Providing better customer support is key to retaining customers and growing business. The challenge, for small business owners, is figuring out the right customer service channels and communication strategy.
Different organizations approach customer service management software in different ways. Generally, these approaches can be broken down into two main ways you might provide better customer support. By the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll be able to choose which path is right for you.
How do you currently manage customer service?
Do you have a team dedicated to customer support, or do employees share customer support duties?
There’s no right way to answer this question. What matters is understanding how you currently handle support, while keeping an eye on your business plan for how you might evolve your team as the business grows.
Either way, know how many people you have who will use the customer service management tools you bring on board. Customer service software for small businesses often charges per user. If you know how many users need access, you know how much to budget.
Should my business offer support on every channel?
The great thing? Your business has lots of options to provide great customer support.
The reality, though, is trickier. Just because all of these channels exist doesn’t mean each one is right for your team. When it comes to implementing the right support for your business, ask yourself and your team, “Which channels can we excel in?”
Start small: First excel in one or two channels, instead of pulling in more channels than your team can succeed with.
Identify which customer service channels fit your customer’s needs
What channels will you support?
Regardless of the size of your organization or your support team, different businesses use different customer service management tools to support customers and resolve issues.
Consider the commonly used channels below, and think about what you need now, and what you might need in the future as your business grows and evolves.
How do you currently manage and route support calls? Do you use a service, with automated options, menus, and so on?
It’s also important to remember that even the best phone support person can only be on one call at a time. Not every team or every business has the bandwidth to handle the ongoing immediacy of phone support.
When contacting support, millennials favor live chat. Plus, it’s possible to carry on multiple chats simultaneously.
It’s also useful to integrate live chat with email support. However, similar to phone support, you have to check your team’s capacit. Do you have enough people, and do they have enough time, to monitor and reply to live chats in real-time?
Chatbots might be able to help by being the front line for frequently asked questions, but you can expect many customers to require 1:1 chat support with a human.
Social media support
Different organizations use social media in different ways, such as broadcasting news or sharing marketing efforts.
If your organization is also using social media to directly engage customers for support, be sure to know where social interaction is overlapping between departments, such as marketing and customer service. Remember, if your customers are surfacing complaints or concerns on social media, the worst thing you can do is fail to respond.
In 2018 alone, over 50% of consumers used email to work through customer service issues. That makes email the most commonly used digital customer service channel. Email is everywhere, and providing best-in-class support via email is vital to any business in any industry. When support teams and small businesses have to make hard choices about which support medium to focus on, email makes the most sense.
Email gives your team a written record of every interaction. You can respond in a timely manner, but without the pressure of replying in real-time. Plus, tools such as Outpost can make your team’s email support best in class.
Knowledge center and FAQs
Some customer service issues come up on a regular basis. Some customers also want to just take care of the problem themselves, without having to spend time engaging with support staff.
An online knowledgebase or a product FAQ page can be as simple as a few links to support articles on your company website, or it can be a massive, dedicated knowledge center.
The tricky thing about knowledge bases, though, is that they have to evolve and change as the business changes. A stale, out-of-date, irrelevant support article is a surefire way to make a customer angry and feel like you don’t care about them.
Whether a private Facebook Group or an internally-managed forum, dedicated discussion groups and message boards are making a comeback. Forums not only provide support, but they also allow your customers or users to self-support one another.
However, any quality forum requires ongoing, everyday moderation from people in your organization. Otherwise, forums can quickly veer off-topic, or become quagmires of spammy, off-topic posts. While forums can be useful, their maintenance and upkeep can be time-consuming.
Should you use an all-in-one CRM? Or specialized tool?
Based on which customer service channels you identified as necessary for your business, there are two types of solutions to consider.
All-in-one support solutions
For companies with complex support needs and multiple service touchpoints, an all-in-one support solution can integrate multiple channels under one service. However, you might also wind up paying for services or features you don’t need.
When it comes to all-in-one customer service management tools, we are talking about solutions that focus on one or a combination of the following three types of systems:
1. Marketing automation software (MAS)
MAS solutions such as HubSpot focus on marketing. From online ads to triggered/automated emails, blog posts to postcards—if a task, asset, or campaign is part of your company’s print or digital marketing, you can manage it through MAS.
