Sales & Marketing

Seven online customer service sins – and how to avoid them

6 min read

30 October 2015

Hell hath no fury like online commentators. Here are the seven most common mistakes businesses make online – and how you can avoid them.

As controversial new rating app Peeple proved this month, hell hath no fury like online commentators. Few companies have managed to incur the wrath of the online community on quite the same scale, but lots of businesses are upsetting their online customers on a daily basis – often without the slightest clue. 

With physical businesses, you can see customer dissatisfaction in person, most likely etched in their face as they head to the exit. 

Online customers are very different, and unless they go to the effort of leaving a comment or email (which usually means things are very bad), smaller but no less costly mistakes can fly under the radar completely. 

From hiding prices to not designing a site for mobile, ignoring customers completely to hounding them with big flashy ads, here are seven of the most common online sins and how – by embracing best practice and technology – to atone:

(1) Not knowing your customers

There’s a reason this is number one, it’s something every business will think they do well, but many really don’t. 

If your business sells IT software/hardware, don’t design your website with superfluous decoration, make specifications clear and make it as easy as possible to communicate with a technically knowledgeable customer support team. If you have a fashion/design company, don’t clutter the page with ugly banner ads and dropdown menus, keep things sleek and simple. 

This is common sense for the most part, but it helps to bring in outside expertise for website use testing and monitoring. Providing a personalised experience for your customers can reap rewards. 

(2) Not knowing your products

Everyone has a horror story of incompetent customer service and many are derived from a poor understanding of product – take the classic example of a teenage electronics store worker who can’t tell a DVR from their elbow. 

Online, a contact/support team that knows the product line well can communicate effectively and is more enthusiastic and confident in their job, thereby better engaging with potential customers. One that doesn’t know the product can frustrate and alienate a customer, and drive them from a brand forever. 

(3) Not knowing the market and competition

Visiting a website and realising the company has completely lost touch with the industry and its competitors is a painful experience. This doesn’t happen overnight, but without the right oversight the results can be shocking. 

Bic, for instance, the company that released a pink pen “for her” in 2012, recently posted “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss. #HappyWomensDay” on its Facebook page. This message was so remarkably out of touch with modern business that many assumed it was a spoof. If only. 

Monitoring your competitors and market, and generally paying attention to life outside your business bubble, is essential to online communications. Companies that don’t understand their competition are typically less effective communicators.

(4) Hiding the price

No one likes having important things hidden from them, especially when money is involved. 

Customers are no different and get frustrated very quickly if they have to dig around to find a product’s price. Hiding the price makes it look like you have something to hide and customers will speculate as to why – is product is overpriced? Are you looking to dupe customers or are you generally untrustworthy? 

Ensure your customers can find all the information they need before purchasing.

(5) Hounding customers

Pouncing as soon as a customer visits the site or bombarding visitors with big, flashy ads will surely turn them away. 

The best websites give users a chance to look around, but also pay attention to where they are looking so that they can offer help when needed.

(6) Ignoring them completely

Ignoring customers can be just as bad. By hiding call-to-action buttons and contact details, or not responding to chat requests, the customer will think you don’t care about their business and they will quickly leave. 

Getting them to come back is invariably much harder work than responding to their original request. 

(7) Ignoring mobile 

Not designing your site for mobile users is criminal in today’s business climate. Mobile is most people’s go-to device, so make sure your site is easy to read and can be navigated with a mobile-responsive design – that means being short and precise, with content suited to a small screen. 

I’m sure there are many more examples not listed here. Unfortunately it’s all too easy for even the biggest digital brands to make mistakes in this ever-changing environment. 

However, like anything, admitting you have a problem is always the first step. If the issues above sound eerily familiar, it’s not too late to rectify the situation and ensure you have happy healthy relationships with online customers in future.

Bernard Louvat is CEO and president of TouchCommerce.