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Online Customer Support 101

Customer support is a viable asset to any ecommerce website, even if in the simplest form. Online ticket systems, knowledge bases, frequently asked questions, and live chat are all great methods of online customer support. All of these the average webmaster can setup using online support software.

Providing quality support is something that customers will always appreciate. Quality support can be a winning factor for many potential customers, an advantage over your competition. While lower prices are often seen as a winning factor, the average consumer prefers their queries and concerns to be answered in a timely and professional manor - despite the prices.

Online support has its own disadvantages and advantages. Ecommerce websites will never have face-to-face contact with their customers, so their portrayed personality is made up through their wording and layout rather than their body language. Online support can also be less expensive, as many customers will find their answers in well designed knowledge bases before having to contact a support representative. Rather than having a customer relations team, you might have a few people for each thousand that visit your website - assuming that you have a large, well written knowledge base.

Ticket Systems

Support ticket systems are very beneficial because customers don't usually expect instant answers. Similar to email support, ticket systems require the customer to leave their name, email, and problem. Support representatives can then answer customer tickets at their own leisure.

Ticket systems are fairly inexpensive to maintain, with only a few people needed to handle the volume of tickets for the average ecommerce website. Support ticket systems are also very effective as customers can leave their concerns at any time, on any day. So even if a support representative isn't answering tickets at the exact moment, a customer can still create a ticket to be tended to later.

A disadvantage of many helpdesks offering ticket systems is the requirement of the customer to register in order to submit a support ticket. Registering for support is an inconvenience to the customer. Before purchasing or using helpdesk software check that user registration is not required.

Knowledge Bases

Providing an archive of documents and frequently asked questions can save you time and money. Knowledge bases containing answers to frequently asked questions allow your users to find their answers before having to contact you via other methods of support.

Knowledge bases are easy to create and maintain, with the benefits exceeding the labor involved. Building a large knowledge base takes time. As you began to notice a repetitive question - add it to your knowledge base, along with any other information and solutions pertaining to it. By continuing this process you can easily build a powerful knowledge archive, lessening your use of canned responses.

Helpdesk integrating knowledge bases and support tickets together will often save you time. In most helpdesk software, when a customer submits a ticket the helpdesk will take their ticket and find any related knowledge base articles. The user then only continues if none of the knowledge base articles answer their question. This feature is valuable to you, as the strainer will filter out even more repetitive tickets - saving you time.

Live Chat

Live chat is similar to telephone support, except online. Using live chat for support gives customers instant answers to their problems, without the lag seen in support tickets. Using PHP or Java, live chat systems hook the user up with an unoccupied operator. Some of the more powerful live chat systems allow operators to view users browsing the website and start a conversation with them. These more powerful live chat systems simulate sales representatives in a store and greatly benefit the customer.

While live chat cost more to maintain compared to support ticket systems, it's inexpensive compared to phone support - its equivalent. Live chat puts sales representatives in online stores.

A sole disadvantage of live chat is that websites run 24/7, while live chat doesn't. The practical solution to this dilemma is to provide other methods of support, alongside live chat. Ticket systems and knowledge bases can provide your customers with means of support during off hours.

Helpdesk Software

Helpdesk software is what brings together the different methods of support. A powerful support system requires careful integration of support tickets, knowledge bases, and live chat. Quality helpdesk should also cooperate with any of your existing software and design. While most helpdesk don't offer live chat by default, there is usually an upgrade available.

Kayako eSupport (external link) is a feature packed helpdesk featuring a wide variety of support methods to offer your customers. Management through eSupport is easy with their feature packed administration interface. Each system seamlessly integrates into one another, making a powerful support center.

Cerberus Helpdesk (external link) is another feature packed helpdesk, based on email. Cerberus' ticket system is masked by email. The customer emails a normal email address that is ported into the helpdesk. Customers can reply and send emails to you like normal, except Cerberus gives you a powerful interface to get the job done. Cerberus also features a basic knowledge base feature.

Summary

Providing a wide variety of methods for online support gives your users the attention they need. Although they can be a workload, helpdesk give you a solid foundation on which to serve your customers.