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Customer Service Channels

Ultimate Guide to Customer
Service
Channels

Mercer Smith-Looper

Customer Service actually has a long and extensive history dating back as far as 3000 BC when traders, traveling far distances on boats to make sales, would have traditions and practices that were best used for treating their customer. As customer service has developed from our fledgling beginnings far back in the annals of time, so have the tools that we’ve used to do it. Here are a brief timeline and history of customer service and support and their tooling:

1760—1820: The industrial revolution created the concept of needing to “scale” for growth, and introduces customer service teams to help maintain mass-produced products, rather than hand-crafted goods traditionally supported by the artisan.

1776: Adam Smith published the Wealth of Nations, which introduced and established the basic ideas of competition in the marketplace.

1868: Watkins Liniment became the first company to offer a money-back guarantee, a version of those amazing refunds companies provide customers every day.

1876: Alexander Graham Bell patented the electric telephone. On that day, modern customer service — and the people who need it — got a huge advantage: they were able to avoid long days of travel for product information or to arrange for repairs and simply call on the phone.

1887: Coca-Cola issued the very first discount coupon — paving the way for all of those sweet discount codes and offers SaaS companies and retail products offer today.

1965: MIT’s CTSS Mail became the first host-based electronic mail program, also known as email. Email will become, as we know, an incredibly impactful and powerful platform for providing customers with answers.

1960s: Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) began to be used to handle large numbers of calls. These later developed into call centers, like the ones we know now: a large number of operators sitting in a single location handling customer inquiries.

Early 1980s: Interactive Voice Response was invented, allowing companies to make automated phone trees that can navigate a customer to a representative through verbal commands like “yes,” “no,” or “representative.”

1980s: Database software started to be used to store customer information for service agents. It then evolved into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, which we still use in customer service and support today.

Help desk software is created. By the year 2000, these had evolved into the “service desk” concept that could help users with the integration of all of their business technology, though the term “help desk” is still applied.

Late 1980s: Quantum Link created On-Line Messages (OLM) for the Commodore 64, paving the way for instant messaging and later, live chat.

Early 1990s: People started spending more time on the internet, and it was good.

1992: Customer Service Week established as the first week in October by President George H. W. Bush, recognizing customer service as a career publically for the first time.

Mid-1990s: As the CRM grew in use, more companies began providing gifts for customer loyalty, such as cash back on credit cards, frequent-flyer miles and discounts for multiple purchases. These were the first loyalty programs.

1998: Jeremie Miller invented Jabber/XMPP, the open-source technology that most early live chat software is built on, and LivePerson, the first chat service was launched.

Late 1990s — early 2000s: Outsourcing customer service to offshore locations gains popularity as the dotcom bust occurs and companies overall look to cut costs.

Mid-2000s: The rise of the online help desk! Zendesk, Freshdesk, Zoho, Desk.com and other help desks launched within this short span of years.

2006: Twitter launched. Then, by 2011, 65 million tweets were being sent each day and companies began to find Twitter to be a good platform to conduct support. It made it easy for them to respond to customers quickly when they had issues (or compliments) and allowed them to have a sense of the person’s “social relevance” based on their number of followers.

2015: Facebook launched Messenger for Business, and set the pace for companies using messaging technology to contact customers on their mobile devices.

2016 and beyond: Since 2016, we’ve seen a rise in the growth of things like AI, automation, sentiment analysis, and mobile chat. We’ve also seen a shift from multi-channel support to omnichannel support. Meaning, instead of just having one or two channels (like email and phone) companies have shifted to their customers being able to move fluidly between channels. For example, someone can be chatting on their mobile device, and then reach out on their computer and the customer support agent will be able to see context from all prior conversations.


The benefit of these new allowances in flexibility, both from multichannel and omnichannel, is that it makes interactions with your team easier for your user, and also allows your team to have context around the conversation with the customer that they might not have had otherwise. So, rather than asking for information over again, for example, the customer support agent can see it right then and there.

Making up multichannel and omnichannel support are all of the individual channels that we will be discussing in this user guide: live chat, email, phone, and social media. Each has their individual benefits and strengths, as well as places where they might not be the best fit. We’ll go through it section by section so that you can pick what fits best for your company’s needs.

2.

How to choose
the right channel
for your business

While things like omnichannel and multi-channel are useful for some companies, its best to evaluate channels one by one rather than assuming that they’ll all work for your company or your customers’ needs. Selecting the right channel or channels to use doesn’t have to be rocket science, luckily, and actually comes down to a few traits of your customers and some of the traits of your team and people on it.

How to choose the right channel for your business

Here are a few things to consider when deciding the right channel for your business.

Understanding your customer demographics and communication preferences

According to a study by MarketingDive: 25-year-olds and under primarily chose social media as their preferred means of communication for customer service, while those over 55 opted for telephone contact. The people somewhere in-between (25-34-year-olds) preferred email the most, followed by mobile apps. There’s a stark line in which platforms are most used and preferred by certain demographics. Do you know what demographic group makes up the majority of your userbase? If not, that may be an interesting and useful piece of information to have as you go into selecting which channels you’d like to offer for support. After all, if you decide that chat and email are your best bets, but a majority of your users are over the age of 55, it’s likely that you may run into some trouble with people wanting a type of service that you don’t provide.