Your marketing efforts help tell potential buyers about your products, services, and organization. At this point, it’s not about the sale, it’s about qualifying the lead and establishing that your business is the right solution for their needs. Once that lead is qualified, they’ll move into the sales funnel—which is where your CRM takes over:
2. Customer relationship management (CRM)
A CRM solution focuses on sales. When a qualified lead enters your sales funnel, they become part of your CRM. When a customer buys from you, they are in your CRM. When you are following up with a customer for additional purchases, that is CRM.
Solutions such as Salesforce also talk about CRM as “managing all your company’s interactions with current and prospective customers.”
3. Customer experience management (CEM)
When it comes to sales (CRM) and marketing (MAS) though, the experience is what matters. The customer’s experience of your company’s sales marketing will determine whether they become a customer, leave positive reviews, spread the word, be a repeat customer—or not.
Why choose an all-in-one solution?
CEM helps you know if your business is meeting, exceeding, or falling short of your customer’s expectations. Zendesk, for example, helps organizations get feedback from customers, both positive and negative.
Full-stack small business customer service solutions can also help you tie together lots of customer touchpoints and communication channels. If your business needs to integrate many channels (such as live chat, email, extensive knowledge base, and phone support), then a full-stack, all-in-one support solution may be a great fit.
For example, a company with a 10-person team supports customers via a dedicated support phone number, email, live chat, and Facebook. In order to keep all these support interactions in one place, the company decides to implement a full-stack, all-in-one solution that ties each support channel together.
Specialized best-in-class solutions for your main support channel(s)
Full-stack, all-in-one solutions have their place — but they’re not for everyone. If your business only needs to support a couple of customer service channels, it’s typically more effective and budget-friendly to select individual, best-in-class solutions. That way, you get exactly what you need to provide the best service, and you don’t have to worry about paying for extra features you don’t need or use.
If your business provides support via phone and email, or live chat and email, or just email, a full-stack solution will likely be far more than what you need — and more expensive than what you want to pay. You will likely find it cheaper to pay for one tool or a couple of tools that are specialized to help you excel in the areas you need.
Size also doesn’t matter here. For example, Outpost has clients with over 300 users, but they manage all their support through email. Since they only need to support email, Outpost is a better fit than a full-stack solution.
Specialized approaches also offer simplicity. Less complication also makes for faster implementation and easier day-to-day use. However, it also helps to examine your solution needs as a big picture. If you need different tools, sometimes you may need to take extra steps to make sure they talk to each other.
When a service does one thing really well—such as email—it’s a good fit for an organization, and can even be cheaper than paying for the same number of users on an all-in-one platform.
If you need a specialized approach for email support
Specializing in one or two channels will help your team excel at providing the best service.
Have you figured out that you need a dedicated tool that was built from the ground up to help your team excel with email? Congratulations! You’re ready to learn more about the best options available—and then choose and implement the system that’s right for you.
If you’re ready to find the right email tool for your team, check out our deep-dive comparison of the best email management software for customer service teams.
What’s the best customer service software for my small business?
You know you need to provide better customer support. Now that you know the two main types of solutions to choose from—a full-stack solution or specialized tools—you can choose the path the works best for your business.
This isn’t necessarily a straightforward choice, either. A company might have a large, dedicated customer service team, but they only provide email support. That’s a perfect scenario for a team email solution like Outpost.
However, if you’ve gone through this piece and realized you need to wrap in more options (such as phone support, chat, help center, knowledge base, and so on), there are plenty of amazing solutions out there that can help.
Top 6 multi-channel customer service options for your business
As your business grows and evolves, you might find that your customer service needs to grow and change as well. However you approach your customer service software toolset, remember to pay attention to analytics.
How many emails or phone calls do you really get each week? How often do you get the same questions over and over? How many of your emails are requests for more instruction on how to use or set up your tool? Use that information to inform your approach.
And if your business is having a hard time making a decision, ask your customers about their current habits—which might be more illuminating than asking them what they’d like you to do in the future.
If they usually use a chat option to reach out for customer service when it’s available, that’s a lot more interesting than them simply saying they’d be interested in chatting over calling when they’ve never used chat for customer service before.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally written in July 2019 and updated in August 2020.