This is a bit old - you may or may not notice the date on this post but it's over a year old. That doesn't mean it's not useful but we all know how fast things chance on the web so there's a chance that techniques and technologies described here could be a little dated.

The web has made customer service so easy – stop messing it up

One of the great things about the web is the ease of communication, the ease of access it allows people to resources. Not just piles of data on Wikipedia but access to people and companies.
It has made customer service incredibly easy to do and yet so many organisations still do it badly. Some will complain that they are limited by budgetary constraints but customer service on the web is not just easy, it’s cheap.
I regularly take to twitter with my customer service issues and questions and its great when you get some dialogue and a question answered. It makes a huge difference to your perception of a brand and how much does it cost to set up a twitter account? Nothing. Ok admittedly you have to get someone to manage it but the setup cost is nothing.

But good customer service doesn’t start and end with twitter, so here are my major online customer service gripes and I’ll start with twitter.

Not replying to messages
Yep I’ll start with twitter but this is applicable to any communication format. If I contact you I’d like a reply, an auto responder is ok but ideally follow it up with a reply from a person. I love hosting with media temple because I know I can tweet them and they’ll get back to me quickly, it’s a great bonus that really makes me want to stick with their service.

Copy and paste
If you have gotten around to getting a real person to reply to me please don’t just put in a copy and paste response. The amount of email support replies I get where a standard response is posted, often one that doesn’t apply to the question I’ve sent in the first place. Yes it’s quicker and easier and a stock response makes sense sometimes but make sure you’ve read what I’ve written first, check if the stock reply is applicable.

Not doing what you say
I won’t name the company but I had an issue with an app, it was outside telephone support hours and I saw they had an online chat support system advertised on their website which apparently was manned from 8:30 in the morning. By 9:30 when normal support started still no sign of anyone on there, not particularly great. A few weeks later I had another issue, again outside normal support but within the chat support window and lo and behold nobody around on the online chat.
It wouldn’t have bothered me to not get support outside of the hours advertised, it was a weekend after all, but if you’re offering and promoting a service then make sure it’s available when you say it will be. In fact this applies to just about everything online!

The FAQ maze
FAQs are great for what they say on the tin, frequently asked questions. But how many of us have gotten lost going in circles on FAQ pages trying to find the answer to the question we have? A lot I’d imagine. FAQs should be a short concise set of questions and answers.

Outdated information
Linking in with this is making sure information is up to date. If you find a better way to fix something or find something isn’t as the FAQ says then you should probably update it.

The hidden contact information
The other part of the FAQ maze, jumping through hoops to just send an email. I understand the logic here, many users are too lazy to read FAQs properly and companies don’t want to waste time answering questions that already are answered in FAQs and existing documentation. So by forcing people through the FAQ pages or making it harder to contact then people will actually look in more detail for the answer to their problems in the documentation. But hiding contact details at the end of a string of FAQs or pre qualifying loops is just damn irritating, especially when you genuinely can’t find the answer in there. If I want to call you let me, just let me see a phone number. If I want to email you then please just give me an email address. Don’t make me pre fill in lots of little questions only allowing me to get in touch via a contact form with a set range of topics. All that form will result in is me sending a message by whichever subject or topic I can starting the message with “this isn’t the right topic but..”

I’m amazed at how some companies still do customer service online, not realising how much value it adds being able to interact with a company that is open and easy to contact with their customer service. It’s not expensive, it’s not that difficult either, it can be time consuming I guess but good support buys a lot of good will with consumers that one day you may need.