While it’s true that it’s not necessarily going to be a deal breaker if you don’t offer the type of support that they are keen on, it could eventually cost you some valuable revenue due to loyalty or upselling. According to Internet Retailer, online sales are expected to reach $523 billion in the next five years, up 56 percent from $335 billion in 2015. That’s a huge opportunity for earning that you are missing out on by not offering the type of support that your customer likes best. So, research which demographics make up your user base, and try to make decisions based loosely around what they prefer and enjoy.

Understanding what kind of support you are providing

Some products are more technical than others. For example, if you are selling a stuffed animal with bendable arms, the type of inquiries you’ll receive in support are different from if you are selling a much more technical product, like a service that integrates into someone’s site via code. The questions for the bear may be around billing, customization, and may lend themselves to quick, fairly straightforward interactions. The inquiries that come through for the second product, may be fairly technical and require a bit more deep-diving into what the true nature of the issue may be.

Different channels lend themselves to different types of troubleshooting, so depending on the type of questions you run into on a day-to-day basis, you may want to consider one over the other. For example, email can be good to asynchronous communication when a question requires a lot of deep-diving or troubleshooting on a technical side. Chat can be excellent for quick transactional back and forths, such as ones frequently used in a retail setting. The phone is a difficult medium but is useful for putting customers at ease if they are anxious or nervous about something within your product. 70% of issue resolutions occur through voice; hearing a person’s voice can better build trust for some customers than reading an email.

Understanding where you want to go, especially with your product and support strategy, can serve to give you a crystal ball into your future of which platforms you want to — and should — use to best support your customers.

Understanding the bandwidth of your team

Different support channels, depending on how and when you use them, require more or less bandwidth. For example, phone support requires a high amount of focus and can’t be multitasked, whereas a customer support person can have multiple chats or emails open at once and not run into any trouble. If you have a small team and desperately want to offer phone support, you might consider what capacity you choose to do so in — maybe, for example, you choose to only offer it for enterprise customers, or for people who specifically pay for a phone call.

While offering certain channels can be very attractive to different types of customers, it will be significantly less attractive if your team can’t keep up with it and your wait times persistently go up. In terms of scalability, the functional channels, from most to least scalable, are email, chat, social media, phone, video chat/in-person support. Depending on the size of your team and the number of conversations that you have coming through, one or two of those in tandem may work better than the others. Try to preserve your first response time over any other metric or decision that you make for your team.

3.

Live Chat Support

Live chat support is quickly growing to be one of the most popular methods of both providing and receiving support. 63% of customers say that they are willing to come back to a website where they received support via live chat software, and an immense proportion of customers — 90%! — deem live chat helpful. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that in their support offering?

Live Chat Support

Here are a few more compelling metrics about live chat:

  • The demand for live chat tools as a support channel is expected to grow 87% in the next year. With more and more businesses implementing live chat on their website, customers expect to see a live chat feature as a default.
  • According to Blue Soda Promo, 60% of their team’s chats result in a sale. Other research by Ez Texting showed that having a live chat widget on the signup page helped increase their signups by 31%.
  • According to a CallCentreHelper survey, the majority of agents (70%) can handle 2-3 conversations simultaneously, and 22% of support agents can handle 4-5 conversations at a time.
  • Millennials prefer live chat to other support channels. 58% of millennials would rather text a company than make a call, which makes live chat one of the best options for their needs and preferences.
  • More than 30% of customers expect to see a live chat feature on a website, and for mobile visitors, the number goes up even higher to 62%. But only 9% of websites actually use live chat tools, according to SuperOffice’s research.
  • If a customer chats with your sales or support teams before making a purchase, their average order value goes up by 10%. And generally, shoppers who use live chat are worth 4.5 times more than those who do not.

Pros & Cons

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Chat support is cheaper than phone support. Over the phone, an agent can only talk with one customer at a time, but if they are chatting online, they can handle several conversations simultaneously without affecting the level of service or customer experience.


According to the research, when customers contact companies by email, the majority of them expect a reply within 24 hours or less. Conversely, the optimal response time for online live chat interactions is less than a minute, and some customers may even leave your website if they have to wait for a reply for more than 2 minutes.

+
Many customers don’t even want to take the time to make a call, they’d rather have things be instantaneous. Luckily, modern technology and live chat allow customers to get support anywhere, even in a crowded subway.


Sometimes AI is not perfect. While there are definitely some chat-bots that are outstanding and can answer basic questions or make it easier for your customers, that’s not all of them.

+
If you don’t have enough time or team members to provide live chat support to all your customers, you can choose to only offer it to certain types of customers or only on certain pages. For example, you could make chat available only to your VIP customers, or only place the chat button on pages where a fast response would make a difference (like cart or checkout pages, or your top exit pages).


Automatic chat invitations are annoying if misused, but can make a huge difference to your conversion rate if used correctly.

+
Live chat can be a great addition to your knowledge base or to the help section of your site. Add a chat button to those pages and let your customers contact you if they didn’t find the answer to their question or if they are having trouble understanding the article.


Live chat tools need to integrate into support inboxes to have any real context for your support team members to use. If you want to provide a great customer experience over live chat, your messenger tools need to have excellent integration offerings.

+
There’s no need to install anything or switch between tabs or apps to chat with your company’s support team. Your customers can get support on the spot and won’t have to install anything, even if you have to use screen sharing or co-browsing features.


