Customers expect brands to offer different types of customer service. Microsoft says that 59% of people have used three or more channels when contacting companies for help. And 9% of people have used more than five.
Most people turn to self-service first when looking for support, so offering good help resources is a must. But customers also expect to get service via phone, email, and even social media when they can’t find answers independently.
This article will explore how to choose what type of support to offer and then look at six common options.
Great customer service is omnichannel
The best customer service is omnichannel. This is when you offer support through multiple connected channels. Your team can provide the same service on any channel and seamlessly switch between each one.
It’s an alternative to multichannel support, which is when you offer multiple unconnected support options.
Here’s an example of omnichannel service in action:
Imagine a customer is having a problem with your SaaS tool. They head to your knowledge base to find an answer to their question. When they’re unable to fix the issue independently, they use the in-app chat widget to contact your team.
The agent who responds to the ticket agrees to look into the problem and tells the customer that they’ll send an email once they’ve looked into it. The customer and support staff then exchange emails until the problem is solved.
The customer and support team in this example seamlessly switched between three types of support: instant chat, email, and the knowledge base. This is possible because the channels are all integrated and connected.
Offer both self-Service and live support
The best customer support teams offer both self-service and live support.
Self-service support is when companies provide resources—such as customer communities, knowledge bases, or chatbots—that allows customers to find answers to their problems without contacting your support team.
Examples of live-support channels are phone, email, or chat where the customer interacts with an agent.
Self-service support is beneficial for two main reasons:
- It provides customers with instant access to answers for common problems. They don’t need to wait for your support team to respond.
- Once you’ve created your self-service resources, the cost of serving customers is much cheaper than live support. Gartner estimates the average cost of customer contact via live support is $8.01, while the cost of self-service channels is just $0.10.
The issue is that self-service can’t solve all issues. And many customers expect to be able to speak to your team when they need to.
For these reasons, most companies offer a balance of both self-service and live-support channels.
Be proactive when you can
You should try to offer proactive support where suitable. This is when your customer service team reaches out to a customer before they reach out to you.
It’s the opposite of reactive service, which is when the customer contacts your team about an issue.
With proactive support, your team will often contact the customer before they notice the issue, meaning the problem will not negatively impact their experience. This can help improve customer support metrics like Customer Effort Score and Customer Satisfaction.
The third type of customer service is pre-emptive. This is when your team contacts a customer about a problem they may experience in the future and lets them know either how to solve the problem should it arise or how to take steps to avoid it occurring in the first place.
Here is an example of each type of support:
- Reactive support: A customer notices a suspicious transaction on their banking app and calls the bank’s customer service team.
- Proactive support: The bank notices suspicious activity on an account and contacts the customer about the issue.
- Pre-emptive support: The bank sends customers resources explaining easy steps to protect their accounts before an issue arises.
6 types of customer service
Online chat and social media seem to have overtaken email in prominence when it comes to customer service.
But while it isn’t as fashionable as some of the other channels on this list, email is useful for two main reasons:
- It is widely used—over 90% of adults under 65 in the U.S. have an account.
- Many customers expect to be able to contact businesses they deal with by email.
It’s easy to set up a basic email support channel.
Companies can simply add an address or contact form to their website and then respond to requests as they come in. This type of system costs nothing, and you can respond in your own time.
If you deal with a high volume of contact, email management tools can help. You can also use ticketing software platforms to manage emails alongside other methods of customer support.
Another benefit of email is that you don’t need to reply instantly to customer requests. Although you shouldn’t wait too long—a study by First Office found that many customers expect a response within an hour. To put this in context, most companies said it takes them 12 hours to respond.
However long it takes you to reply to emails, be sure to let customers know approximately when they will hear from you. You can easily add this information to your contact form and in your email signature.
The issue with emails is that reading and responding take time. Customer service teams can get around this by using templates optimized for different situations.
It’s also easy for teams to send links to self-service documents that explain fixes in greater detail rather than writing out the solution to the problem every time someone gets in touch.
Email is a great way to offer outbound support. It’s simple to send emails when you need to contact a customer and much cheaper than calling.
|Pros of Email Support||Cons of Email Support|
|✔️ Over 90% of adults have an email address.
✔️ Easy to set up.
✔️ Can use templates and share documents.
|❌ Reading and responding take time.
❌ You’ll need a tool to organize your inbox if you get a high volume of requests.
Service tool with email-based communication: Hubspot Service Hub
Customer support communities are brand-led communities that allow your customers to interact with their peers and with your customer support team. Think of them as groups on social media platforms, but with additional features that make them powerful customer service tools.
These communities help with customer support in three main ways:
- Customers ask questions and your support team or other members provide answers.
- Customers search through previously asked customer questions to find answers to their problems. Hence, communities act as robust and searchable repository of knowledge.
- You can highlight important information and documents in the community. This proactively alerts customers to common issues.
The above points bring many benefits. Customers get fast access to the support they need, while the self-service elements deflect customer tickets, reducing support team workload.
You can also integrate your community into other types of customer service channels.
For example, integrate your community into your knowledge base, so community solutions show up when people search. This can significantly increase the number of self-help resources you have available.
By integrating your community with your CRM or ticketing software, you can use your customer data as part of an omnichannel support experience. When customer services reps speak to customers, they can see their community activity and use this data to provide personalized support.
|Pros of Customer Community||Cons of Customer Community|
|✔️ Deflect customer tickets.
✔️ Create an in-depth self-service resource.
✔️ Easy to set-up and integrate into your workflow.
|❌ Need to spend time building the community.|
Customer community tool: Tribe
A knowledge base is an easy-to-use form of self-service support.
