phone queue and save money too.

Not that you ever want to drive customers away. After all, keeping a good customer is a whole lot cheaper than acquiring a new one. The idea is to move the majority of calls to self-help and reserve quality time for those customers that need to speak to a real person. If you guide certain customers towards answering questions themselves, make it a good experience, and offer incentives for usage, self-help will be their first choice.

The type of online support required for each customer and for each problem may be different, so it's best to provide a range of self-help options and let customers choose what works for them. Online support comes in many forms, but for now we'll focus on the least expensive FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), Enhanced FAQs, discussion boards, and email. It's better to start with a few options first, and do them well, rather than trying to do everything at once. Offering a good help experience to people who use the Web regularly makes them more likely to turn to the Web for assistance again and again.

1. Determine Your Online Support Strategy Figure out what's going to give you the biggest bang for the buck, then add on. Having a plan will help ensure that each support component works within a cohesive whole. Generic information can be easily handled with FAQs or Enhanced FAQs. More complex or customer-specific information requires advanced technologies. If you don't have the expertise or time to build the functionality yourself, look into Web service providers who can create and host applications for you.

2. Focus and Target Don't try to create online support to cover every subject. Consider customer demographics to determine who will use the service, why they would use it, what they would need, and what would get them to use it. Customers ordinarily will use a combination of both online and offline support options, so build use cases for each target customer segment to gain an understanding of their behavior and how to improve their overall experience.

3. Tell Customers Where to Go Make sure links to the help section are clearly communicated at every touch point, such as on printed material and through IVR systems. Familiarize your sales and phone reps with the site and its benefits, as in, "Did you know that we have a website that shows you how to do that?" Offer customers incentives to encourage first time usage and let them get in the short phone queue if they try self-help before calling.

4. Make Help Easy to Find at Your Site If you don't provide a direct link to help, make it an obvious click away from your home page and other appropriate pages.

5. Give them Options Even if a customer visited the site only in search of contact information, there's no reason why you can't try to resolve their problem while they're there, saving both of you a phone call. Briefly describe what is offered through self-help, how it works, and what they can expect. You don't want customers to waste their time looking for information that isn't there.

6. Should I Give Them My Number? You should always make contact information available, but the extent to which you delay publishing it will depend on your target customers and your support strategy. For example, if you can respond to the majority of visitor questions with generic information and your goal is to maximize self-help use, then delay, driving visitors to use self-help first. On the other hand, if many of your customers require custom treatment and you want the opportunity for personal contact, as with brokerage services, you may want to make phone numbers readily available.

7. Start with Simple FAQs Answer the questions customers ask most often. Don't worry about trying to answer every possible question. Build your list from customer questions received via your customer reps, email, and keywords searched at your site. Organize the information into a standardized format, write clearly, and don't try to sell your customers anything. This is not the place and time. You can always provide navigation links to sales information. If the FAQs are long, add an easy to use index or search function.

8. Give It to Them Straight Make sure the information you provide avoids jargon and terms they would need to search elsewhere to find. Leverage the technologies available with HTML to provide definitions via rollovers to help customers get the information they need faster.

9. More than Just the FAQs Expand on your FAQs by providing images and interactivity. Imagine how much easier it would be to show pictures detailing a car battery installation or a bicycle assembly, rather than explaining it with words alone. Involving the user through interactivity improves learning and results in a more positive experience, which means they'll use self-help again.

10. Get Them Talking Get customers to search and answer questions themselves via a discussion board. Harvest information from the boards for your FAQs.

11. e-Mail with Caution Use e-mail, but be sure you have the resources to respond in a timely and effective manner. If you set up the expectation that it takes too long to get a response, customers are going to lose confidence in the service and not use it again. Be careful about using automated email responders as well. If customers have to wait and still don't get the specific help they need, the best you can hope for is frustrated customers. More likely you'll end up paying for this lapse in customer service in the form of phone support and lost future sales.

12. Survey Says Let customers tell you what they need. It's the best way to make improvements to your online customer support. Ask a few simple follow-up questions through an online survey, but keep it short and simple. Respect your customers' time.

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Publishing Guidelines: You have permission to publish this article electronically or in print, free of charge, as long as the bylines are included. A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated.

About the Author:

Robbin Block is President of PictureSez, Inc., which gives companies an easy way to enrich their websites with picture-based, online customer support. Whether for how-to instructions or FAQ's, our browser-based authoring tool allows you to 'show' your customers what to do-- without any programming. Visit http://www.picturesez.com or mailto:rblock@picturesez.com.

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