Going by the statistics, you only have half a chance of having a good live chat interaction: 47% of customers haven’t had a positive live chat experience in the past month.

+
Agents will likely get asked the same questions pretty frequently. With live chat, they can use canned responses or saved replies and reply to more chats.


According to Kayako, scripted responses are obnoxious to your customers. 29% of consumers say they find scripted responses most frustrating, and 38% of businesses agree.


Now you have an understanding of some of the metrics around the channel, as well as some of the ways that it can be excellent or frustrating both for you and your customers! If you’ve decided to move forward with using chat as a channel, here are some tips on how to best make use of its benefits and work around its weaknesses.

Tips on live chat for companies

  • Customize your chat window. Chat services offer you the option of customizing what your chat windows look like as well as adding profile-type information about your agents. Update the look of your chat window so it matches the design of your site, and try adding a profile picture of your agent and information such as their name and title. We recommend using real photos of agents: this encourages  empathy between your potentially angry customers and your employees because they’ll see faces behind the brand.
  • Use targeted proactive chat. There are certain pages on which proactive chat can be incredibly effective, rather than obnoxious to your customers. Like we mentioned above, this will help you get more chat requests, and it leads to more sales. High traffic pages like pricing pages, new feature announcement pages, or help documentation can be great places to put a target proactive chat box that reaches out to customers before they need to go digging too deep to find what they’re looking for. This is a true driver for customer delight.
  • Use an optional pre-chat survey. One of the biggest problems with live chat is that it sometimes misses out on the contextual availability that other channels offer. Without integrations pulling information in from your other service (which we’ll talk about below), all that your agent has to go on is past chat history. Offering a small pre-chat survey for the customer to fill out can help gain additional context that otherwise you might miss out on. It also could save your agents from having to ask the customer for more details, or re-ask basic questions once they are actually chatting with your customer.
  • Implement chat transfer. No one should be expected to know everything. It’s possible (and probable) that there will come times when your agents might not be able to answer the question being asked of them. In that case, it becomes important and valuable for them to have the means to escalate or transfer their ticket to someone else on the team. Make sure that the tooling you implement has something like this so that one agent can easily pass a conversation to another if they have to. Chatra also allows several agents to chat with the same customer simultaneously, making it even easier to solve complicated questions without having to transfer the chat back and forth. This makes the experience better for both your customer and your support team members.
  • Integrate live chat with your help desk and CRM. In support, context can be one of the most important tools that an agent has at their disposal. Being able to better understand where in the customer journey someone is, or what they’ve already reached out to support about can save an agent a ton of time, and the customer tons of effort. Provide better context for your agents by integrating your helpdesk and CRM with your chat service. That way, instead of wondering and taking extra time to go back and dig or, even worse, asking the customer a question they’ve already been asked, the information is right at your team’s fingertips.

Now that we’ve covered some of the best practices as a company, let’s dive a little bit deeper into how agents can make the most of it with chat support.

Tips on live chat for live chat support agents

  • Introduce yourself and give a polite goodbye. When you start a conversation with a customer, just like you would if you were talking to them in real life, start it with a polite introduction. Saying something like “Hi there Rebecca! My name is Jane, and I’ll be helping you today.” can set the tone for a good conversation. Similarly, after you’ve resolved the customer’s issue, say goodbye to them, and let them know you’ll be there if they need anything else. Something along the lines of “Thanks for your time today, Rebecca. I’m glad we could resolve this, but let us know if you run into anything else.” is an excellent way to let the customer know that you genuinely care about their problems.
  • Use saved replies. Not every question is going to be unique. It’s probable that you will get some questions that are repeated somewhat frequently. In those cases, make use of saved replies — also known as canned responses — to make the most of your and the customer’s time. Saved replies can be a double-edged sword, though, by providing outdated or incorrect information. Before hitting the send button, make sure you’ve customized or modified the saved reply to the point that it makes sense to the specific customer you’re talking to.
  • Match your speech patterns with your customer. Do you speak the same way to your parents as you would to your best friend? Probably not. Everyone has slightly different ways of communicating, depending on which circle they are currently in. With customers, it should be no different. Mirror the way that the customer is engaging. For example, if they are using a lot of emoticons and emojis, you can do the same. If, instead, they are speaking tersely and without a lot of expressiveness, you can keep your communication sparse: use minimal exclamation points, and no gifs or emojis. This mirroring will help put the customer at ease.
  • Let the customer know if they’re going to have to wait. If you have to go and dig up an answer or ask a colleague about something for the customer, let them know. They won’t mind, as long as you tell them that you’ll be gone and set proper expectations. If you just disappear with no answer for several minutes while they wait for you expecting a response, they’re likely going to start to get frustrated. Telling them from the get-go defuses some of that potential anger and makes them feel like they are in the loop.
  • Provide customers with a transcript at the end. Many people like to write down information from support interactions for use later but aren’t as quick as they’d like to be and miss out on getting it down. Some tools (like Chatra) keep the conversation history forever, so a visitor can come back anytime and review previous messages, but some customers still prefer to have chat transcripts emailed to them. In Chatra you can automatically send chat transcripts to all customers when the conversation is over which saves both you and them a ton of time and energy. Alternatively, you can receive chat transcripts to your own email address, and offer to forward them to customers if they need it.
  • Send links when possible. Similar to the above point: if you send a person who is having trouble documentation via a link, they are able to keep that link and use it later when they run into the problem again. They could also potentially, if needed, send it to their friend or someone else trying to use your service. Links save you from typing far too much into a chat window and keeping your message from being digestible, and they give your customer resources to use later on.
  • Use chat transcripts to update your documentation. Chat transcripts are a gold mine for written content. Because your agent has to do so much quick, on-the-fly assistance, it can be a great place to find useful nuggets that can be put into existing documentation, or turned into new documentation as needed. Go through transcripts and see what is there that you can pull and put into your docs to make them even better and more useful for your customers.

