How to Keep Customers Visiting Your Website: Customer Service Online

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Our past few posts have focused on making it easier to find your business online. If you’ve put all we’ve talked about into practice and given it enough time to gain traction, you should be seeing the desired result: customers engaging you through your website.

Huzzahs are in order, pat yourself on the back! But stay focused: there is one more thing to think about. You need to stay engaged with the customers that are visiting.

In this post, we’ll cover why it’s important to stay in active contact with the people reaching out to you via your website, and the key concepts to focus on to handle every interaction simply and professionally.

Why Engaging Your Website Visitors is Important

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. You probably remember that the amount of time someone spends on your website is a contributing factor in how search engines rank your website. So far, you’ve been providing valuable content that falls within the most relevant multiword key terms that your customers are searching for. That has slowly built from little embers to a nice warm glow of emails, comments, phone calls, tweets and visits to your physical business. Now, it’s time to fan the flames.

Engaging with your customers over the same media they use is key to keeping your website SEO optimized and your business growing.

Think about it. If you walked into a good-looking shop, but found no one inside to assist you, you would probably leave disappointed and confused. When people visit your website and reach out for contact, they will be just as confused and disappointed when they never hear from a real person. Before you know it, people stop visiting, your bounce rate goes up and your pages slip in the search engine rankings.

The key is reaching out via the same media that your customers use. If a customer emails you, email them back. The same goes for phone numbers, comments on blog posts, etc. Your customer has chosen the media they are most comfortable working with, and it will make them uncomfortable, and might even be seen as an invasion of privacy, to reach out in any other way.

When it comes to social engagement, like comments on your site or posts on social media, you have a great opportunity to get some free publicity. Every time you reply to a customer publicly, remember that you are creating a tiny ad for the level of customer service that your business provides. Even when a customer’s outreach is negative (likely more common than positive) you have the chance to prove that you do business right.

It’s also important to remember that professionalism is essential to all those tiny ads you create when you reply to customers. This goes beyond social and includes email, as well. (Remember how easily someone can save, or screenshot and share, an email).

As a ground rule, don’t put in writing what you wouldn’t put on a billboard.

Set Expectations for Yourself and for Your Customers

Here’s a story for you:

A good friend of mine is an operations manager for a very small business. One day, she told me that a new hire was responding to customers very late at night…or very early, in New Zealand time. Either way, my friend was concerned that person was working too hard. I agreed, and pointed out that overwork was only half the problem. That new employee was sure to burn herself out if she kept burning the midnight oil, but she was also passively communicating to customers that the company provides email support 24/7.

This may be a great way to keep a dozen customers happy, but what happens when your customer base grows to the hundreds, or even the thousands?

It’s perfectly appropriate to only answer emails, respond to tweets, and solve issues during normal business hours. You can state such a policy on your site if you wish, or you can passively maintain those rules internally.

It’s also okay to make exceptions to this for the right reasons. If your business deals with life-threatening or serious financial situations, you can respond outside of “normal hours.” It’s worth it, however, to let customers know they are receiving emergency treatment so that they don’t return weeks later looking for the same level of support at 1am.

These expectations are for the customer as well as for you. Customers need to know when they can expect to hear from you so they aren’t disappointed in your service, or worse, think your business is no longer open.

Standardize Compensation

Another key expectation to set is what you give away to make angry customers feel better.

First of all, accept that you’re going to have angry customers--it happens to every business. What’s more important is that happy customers will keep doing business with you, and that is worth investing in.

One of the essential takeaways from the book Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit is how employees of the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain were “empowered” to keep customers happy. Every employee had a sum of money they could spend each day on each customer to solve a problem. It was a huge sum ($2,000) and the authors are pretty sure no one ever used the full amount, but the idea was that a customer who remains satisfied will continue to return again and again, ultimately spending far more than $2,000 at the Ritz over their lifetime.

Apply that idea to any problems you might encounter. Your numbers might not look like the Ritz’s, but remember that giving away a little up front can bring a lot back down the line.

Of course, it’s equally important to be clear about the limits of such an allowance, both internally and with customers. Making an offer you can’t sustain is worse than making no offer at all.

Professionalism Must be a Priority

Would you attend a business meeting in an undershirt or sweatpants?

If you’re not maintaining professionalism in your online exchanges with customers, that lovely outfit is essentially what you’re showing up in. A few ways to ensure you’re better-dressed:

Communicate using a professional email address–this means no @gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail, etc. for business exchanges. You can cheaply mask a Gmail address with your domain, eliminating the need to manage multiple inboxes.

Be mindful of your grammar and punctuation. While some might believe it’s good enough to get your message across regardless of perfect sentence structure, this again marks the difference between looking sloppy and looking like a polished, trustworthy professional.

Don’t worry if perfect writing doesn’t come naturally for you. Here’s a secret: punctuation is my weak spot, so I use a few awesome (and mostly free!) tools to make sure I’m doing things right. One of my favorites is Grammarly, a free Chrome extension that does a way better job of catching mistakes than a standard spellchecker. There’s also a paid version that comes with even more fool-proofness.

As your amount of online engagement grows, consider setting a company lexicon. Don’t be intimidated by the latin–this just means a list of phrases you say. The most important part of your customer service lexicon is probably the phrases you never want to say. A few examples:

Your lexicon could stipulate that all emails begin “Hi, {{First_Name}}.” You probably don’t want anyone running social media or responding to customer emails to say “Hey” if it doesn’t match the decorum of your law firm. On the other end, if you run a skateboard shop, you might pick “Whaddup {{First_Name}},” to begin your emails. A customer service lexicon is all about meeting your clients where they are, and assuring them that they’re making a good decision by giving you their money.

There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes the best thing to do is to start with your script and change if/when you notice customers engaging in different ways. One way to test this is in your email sign-off. Try starting with something neutral, such as “Regards,” and changing it if your customer signs off with something else.

A great tool to use when building a company lexicon is aText. This is another favorite of mine. It allows you to create a keyboard shortcut for any phrase you frequently type (e.g., you can tell aText to replace “THX” with “Thank you very much for reaching out” as my aText literally just did as I tried to type this paragraph.) This allows you to speed up your interactions and easily remember the phrases you use most. Just remember to set it to a combination of letters and symbols you don’t often type together (or turn it off when typing blog posts about how it works).

Key Takeaways

Engage with customers in the same media they used to reach out to you. They’ve passively told you where they are most comfortable, and they will appreciate you meeting them on that level.

Engaging with customers who approach you online is an essential part of SEO, because they can confirm there is value in returning to your site to communicate.

In online interactions, only say things you’d be comfortable displaying on a company billboard. Your email can be posted on social media by an angry customer faster than you say CTRL-Z. Your happy customers can post things quickly too 😉

Set expectations for yourself and your customers. You don’t want to burn the candle from both ends, and your customers don’t want to have to guess when they hear from you. When it comes to discounts and compensation for both loyalty and disappointment, consider setting aside a sustainable budget just for customer satisfaction.

Keep it professional. Get a professional email address, watch out for typos, and sketch out some rules about how to speak with customers. Meet customers on their level.

 

And as always, have fun.

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Written by Stephen Krauska. Last Updated 6 years ago.
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