Does your company frequently interact with your customers? If so, you may find it daunting to handle every customer interaction. Some people prefer live chat, while others like email, and still others would rather call you.

No matter what system you choose, your customer service will make or break your company’s reputation. According to a survey by American Express, a customer who’s happy with your business will talk about it to nine friends – which is like getting nine referrals.

On the other hand, an unhappy customer will discuss his experience with sixteen friends. That’s sixteen people who are less likely to try your product.

There are four main types of customer service: live answering, interactive voice response representatives, live chat, and email. Picking the one that’s right for you, or using them in tandem, means that you offer better, more consistent customer service.

  1. Live Answering Services

An answering service is a company that specializes in handling live phone calls. Say Customer A orders a dress from your clothing company, but the one she gets is ripped. She prefers calling to get the help she needs, so she calls the number on your website.

If you don’t have an answering service, you may not have the resources to field Customer A’s call in time. She gets frustrated and writes a negative review about you online.

An answering service would have picked up her call, recorded her problem, and maybe even sent her a new dress, depending on the answering service’s complexity.

If you’re in the market for an answering service or virtual receptionist, choose carefully. I conducted a survey that asked customers what they wanted from phone interactions. Customers said that they prioritized these characteristics:

  • Friendliness
  • Clarity of speech
  • Quick service
  • A decisive outcome

Most answering services give you a trial period so that you can assess whether they’re a good fit for your business. Look for one that will allow you to try before you buy.

  1. Interactive Voice Response Representative

An interactive voice response representative, or IVR representative, is a form of artificial intelligence that can direct callers to the information they want. IVR features voice recognition, which means that customers can describe their issue.

If a customer calls in with questions about a bill, the IVR might say, “Tell me a few words about your problem.” The customer says, “I want to pay my bill online, but I keep getting an error message.”

The IVR might respond by saying, “If you would like to pay your bill over the phone, press one.” Then the system directs the customer to a live representative who can take the customer’s payment information.

The IVR saves customer service reps valuable time by identifying the issue and assessing call priority level. It works well alongside an answering service or in-house customer support team.

  1. Live Chat Support

Have you ever opened a website and seen a chat window pop up with a message like, “Hi! My name is Mike. Let me know if you have any trouble picking out the product that’s right for you”? If so, you’ve seen customer support chat in action.

Chat messaging systems allow web users instantaneous access to customer service. Phones aren’t necessary, so customers who would prefer not to make calls like this option. Overall, live chat is the most popular customer support method: 73% of live chat customers report satisfaction, compared to 61% for email and 44% for phone, according to eDigital.

If you conduct most of your business through an online storefront, live chat is the perfect tool for converting leads. Potential buyers ask questions, receive answers, and make purchases based on your reps’ information.

You can add live chat to your online store by downloading plugins, such as Zendesk Chat, Pure Chat, and LiveChat.

  1. Email Customer Service

Email support makes use of one of the most popular, reliable communication platforms: email. According to DMR, people send 269 billion emails every day. Using email customer support, customers can ask questions about your product while they’re setting up meetings, browsing newsletters, and coordinating projects.

The process of implementing email support is similar to chat support: find a plugin, or sign up for a plan from a company like Zendesk, which provides customer service software and automation.

As GrooveHQ points out, automation lets you sort through, prioritize, and delegate support issues so that you handle them faster and better. Automation doesn’t replace relationships with your customers; it just makes them easier.

Customers seem to think that way, too: email is one of the most popular ways for customers to contact support, according to research by the Northridge Group.

Multichannel Support Means Happier Customers

The more customer support solutions you have at your fingertips, the more prepared you are to handle any issue. Answering services, IVR, chat, and email are four tools that offer distinct benefits, but they work best in combination. The specific tools you use are up to you, your budget, and your business model.

Just remember to put your customers’ needs first. Think back to the American Express research: if you give customers a positive interaction, they’re more likely to recommend you to nine friends than to put you down to sixteen.

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