Good knowledge bases contain resources about common customer issues and how to solve them. They also have powerful search functionality that makes it easy for customers to find the documents they need.
Reporting and analytics provide insight into the types of problems your customers are dealing with. Use this information on your customers’ needs to improve your product, take proactive steps to help customers avoid issues, or improve your self-support resources.
You can easily integrate knowledge base content into your other customer service channels.
For example, add contact forms or chat widgets to the knowledge base so customers can quickly contact your team should they be unable to find the information they need.
Or link to your knowledge base from your customer community and in emails to provide customers with additional information.
The biggest challenge with knowledge bases is it can be time-consuming to generate a resource large enough to be useful. It also needs to be skillfully written in a way that clearly explains problems and solutions to your customers. Your customer success team can play a major role by providing feedback on common issues so the knowledge base can be updated regularly.
Looking to measure the effectiveness of your knowledge base? Check out this article on knowledge base metrics.
|Pros of a Knowledge Base||Cons of Knowledge Base|
|✔️ A powerful form of self-service support.
✔️ Integrate into your support tech stack.
✔️ Gain insight on customer issues.
|❌ Writing documents can be time-consuming.
❌ You still need to provide a way for customers to contact your team.
Conversational or chat support
Real-time chat support is an increasingly common type of customer service, especially for e-commerce or SaaS products. It allows customers to get real-time help from your team without calling them.
You can provide chat support through a popup widget on your website or app. Just place them on pages where customers commonly need support. Customers click on the widget and ask a question to contact your team.
Times when this is useful include:
- Place the chat icon on sales pages so that customers can easily find answers to questions that may stop them from purchasing.
- Place the icon within your app to help with the onboarding process. If a customer is unsure about a feature, it’s easy for them to contact your team. This will help them use your product, potentially boosting retention.
- Place the icon within your knowledge base so customers can easily access further support if the existing documentation is insufficient.
The great thing about these chat widgets is that they are there at the exact time customers need them. They’re an excellent tool for both customer support.
It’s also possible for customer service agents to hold multiple real-time conversations at the same time. This can make live chat a more cost-effective form of real-time support than phone support.
The downside is that easy access to customer support can increase the number of tickets you have to deal with.
But there are ways you can avoid this.
For example, you could use chatbots to provide automated answers to common customer problems. The bot answers the customer problem, so your team doesn’t have to.
Many chat widget providers allow you to integrate your knowledge base or community answers into the widget. Customers can easily search for more information before contacting your team. The image given below shows how you can take conversational support to the next level by integrating community discussions (user-generated content) into a self-serve chat widget.
Tribe’s integration with Intercom enables your customers to search for resources from both the knowledge base and community right from the Intercom Messenger.
It’s even possible to customize the widget depending on the page you are on. This can help you provide the most relevant solution.
For example, the widget on the sales page could go straight through to an agent to help get the sale over the line.
While the widget on your onboarding pages could include helpful resources that help customers set up without contacting your team.
|Pros of Chat Support||Cons of Chat Support|
|✔️ Easy way to offer real-time support.
✔️ Add widgets where customers are likely to need help.
✔️ Automate with chatbots.
|❌ You need a team in place to answer customer queries.|
Chat support tools: Intercom
Phone support is still an essential type of customer service. The 2020 Customer Experience Trends Report suggests that 66% of customers across all age groups use this type of support to resolve issues.
There are many reasons why phone support is still so popular. Customers typically get answers fast when they call. It’s also easy for support agents to provide advice or explain problems via phone calls.
It’s easier than ever before for businesses to provide customer support via phone. Cloud contact center apps allow small companies to set up remote call centers operated via a browser or smartphone.
These apps often include advanced features such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems that automatically pick up incoming calls and help send them to the correct person or department.
Phone support can be more costly than other types of customer service. And if you have a high volume of calls, you’ll need to get the balance between answering calls quickly and not spending too much on customer service representatives.
Using some of the other customer service channels on this list can deflect tickets away from phone support and towards less costly channels.
|Pros of Phone Support||Cons of Phone Support|
|✔️ Possible to offer real-time support.
✔️ Many customers expect phone support.
✔️ Easier than ever to automate
|❌ Can be more costly than other forms of service.
❌ Time-consuming to deal with a high volume of calls.
Social media makes up the final type of customer support. This includes customer interactions across all social media channels and messaging apps.
Social media is helpful because so much of your customer base likely uses it. Billions of people use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
There are two ways to offer customer service on social media.
The first is to monitor the public-facing channels for customer complaints. If you spot one, a customer service rep can reach out to people to solve the issue. This is important because it allows you to solve problems that could otherwise play out negatively in public.
The other type of social media customer service is to let people contact you through the private messaging features on these apps.
Facebook is particularly useful. 2.4 billion people regularly use it, and the business page integration with the Messenger app makes it easy for customers to find your business and contact your company.
You can even set up chatbot functionality by including commonly asked questions in the widget and providing automated answers.
It can be tough to stay on top of customer service via social media due to the multiple available channels.
But you can use tools to integrate the separate platforms into your regular customer support dashboard. This means your team doesn’t have to be constantly checking each platform for customer requests.
|Pros of Social Media Support||Cons of Social Media Support|
|✔️ Social media is widely used.
✔️ People can see your team is active on social media.
✔️ Services have features specifically for customer service.
|❌ Can be tough to stay on top of multiple platforms.|
Social media management tools: Sprout Social
Different types of customer service lead to happier customers
Offering more types of customer support makes it more likely that customers will be able to contact you via the channels they enjoy using.
You just need to get the balance between offering a variety of support channels and not stretching your team too thin.
Most teams will benefit from using both self-service and agent-led support channels. So select the channels most relevant to your business.