Providing excellent customer service is crucial for any business, whether that service is provided across the counter in a local brick-and-mortar store or over the Internet. Online customers can be impatient, and dealing with customer complaints over the Internet can be especially challenging. In most cases, your tone of voice and body language can’t be used to communicate online, so it’s even more important to choose your words carefully. When responding to customer complaints via e-mail, chat rooms, or other online venues, keep these four tips in mind:
- Be honest. Today’s customers are both savvy and skeptical. For better or for worse, online anonymity makes it easier for them to dispense with social graces that would temper otherwise polite behavior. So don’t try to bamboozle them. Be straightforward and transparent. If your company made a mistake, say so. If you don’t know the answer to customers’ questions, tell them you’ll research the issue and get back to them.
- Ask questions. A stock response to a specific question is sure to irritate. It’s like putting customers on hold for half an hour with canned recordings repeatedly telling them that “your call is important to us.” So gain a comprehensive understanding of their issue before responding. Identify the basic problem, give them an opportunity to vent their feelings, and evaluate the issue to determine how best to help. That doesn’t mean you need to agree with their complaint, but showing that you’re actively listening — whether by e-mail or in person — can defuse emotions and help you get to the root of the problem.
- Be polite. It’s easy for e-mail responses to be misinterpreted, so take care with your words. In some cases, you may want to ask a co-worker to review your response before it’s sent. Reread e-mails to make sure the message won’t be perceived as rude. Use the person’s name and let him or her know that you’re personally handling the problem. If possible, end conversations on a positive note.
- Follow through. Deliver what you promise. If the item was defective, make it right. If the customer wants a discount and it fits within your policy to provide it, don’t hesitate. Whether you’re dealing with customers online or in person, go the extra mile.
Make sure your good customer service standards translate to online situations as well.