Written by Ian Landsman on May 3, 2018 in

Providing Excellent Customer Support: Expanding Your Support Channels

Your product has launched! Let’s just take a moment and celebrate before we jump back into the support world.

Okay. Your two main support channels, your help site and your email, are doing fine so far. Things are starting to calm down from the launch. It’s now a good time to be thinking about additional support channels.

As more customers start using your product, you’re going to get a ton of pressure to expand your support channels. Now, customers want support through Twitter, Facebook, phone, live chat, and more.

Resist the urge to cover everything. When you, or your small start-up team, tries to cover too many support channels, you risk diluting your effectiveness. You can’t be everywhere all of the time.

Instead, become a master of a few specific support channels. You’ve nailed the cornerstone of support with a help site and email. From here, look at where your customers already are. Maybe that’s Facebook or Twitter. Or maybe you want to invest energy into a live chat tool.

The specific mix is up to you. Just make sure you become a master of a few, rather than a novice at them all.

Exploring the Options

Below, I’ll run through a few of the most common support channels’ pros and cons.

Twitter

Pros: While the character limit of a Tweet has recently been expanded to 280 characters from the original 140, it’s still remains the perfect place to exchange short questions and answers, provide links to your help site, and direct customers to email for private or more complex situations. If your company is already on Twitter for marketing reasons, there is no need to set up a separate customer support channel - just start answering questions from your main account. That’s what customers will be looking for, anyway.

Cons: Twitter is a very public place where others can jump in on the thread (don’t miss this T-Mobile Austria example). A tweet from an angry customer can explode into a public nightmare really quickly. Be prepared to respond in the correct tone, and follow-up with the customer out of public view.

Facebook

Pros: Lots of people use Facebook already (and not just young adults - the audience is skewing older and older as time goes by). It’s easy for people to find your page and interact with you. There is no character limit in public posts or private messages, so people can have longer conversations with you.

Cons: Similar to Twitter, it’s a very public forum. If something goes wrong or is mishandled, it can become a publicity nightmare.

Live Chat

Pros: Customers love live chat. They can instantly interact with someone, almost like a phone conversation (except they don’t have to talk - some people love that option!). When offered, customers jump to this channel. From the support side, it’s efficient, eliminating the back-and-forth email replies that can drag on for a day or more.

Cons: It’s an interruption machine. Just when you get into your groove on something else, you’ll get a pop-up from a customer or potential customer wanting to chat. It is also people intensive. You can handle dozens of emails in a 10-minute span, but with live chat, you can probably only juggle three chats at once. To scale live chat, you have to bring in more support reps.

Community Forums

Pros: It helps take some of the support pressure off of you and your team. Customers can help other customers with questions, and they can share ideas and solutions between themselves.

Cons: This is equivalent to outsourcing your customer support to other people - people who aren’t even getting paid to answer these questions, let alone to do so clearly, accurately, quickly, and in a tone that reflects well on your brand. With community forums, you lose control of the support experience. In the time it takes to monitor and moderate these forums closely, you may the time better spent just answering customers yourself.

Set a Schedule, and Set Expectations

With all of these support channels, the key is to set expectations with your response times.

It’s okay to take off holidays. It’s okay to have support-free hours.

In the world of out-supporting each other, many teams turn to 24/7/365 support availability.

“See!” they cry. “We’re here all the time via email, phone, Twitter, Facebook, snail mail, LinkedIn, and that brand new app forum that just launched yesterday. We’re here!”

You need to find what support hours work best for you and your team. Let’s say you’re the only person addressing customer questions. Try to set aside a few time slots each day to handle emails. When you’re first finding a flow, try one in the morning, another right after lunch, and a final time slot as you’re wrapping up your day. Clear out the queue as best you can during those slots. That way, no one is waiting more than a few hours before they get a reply.

Whether you’re one person, or you have the support of a small customer service team, it’s okay to set reasonable limits and expectations. As long as customers know what to expect, they’ll be fine with it. Make it clear on your website what support channels are available, what hours they are manned, and what the average response time is for any given channel. Stick to meeting those expectations, and your customers will be satisfied.

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About the author

Ian Landsman of UserScape

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

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