Suggested Tools

We might be a little biased, but for suggested tools in this space, we recommend Chatra. Chatra has a few really awesome benefits that makes it a great fit for companies interested in the tips and tricks above:

  • An excellent free trial that lets you get started even without a credit card.
  • Live chat and offline messenger are both built into the product.
  • It keeps the conversation history forever both for you and your customers, so your customers can continue a conversation when they go to a different page or even close your website and return later.
  • Its group chats feature allows several agents to chat with the same customer simultaneously. Your customers will be impressed with the level of service!

Chatra is a great option for both smaller and larger businesses and our pricing and tooling keep it accessible for both, too.
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4.

Email support

Email support has been in the game longer than most of the other channels, outside of the phone, and has remained a main staple for providing support since its introduction in the ‘90s. Email is dynamic in that it can be used for solving quick one-off issues, or it can be used to delve deeper into a question or bug.

Email support

Many companies start with either phone or email as their main source of support since those are the two that have traditionally been used, and are assumed to be the most familiar to customers. This is starting to change with all of the research coming out about millennials preferring live chat and social media messaging over other platforms for support. Depending on the company and what product or service they’re selling, they may skip right over email and phone, and go straight to chat.

That being said, email does have a lot of value. Here are some great metrics for email support:

  • Forrester Research found that 41% of consumers expect an email response within six hours. Only 36% of retailers actually respond that quickly. 14% never respond at all.
  • STELLAService conducted a 2011 survey to identify the best email response times from the top 100 Internet e-tailers. Office Depot led the pack with an impressive average reply time of 48 minutes, but even the slowest was under 18 hours. It’s a best practice to try to hit under 24.
  • Pew Research discovered 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day.

For every amazing thing about a channel, there are usually at least a few things that aren’t so excellent, and email is no different.

Pros & Cons

+
Excellent for a first channel when opening up support at a small or just-starting company.


Fairly limited in terms of where you can offer it and how seamless you can make it. While you can provide an email address, you aren’t able to create the email and take the work out of the process, like you are with other platforms.

+
A great form of support for asynchronous communication — this is especially important for things like debugging or troubleshooting that can’t be done instantly, or close-to-instantly.


Not great for if you need to give someone a step-by-step walkthrough as they are doing something.

+
Simple and straightforward to set up and maintain.


Less feature-full in terms of tracking information, reporting, and other “fancier” features, like screen sharing, that other support channels offer.

+
Useful for tools that allow for scaling: saved replies, autoresponders, automated SLA workflows, and more can help level up your team without needing more people.


Limited in functionality to the point where, if this is your sole point of contact and you have an outage, it may be difficult to respond to everyone who has an issue at once.

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Doesn’t require any additional installation on the customer’s side, and allows your employees to work from wherever they are.


The asynchronicity makes it difficult to build deep or meaningful relationships with customers, so it might not be the best if you have a customer success or sales team that needs to do that. There’s no real-time method of communication.

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Email makes it easy to follow-up on past or outdated conversations.


Email can mean your customers wait a little bit longer than they might have normally so that they can get a proper response.


So, now that you know the pros and cons of using email support versus leaving it behind, let’s talk about how you can knock every message you write out of the park.

Tips on email for companies

  • Send an autoreply to let them know you’ve got their email. Even if you don’t respond to a customer right away, it’s important to let them know that you’ve received their message and will get back to them eventually. Without an autoresponder to notify them of this, your customer might be left wondering if their email made it into your queue or just fell into an internet black hole. You can also use an autoresponder to let customers know of your office hours or any holidays that your team may be enjoying, potentially leading to a delay in response time. Being open and upfront about these things is usually the best policy and allows you to build trust with your customers.
  • Be honest. If a customer emails in about something, be transparent and give them a straightforward answer. For example: a feature request that you know you’re never going to make. While it can be painful to have hard conversations where you tell people “no,” it’s a better experience for them to know ahead of time, rather than trying to create a workaround for something that may never happen. You also avoid a large burden for your support team by bypassing a customer that was probably not the best fit for your product.
  • Use saved replies, and make sure they’re up to date. Saved replies can be lifesavers when it comes to scaling up your support team. Create them for every situation that you see somewhat frequently, and make sure that you have a clean way of communicating when a new one is created to all of your support team. Great examples of uses for saved replies are feature request replies, if you have a large outage, or if there’s a new feature out and lots of people are asking questions about it. If your team also uses similar troubleshooting steps when talking to customers, such as clearing out your browser cache, that’s another excellent example of a saved reply that could save time and energy. Lastly, once you’ve created saved replies, make sure there’s a plan for updating them when things change. Nothing grinds a customer’s gears more than getting the wrong information from a customer support person.
  • Pay attention to your metrics. Often, companies will look at face-level metrics and not dig in too deeply to what’s happening with their customer support team. Rather than focusing solely on response time or CSAT, try to look at two metrics together, or metrics that go a little bit deeper. For example, you could look and see how lowering your first response time boosts your CSAT rating, or you could look at your first contact resolution ratio (how often you solve the customer’s issues on the first try) and see how you might work to lower it. Looking at these more in-depth metrics will give you valuable insight into your customer behavior.
  • Let your agents personalize their emails. Lots of companies come up with a tone and style guide — having that kind of alignment is amazing! But, it’s valuable to let your team know that they are entitled to have their own personality when writing to your customers. No customer — except for maybe occasionally an enterprise customer — wants to talk to a scripted robot. By empowering your team members to have their own personality with customers, you allow them to cultivate relationships with every email they write. Of course, people should still respect the tone that a customer uses, and tone themselves down if they sense that a customer might get frustrated, or is easily discouraged. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later.
  • Make a defined “support style” and align it with your brand. So many different brands have different styles of support. For example, Buffer’s is incredibly cheerful and optimistic. Shinesty is naughty and a little bit flirtatious. For each different company, a different brand “tone” is going to be better. So, once you’ve made brand guidelines for your company, your support style should follow. Communicate with your support team members when your marketing team has created brand guidelines, and give them the empowerment to go about defining what the support style is for themselves, as long as it aligns with the brand as a whole.

