How many times have you walked out of a retail store after waiting too
long for someone to help you?
I don't know about you, but my patience for that type of customer service
is extremely low.
So imagine what the experience is like when you need to ask a retail
website for help.
Only to receive the reply "Thank you. We've forwarded your enquiry onto
our Web Developer. Please wait 2-5 days for a reply."
2 to 5 days! Ain't nobody got time for that!
The time it takes to help your online customers can be make or break for
your online business.
Just like in the real world, it can be the difference between keeping
customers, or losing them forever.
Don't be powerless in this situation however.
There is something that you and your staff can do to get the ball
rolling while before you contact your Web Developer.
You can go through some pre-checks with the customer to see if there
isn't a quick fix to the problem they are having.
In the industry, this is known as basic website support or level 1
Providing basic website support is a straight forward process that just
about everyone can do.
Let's break the process down into steps.
Step 1: Calm the Customer
Not every customer will need to be calmed, but you will get an angry,
demanding customer from time to time.
So the first step is to try to bring the customer back onto your side.
Keep in mind that every website has it's moment. Every customer has their
But at the same time, you aren't the business, you aren't the website.
You are the person trying to help them right now.
Communicate to the customer that this isn't a big deal.
The website could very well be broken, or it could be something else
But before you call in the Cavalry, you're going to have a look together
to see if you can find what's going on.
Calming the customer might not always be possible. Some people will
insist on being angry.
In these cases, just proceed to Step 2 as well as you can.
Pro Tip: The best way to disarm an irate customer is to
be extra nice in return. Customers like these want to get a reaction from
you, they want you to get as angry as they are. As soon as they realise
that they won't get that reaction from you, they generally start to calm
Step 2: Identify and Reproduce "The Problem"
The second step is to identify the problem, and see if the same thing
happens for you.
This will help you to determine where the problem is, and likely what the
solution will be.
9 times out of 10*, the problem is from an external cause. User error, or
an incompatible web-browser setting, or an up-stream issue with a service
provider your website uses, or an issue with the customer's computer or
(*Used as an expression, not statistically accurate.)
These are all issues you can't fix, but basic website support is about
finding the cause of the problem, solving it if you can (or pointing the
customer in the right direction). And if you can't solve it then and
there, then you pass it on to the experts.
If the customer hasn't provided enough information for you to start
investigating, ask them.
- What is it that you are trying to do?
- What steps are you taking to do it?
- Is any feedback provided, such as an error message?
Once you have this information, follow them step by step to see if you
get the same result as the customer.
If you can reproduce the problem, then you know what it is and you can
proceed to Step 4.
Maybe it's some bad data that is breaking website functionality. Or
perhaps the customer was doing something incorrectly.
Either way, you've identified the problem, and you can communicate this
to the customer. Problem solved.
Sometimes you won't be able to reproduce the problem, and everything will
work for you as you expect it to.
This is where you need to put yourself in the customer's shoes.
Here you try to identify what else they COULD be doing to produce the
problem they're having.
- Are they clicking a button too many times?
- Are they trying to do something on the website that they can't do, or
aren't allowed to do?
If at this point, you're still unable to identify what is causing the
problem, it's time to move onto Step 3 - basic troubleshooting.
Step 3: Basic Troubleshooting
If the customer is doing something they should be able to do, and the
cause of the problem they're experiencing isn't immediately obvious, then
it's time to go through basic troubleshooting.
Basic troubleshooting is a list of steps to start ruling out possible
external causes for the problem (or hopefully identify and fix it).
For most websites, basic troubleshooting involves the following steps:
Empty the cache (& cookies) of the web-browser, close down the
web-browser, and try using the website again.
Ensure that the web-browser has the correct settings and plug-ins
required to use the website and that they are enabled. For example,
enabled, and that the browser security settings aren't set too high.)
Try using the website in a different web-browser.
By now you have hopefully fixed or found the issue while trying the basic
troubleshooting steps and you can proceed to the final step.
But if not, you've now ruled out those possible causes as being the cause
of this particular problem.
So now it's time to escalate this problem to Level 2 Support, and proceed
to Step 4.
Step 4: Inform the Customer of the Outcome
Step 4 is the most important step. Here you inform the customer of your
findings and what happens next.
Clear communication is the key to this step.
Not everyone is a whizz on the computer, so try to explain the problem
to the customer in a way that they understand.
Your findings will fall into one of the following categories:
You have identified the cause of the problem, and it is a problem that
the customer must fix at their end.
(User error, a problem with their computer or Internet, etc)
You have identified the cause of the problem, and it is not a problem
the customer can fix.
(Website error/issue, upstream service issue)
You have been unable to identify the cause of the problem, and need to
escalate the issue to Level 2 Support.
In every case, inform the customer of the cause of the problem if you
know what the cause is.
For example, the issue might be have been caused by a corrupt cookie in
their web browser. Or it might be caused by a service outage that is
affecting your website.
If your findings fall into category one, provide information to the
customer that will explain what they must do to fix it.
You can provide links to webpages or forums with instructions that will
help the customer. Or you can write up instruction templates or an FAQ
for common issues.
If your findings fall into category two, then explain what you need to do
to fix the issue for the customer.
And if your findings fall into category three, then explain that the
issue looks to be serious, and you have sent it on to Level 2 Support for
When you can help the customer to understand how the problem came about,
and what needs to be done to resolve it, most people will accept the
outcome and be thankful for your help.
And There You Have It
Providing basic website support really is that straightforward.
So don't leave your customers waiting days to receive help to use your
Get the ball rolling by providing them with basic website support
Most website support is just a case of helping the customer get back to
Sometimes the problem really is a bug. Many times though, it's a small
glitch that can be fixed in minutes.
But by providing basic website support to your customers, you can keep
the customer on your side, rather than get them walking off to another
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