What is Online Customer Service?

Malcolm Tatum

Online customer service is a broad term that is used to describe various customer support tools that are available via the Internet. The purpose of these online tools is to provide customers with the ability to ask questions, file complaints and generally interact with customer care professionals in a manner that is simple, quick, and as timely as possible. While exact strategies vary somewhat from one company to the next, there is a core group of online customer service tools that are increasingly used by businesses of all sizes.

Online customer service work is often subcontracted to firms that are not owned by the business they represent.
Online customer service work is often subcontracted to firms that are not owned by the business they represent.

One of the passive ways to provide online customer service is to make sure the company web site includes two specific types of informational pages. One is known as the customer instruction page. This page usually contains step by step instructions in how to make use of the goods or services provided by the company. Ideally, a page of this type is structured so that many of the basic questions people would ask about the operation of the products are answered in a manner that is concise and easy to understand. Generally, an instruction page keeps industry terms and jargon to a minimum, and focuses on reaching a broad audience.

Customer support tools allow online customers to ask questions and file complaints.
Customer support tools allow online customers to ask questions and file complaints.

Along with the instruction page, many companies include a Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ page on their web sites. These pages also include basic information, but in a question and answer format. Pages of this type are frequently updated to reflect recent upgrades in products, or to include new questions that have been raised by a number of customers. Often, consulting the FAQ page will help customers find what they are looking for without the need to place a telephone call to the customer service department.

While passive forms of online customer service are effective, there are still times when the customer needs direct interaction with customer care professionals. One way this is provided is via an instant messaging feature included on the company web site. This feature makes it possible for a client to log into a secure program and submit comments and queries that are immediately transferred to the next available attendant. The attendant acknowledges the query, and provides an answer. Should the response require some additional research, the attendant asks any clarifying questions that may be relevant to the research, and works with the client to establish a time frame and a means of providing the response, such as in the form of an email within the next twenty-four hours.

Some businesses are making use of online forums and message boards as part of their online customer service strategy. This approach allows a customer to post a query that can be seen by any member of the forum. With this approach, not only can customer care professionals respond, but also other customers who may have some expertise that will be useful to the client who submitted the original post. This particular tool is effective in creating a sense of community between the vendor and the client base, while still allowing each customer to retain anonymity by creating a unique screen name that is displayed along with the message.

As new ways of using the Internet to communicate continue to develop, the face of online customer service will continue to evolve. With many businesses offering goods and services to a global audience, the need to be available to customers around the clock is critical. With the use of online messaging, forums, and web pages that provide basic information, the ability to support a customer any time of the day or night can allow a business to expand and maintain its customer base, without creating a great deal of additional business expense.

Discussion Comments


Spot on with your observations. For my website, I use FAQ's, ClickDesk live chat and e-mail ticketing including social media to handle online customer service.

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