Tips on email for support agents

  • Use proper formatting that will make your email easier to read. Most email tools nowadays will offer you the full run of formatting. With any updated tool, you should be able to do things like bold, italicize and underline, but you should also be able to make ordered and unordered lists, create tables, and insert various types of images and functions into your emails. Use these to your advantage: use tons of bullets points or ordered lists to depict steps in a process that you need a customer to take. Use bold or italic lettering to truly emphasize things that you need your customer to focus on. Using these tools will help your customer get the picture the first time they talk to you, which is a win for both parties!
  • Greet them and thank them. With every email, greet your customers kindly, and thank them for reaching out. Then, at the end of the email, invite them to message back, and bid them a fond farewell. For your introduction, for example, you might say “Hey there! Thanks so much for emailing about this — that’s a great question.” and for your close, you could say “I hope that helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.” Customizing this for your own tone is the best practice, so use something that sounds natural to you. Some other greetings that we’ve used are “Ahoy,” “Hi!” and “Hello.” They all work equally well as long as they match the rest of the tone of the email.
  • Use snippets for quicker responses. Snippets are like a slightly smaller version of saved replies, and they are personal to you. Create snippets for things that you say all the time TextExpander
  • Mirror their behavior. In support, just like if you’re dancing, you try to follow your partner’s lead. If your customer emails in and they seem like they are a bit more somber or maybe even frustrated, drop your own tone down to slightly mirror their own. If you go into the interaction being boisterous and silly, it might have the potential to make them even more frustrated, and that’s no good! Try to match the behavior and tone of whoever is talking to you. If the customer is using exclamation points all over the place and sending GIFs, go ahead and be reciprocal, but if they’re reaching out and saying they need a refund because their business has closed, it may not be the time for that great GIF you’ve been saving.

Suggested Tools

Email is a fairly straightforward channel, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be feature bereft. The best email tools have a ton of robust features that make their product useful both for the individual agents using it, and the company trying to gain customer insights out of it.

One such product is Help Scout. Help Scout has been serving the market of SMBs and startups for years, and does an excellent job of both improving on their core product, and adding new features (like chat!) to their product lineup. They have a series of robust integrations that can be used to build context around a conversation, and their product feels like you’re using Gmail or another personal email client. It’s easy for the agents to use and comforting for the people receiving messages from them. If you’re keen to learn more about the features of Help Scout, you can do so here.

A second option for this is GrooveHQ. This is a straightforward and simple helpdesk with few bells and whistles. It allows customer support representatives to focus on what matters most: the customer. It looks just like a Gmail inbox, and is strictly used for email support. While there are additional integrations that allow the feature set to expand, Groove does not offer chat or other channel support functionality. You can read more about Groove here.

Finally, Front is an excellent option for teams that use multiple channels and apps for support and want to bring them all into one space. It creates a dashboard where a support team member can see all of your different channels and what’s coming through on them, in order to maximize queue management. It’s excellent, too, for companies that have multiple teams working in the inbox such as sales, success or engineering. If you’re interested in learning more about Front, you can do so here.

5.

Phone support

Phone support is the oldest support channel available. If you look back up to our history of support above, it predates any of the others fairly significantly. There has to be something to this channel that might otherwise seem outdated that makes it valuable, right?

Phone support

Phone support has plenty of pros and cons to go through, but before we get there, here are some interesting stats and metrics about phone support that might be useful for you to know:

  • According to Northridge Group, a majority of consumers report finding a solution to their issue on the first try over the phone more frequently.
  • They also uncovered that when it comes to sensitive data such as billing information, customers prefer putting their trust in a human agent over the phone rather than leaving a written trace.
  • Support call length has increased 16% in seven years, despite improvements in call center technology which expedite calls as a whole.
  • 48% of all support interactions take place over the phone and 80% of consumers choose it as their preferred way of interacting with customer service reps.
  • It also results in super high customer satisfaction, coming in with the second highest CSAT score at 88%, just slightly edged out by live chat at 92% in a recent Zendesk benchmark study.

