Spiked Articles

Wired World

Using Your Tool Properly: The Best of the Newest Customer Service Options

By Kristin Gambill and Christy Crews

Originally Posted

As the saying goes, it's not what you've got that counts, it's how you use it. This goes for charm -- and charms -- but not for your business's customer service. Your business may require that you have the biggest and baddest of robust, cutting-edge customer service tools, but if you've got it, you definitely need to know how to use it. Chat Chat is rising in popularity as a way to service customers. Customers like it, because it's a convenient way to talk to a "real person" without having to pick up the phone, and many times it's easier to reach a representative through chat than by phone. Companies like it, because it cuts down on (800) bills and reps can service more than one customer at a time. Companies like Earthlink, E-Bay, and J. Jill use chat very effectively. The normal drill is that the chat link can be reached within two to three clicks from the home page, and, at the chat contact link, the customer is asked to provide some basic information that will identify their record to the representative. At this point, the best services provide a "minutes to service" or "number in line" counter, so you have some inkling of when you'll be able to chat. Beyond that, it's just like an AOL or Yahoo chat, except without your homies. A couple of pitfalls with customer service by chat:

  • Customers may feel abandoned if you don't provide a "service counter" or if there is too much of a pause between answers during the chat.

  • Be sure chat reps are as well trained as phone reps. Bar Babe Christy was recently frustrated during a chat with Road Runner broadband service. She received a set of answers from the chat rep that didn't work, and answers from a phone rep that did. After this happened on two separate occasions, she felt that, in order to get the real scoop on her problems, she had to call instead of chat, because the chat reps didn't seem to be as well-trained.

  • Let's face it: It is more difficult to communicate effectively in writing than orally. A hurried response may be unclear, and it often is easier to pick up on tone or nuance indicating lack of understanding in an oral conversation than in a written one. Of course, if the response is good, having it in print can help with later problem-solving or troubleshooting.


Auto-responders have the qualities we value most highly in on-line tools (and men): They're cheap, easy, and flexible. Auto-responder tools are available at some level on the simplest of email clients, and have such a wide variety of uses they are generally a favorite of your Babes. From simple "out of the office" use on a personal basis, to account inquiry responses effectively used at American Airlines and H&R Block, to complex functions like e-ticket generation as used at Orbitz, auto-responders are a great way to instantly respond to your customers and other Web site visitors 24/7. However, like all tools, they only work well when used properly. Avoid the following auto-responder mistakes like they were STDs.

  • Inappropriate message. Any message set to respond to a generic contact address should be generic as well. Telling the customer anything other than that his email was received and will be answered by a specific time will probably end in the customer being confused by the response to his question.

  • Incorrect information. If your auto-responder says that someone will respond to your client's inquiry within one business day, be sure you're equipped to do so. Bottom line, the client doesn't care about your problems, only about the service he receives. Make sure your presentation to him is seamless, or the relationship will start to unravel.

  • Unmanaged messages. There's nothing more irritating than receiving a sales response about last week's special, or being given an out-of-office message for a trip that starts next Monday. Make sure you are on top of the messages your clients are getting; review them weekly to assure that the information you're putting out is accurate and timely. After all, being on top when you're putting out is always better, isn't it?

Cyber People

Cyber people are one of the newest, coolest toys the Web has produced in the customer service arena. They come in many different forms for different purposes, but their goal to "humanize on-line customer service," according to NativeMinds, Inc., a provider of virtual customer service reps. Some great places to find cyberfolk are:

  • Dove.com. Katie, who appears front and center on the home page, is cute, has a lot of expressions, and is helpful about skin cleaning issues. She gives answers to your questions, as well as automatically taking you to the place in the Dove site that she thinks would be the most helpful. She even has pretty accurate responses to off-subject inquiries, though she told us that she liked threesomes, which, given her prim and proper answers to everything else, is probably false.

  • Sprint.com. Sprint's Clare works similar to Katie on Dove's site. Well, except that she’s not nearly as animated or cute and reminds us of Betty Crocker with a facelift and updated hairdo. We were impressed that Sprint named her "Clare" to go with their "clear wireless network." Pretty nifty tie-in.

  • Lane Bryant.com. Lane Bryant provides a "create your own model" feature. You create your own virtual clothes model by choosing the hair color, facial features, and body shape that best matches your own. Then, you can "try" clothes on to see how different styles look. Very cool! Just like paper dolls for the Internet user. And, it helps to clear up some of the "Will these fit me?" mystery for the nervous catalog/Internet clothes shopper. Sorry, guys, ladies only. Unless, of course, you're the voyeur type that likes to peek into ladies' dressing rooms.

According to Forrester Research Inc., more than 90 percent of satisfied consumers say they'll visit a site again, and 87 percent will recommend it to others. So, get the right tools, use them wisely, and watch your bottom line grow!

Join The Discussion

We will never post your email address publicly; it's used solely as part of our verification process to keep the spammers under control. After submitting your comment or question, you'll receive an email confirmation message with a link back to CornerBarPR.com® that you'll need to click before your post appears for others to see. By submitting this post you agree to the CornerBarPR.com Terms Of Service.