Beyond those metrics, here’s a list of the pros and cons of offering phone support:

Pros & Cons

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Promotes trust with your customers. People love being able to see a phone number on a website, because it makes them feel like there is a real person there that they are able to get in touch with. Chat and email can feel very “fake” or distant to people, whereas phone, to some demographics, feels very tangible.


Hard to scale. Because phone support requires so much attention and effort from the agents providing it, it can be difficult to scale. Instead of chat or email where you can implement tools and workarounds that scale as you grow, with phone support you just have to hire more people. That can get pretty expensive.

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Creates higher brand value. Phone support can provide a human connection in an otherwise sometimes entirely online experience. If your competitors don’t provide support via phone, it can help increase the value of your brand as it’s perceived as an added product and service that you provide. Also, phone support is the fastest channel for solving customer complaints as you can get the issue resolved within the same conversation.


Phone trees can be a bummer to navigate, and customers can get stuck lost in them or, worse yet, have to call back to re-navigate. If you don’t have a simple, straightforward phone tree it can be an even worst experience than someone giving poor service via email. It’s worse still because it’s not even the fault of any person on the team, and likely the individual that ends up answering the support inquiry call will get the brunt of all of that customer’s frustration.

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Better evolution of your brand. Because you’re closer to your customers, instead of simply relying on analytics like bounce rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate, you can talk directly to customers about their thoughts and feelings. You can also solicit feedback about your products to help improve. This not only helps your company and team evolve quicker, but it also makes customers feel valued because you care about what they think and feel.


Phones are disruptive to work. Anyone who has a phone has experienced being deep in something only to be drawn out of it by the buzz or ring of a phone or text. For phone support agents, this is ten times worse, as the volume of calls they receive are so much so that they seldom get the option of working on something outside of their queue, especially not with boxed out time.

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Phone support is perceived as faster by customers because they have an immediate response from a person. Even if, ultimately, the time it takes the support agent to answer the question is a little bit longer, the fact that they answered the phone immediately (or very quickly) makes all the difference to most customers.


Slower and more consuming for employees. Unlike email or chat, it is very difficult to multitask when on the phone. For example, if a customer says something over the phone, and an agent doesn’t catch it, they have to ask again. Via email or chat, the agent can just reread the transcript to see if is something is missing. These kinds of small things mean that any agent answering support calls need to always be “switched on” or they might miss a detail that could potentially frustrate a customer.

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The phone is great for one-on-one communication. When trying to clarify something with a customer directly, the phone can be an excellent way to gain a better understanding of what they’re running into trouble with.


It is hard to keep everyone in the loop at once on the phone, though. While you can do group calls or conference calls, it’s better to keep context and track of who is saying what in written format. Talking on the phone does not lend itself to multiple people being needed to solve an issue.


Now that you have the lay of the land with what you can look forward to and what you can dread when it comes to phone support, we’ve put together a few tricks of the trade to make it easy as you start your new journey.

Tips on phone support for the company

  • Offer a callback option. If you are offering phone support to a large group of users, you might run into trouble when it comes to scaling. Phone, while the most thorough and easy for customers, can take a lot of energy and effort for employees. Waiting in a phone queue with awful hold music is a bummer for customers — in fact, it’s a bummer even with good hold music. Invest in a system that allows you to give them an automated callback when the next representative is available. This saves them pain and strife in waiting for an available rep and automatically queues up the oldest calls for reps as needed.
  • Keep your phone navigation system simple. When people have to hang-up and call back again because they missed a step in your phone tree navigation, it is endlessly frustrating. Keep your phone navigation system simple and straightforward, and give customers an easy out to go back a step if they need to. You can also have separate lines for your sales, success, and support teams if you offer phone support for all of them to keep customers from needing to navigate one step deeper into a numerical system.
  • Use a phone answering service if you can’t be there all the time. Customers will call at any time of day that works for them, even if you have business hours listed next to your phone number. If you would like to avoid getting a number of voicemails every morning, invest in an after-hours answering service to help cover you when your team isn’t around. Speaking with an actual human is a much better experience than getting shifted into a voicemail that you aren’t even sure anyone is going to listen to.

Tips on phone support for the representative

  • Stand up while calling. Standing up and even walking around while talking on the phone with a customer can allow your voice to sound more energized and engaging. If you suffer from sometimes sounding bored, or getting sleepy while on the phone with customer after customer, standing up and moving around can help get your blood flowing and wake you up a bit more.
  • Smile while you call. This is a common saying where if you smile before you say something, it will sound more positive and uplifting. It’s true! Give it a try when you’re on the phone with a customer and see how different your voice and the things that you’re trying to convey sound. This can be anywhere in a call: at the very beginning, while you are trying to solve an issue, or when you are delivering news that might make the customer feel upset.
  • Save true warmth and enthusiasm until you hear the customer’s name. If you were just meeting a person, you wouldn’t be super excited about it until you actually knew a bit more about them, right? The same goes with talking on the phone with your customers. Instead of turning on the charm and excitement right off the bat, try to save the warmth and enthusiasm until after the customer has introduced themselves and you know a bit more about their situation. This will help it to feel genuine as well as actually be genuine — a plus for both sides!

Suggested Tools

While there are so many great phone services out there, Talkdesk is our favorite. It has a ton of robust features that are important and valuable to anyone trying to do support well. They offer:

  • Interactive voice response, which allows for recorded automated greetings.
  • Automatic caller screen, which gives the agent providing support additional context about the customer.
  • Two-way integrations, to add even more context and make for a better experience.
  • Call conferencing, which allows multiple people to hop on the line.
  • Call monitoring and whisper coaching, which allow managers to help coach and assist support representatives during the phone call in progress.
  • Call recording, to listen back and offer insights on how the call could have gone better.
  • Reporting and analytics to help better understand how your team is doing.

All of these features are so useful, whether your team’s been doing phone support for years or is just getting started.

6.

Social media support

The last and newest channel is social media support. Social media has come about over the past twenty years and taken the internet by storm. Starting with MySpace and blogging sites in the early 2000s, and continuing on to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram today, it feels like customers want to engage everywhere.

Social media support

And, hate to break it to you, but wherever they want to talk, your customer support representatives should be available. So, why social media and where do you go?

It’s possible that you don’t need to use social media at all if your audience isn’t asking for it. As you’ll see in some of the insightful metrics below, there are a few demographics that actually don’t want to use social media as a method for communication, and a few that want it to be the only channel that they have to use. So, the first step in determining where you should be offering support is knowing more about your users and where they are spending time. After that, this list of metrics, and some pros and cons of social media support as a whole should help get you clear on what the best tactics for your business will be.

  • Between Q2 and Q3 of 2017, the number of social media users skyrocketed by 121 million.
  • Mature users aged 55-64 are more than twice as likely to interact with branded content than their younger social media consuming counterparts.
  • We spend a lifetime average of five years and three months on social media.
  • 80% of Instagram users follow at least one business profile, and 200 million of those users are consistently checking in to see what their favorite brands are up to.
  • You better be on your toes. 53 percent of Twitter users expect a response from a business in less than an hour. But, if they’re upset or have a problem, that number rises to 72 percent.
  • 80% of Twitter users access the network from their smartphone.
  • Consumers that land on your site through Pinterest are 10 times more likely to complete a purchase than visitors that have come through other referrals.
  • They also spend more, with an average spend of $140-$180 compared to those coming from Facebook that spends an average of $60-$80.

So, depending on what you are looking to accomplish with your social media presence and providing support, there are a few different platforms that could be useful for you to invest in. Now that you have some of that knowledge under your belt, here are the pros and cons of social media that you should consider before jumping in:

Pros & Cons

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Social media offers much greater customer engagement. Facebook has over 2.2 billion users worldwide, for example. With such a huge reach you have the possibility of reaching immensely large audiences. For marketing, for example, if you post something that captures your audience’s imagination, it can be shared by anyone it resonates with, giving you a chance for it to go viral and increase its audience exponentially.


Additional resources may be needed to manage your online presence, especially if you have a particularly small or scrappy team. While the software tools and cost of entry may be inexpensive, the cost in terms of time is significant. To successfully employ social media both in marketing and support, you need to invest substantial amounts of time over a long period to see good results and customer feedback.

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It grants you greater access to international markets. If your support team is capable of supporting multiple languages or your product is offered in multiple countries, it can be useful for you to be able to reach all of your customers in one space. Social media allows for that!


Social media is immediate and needs daily monitoring. If you don’t actively manage your social media presence, especially if you’ve set precedence for providing social media support, your customers might grow angry.

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It offers a huge opportunity for customer feedback. Because social media is a 24/7 communications channel, you will get instant feedback on your marketing campaigns, product releases, and any other new changes from your company. That means that you’ll know about bugs almost instantly, or be able to update and fine-tune your marketing posts in the moment. It can also provide you with an immediate and honest assessment of your products or services as well as the content you are putting out. For better or for worse.


Using social media causes you to run the risk of unwanted or inappropriate behavior on your social media profiles, including bullying and harassment. It can also lead to things like negative public criticism, information leaks or hacking.

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Social media is a huge opportunity to conduct market research about your customers directly. There are many simple, free or low-cost monitoring tools for social media that allow you to learn basic information about the market you are in. You can also gain intelligence on competitors, prospects, and clients, and get insights into your company, products, and services.


With social media, the rules are constantly changing. From the algorithm used by Facebook to pick which of your posts to display, to the length of tweets, to the user interface in LinkedIn, it feels like sands are always shifting underneath our feet. It can easily become a full-time job just to keep up with the latest trends and best practices. New social media platforms are launched daily and others die. You have to keep reviewing and revising your strategy on an on-going basis in order to continue providing the best support you can.

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You are afforded improved networking opportunities with customers and other businesses by using social media. You have a completely different kind of relationship with your prospects and customers on social media than in any other channel: it’s a two-way conversation that allows for a much deeper, quicker level of engagement. As a form of communication, it is about as close as you can get to holding a conversation with someone while not being in the same room as them.


While other forms of support allow you to tightly control the message and its distribution, making sure that only that message is communicated and nothing else, social media pushes everything out of your hands. Once you release your message you also relinquish control as it is shared, commented upon and added to. Similarly, with peer to peer social networking, customers, prospects and anyone else that wants to could be talking to each other about your product, service, brand or company and you wouldn’t even know.

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It’s low cost. You do not have to pay anything to offer support on social media. Both Twitter and Facebook, for example, have just started offering specific messaging for like Buffer, that allows you to manage all social media in one place.


It’s easy to mess up. Social media is more casual and more open. But, with the sheer volume of posts and constant conversation, it can be easy to take your eye off the ball and make public something you shouldn’t have or post something that is open to misinterpretation. On the flip side, its very nature of informality and openness, also means that it is much more forgiving.


With the pros and cons, as well as the list of metrics above, you’re probably about ready to get started using social media for support. We’ve collected a series of tips, both for you as the company, and for your employees, that will help you get started, or turn pro if you’re already using social media to help your customers.

Tips on social media support for the company

  • Pick the best platform for your business. While it can be tempting to just jump on board every single platform where you have customers, do your research and making sure your spending effort where it will be best rewarded. Social media is very time-consuming, because of the effort that it requires to respond quickly, so going with fewer rather than more will mean you have more effort available to provide excellent experiences for your customers.
  • Monitor social media mentions, and don’t forget to look for the less obvious ones. While many customers will directly mention your company or tag you in a post if they need help, others may be less direct. While monitoring mentions on social media, also make sure to look for variations of the spelling of your company name. That way you can be sure to address issues that may have gotten lost otherwise, especially if the person forgot to tag you directly mistakenly.
  • Consider setting up a dedicated channel for support. Many companies choose to have separate accounts for their support team from their marketing team, and it can be very useful. Not only does it keep your support responses from showing up on what is effectively an advertising machine, but it also keeps so many cooks out of the kitchen. When you have multiple support employees and marketing team members working in one or two social media channels, it can get to be a lot if there is something like a launch or an outage. Consider separating the two out, if you get a lot of traction.
  • Build best practices about responding. As a company, you should have policies for how you respond to specific types of tickets. For example, if a customer is talking poorly about another company, in favor of yours, should you like the tweet or just ignore it? If you are being trolled, do you respond, or leave it alone? These are important things to draw lines on early on, as they set the tone and the public face of your company over social media.
  • Choose the right hashtags. Try to find hashtags that work for your brand and for your support, if you’re trying to draw attention to it. Similarly, don’t just spam all of your hashtags on every single post — it doesn’t make sense and may lose your audience members.

Tips on social media support for the support representative

  • Speed matters. Pay attention to how quickly you are writing back. If you don’t already have macros or snippets set up for things that you say frequently, consider doing so. Giving yourself the option to use a quick canned reply can shave a few seconds off of your response time as you power through the queue.
  • Use the right tone of voice. Just like in email, it’s important to be able to read a customer and respond to them in a way that makes sense for them. For example, if a customer is very serious and angry, you should likely be using very toned down language. If a customer is funny or jokingly flirtatious, you can respond in a way that is reciprocal without being inappropriate. As long as what you’re saying falls in line with your brand guidelines, you’re good to go!
  • Take things offline when necessary. Some issues are not the best to solve publically via social media, or even via social media direct message. Some examples of these are issues where you might need personal information from a customer, or credentials to log in to a specific site for troubleshooting. Other issues that might be better solved in another channel (either email or over the phone), may be advanced troubleshooting problems that need to be escalated to another team or team member. If it becomes evident that you’ve got a case like that, direct them to email into your team (or call, if that’s where you’re going), and then keep an eye out for their message so that it doesn’t go missing. The worst thing that you could possibly do would be to tell them to reach out elsewhere, and then make them wait to get a response.
  • Use your knowledge base to make things easy. Explaining things over social media, especially if there is a character limit, can be super hard. Luckily, you’ve probably got an amazing knowledge base that you can pull links from and send to customers to make explaining easy. Use your knowledge base liberally when providing social media support. Also, pay attention to documentation that you wish you had so that you can go back and create it later. Chances are if you want it, your customers want it too.
  • Choose how you react. Using the guidelines provided by your company, choose carefully how you react. Know ahead of time whether you would like, respond to, or ignore something. If you aren’t clear on that or don’t think that your team has a lot of clarity, it might be time to have a conversation and get it defined. Without alignment, you run the risk of doing something off-brand in a heightened social situation that could easily be shared or taken out of context.

Suggested Tools

Social media can be one of the most versatile ways to provide support. There are so many different channels, and the audience members on each have different expectations and preferences. One tool that we recommend that makes it easy to monitor and respond to all social media under one roof is Buffer. But, along with Buffer, here is a full list that they provide of other tools that might be useful:

They’ve also created an amazing spreadsheet that allows you to compare information like:

  • How much do the plans cost?
  • Does it have a free plan, free trial, or free demo?
  • Is it a standalone monitoring tool or is it part of a social media management tool?
  • What platforms are supported?
  • What are the main monitoring features?
  • Can I reply directly through the tool?

Using this, you should be able to narrow down not only what you should be providing for social media channels, but also where you can best monitor it and find the tools that will be beneficial for your team.

7.

Conclusion

Support as a whole is hard, even when you are just using one channel. When you start to debate whether you should use multiple channels and jump into the vast amount of information that is the internet, it can feel overwhelming. It might even be tempting to just do all of them to avoid having to make the choice or frustrate some of your customers. Hopefully, this user guide has enabled you to find a bit more direction and understanding of what will be best for you and your customers.

Remember: social media is best for younger demographics, phone support is better for older demographics, email is across the board accepted as a form of support, and chat support is a quick up-and-comer as a favorite amongst the youth. Track your customers — both who they are and where they are spending their time — and you’ll have a good sense of where to go.

Good luck!