This is a simple tale of a pair of yoga pants — but with a goal of sharing valuable online customer service tips that will make your business more flexible than me on my mat.

In late summer, I jumped at the chance to go to Costa Rica on a beachfront yoga retreat. All that was needed was a plane ticket and a new, comfortable pair of yoga pants.

I started searching the internet for brands that sold what I was looking for by typing in the keywords “yoga pants” into my trusty Google search engine. I added “near me” at one point to see if there were any stores in my geographic area selling comfortable pants in the style I liked.

Eventually, I came across a brand selling a rainbow offering of breezy, harem-style pants at an affordable price. Perfect! Add to cart, check out.

In seconds, I automatically received an email confirming the sale. Then, I got a follow-up email reconfirming their commitment to customer service and asking for feedback. That included an email address and a WhatsApp phone number to reach their customer support team.

A week later the pants came — in the wrong color! I had to return them. I emailed and, for good measure, sent a message on WhatsApp to request an exchange. Following instructions, I shipped it back the next day. I let the customer service representative know that I was leaving in a week for my trip. They assured me they had the exchange color in stock. 

But they never came! I still got a tan and a stretch — along with lessons I can share with you about why it’s so important that your business focuses on excellent customer service.

The importance of online customer service

Regardless of the industry, every business owner seeks ways to stand apart from the competition. In marketing, it’s known as a unique selling proposition. This is what makes your business first, better, or different. When you add an exceptionally good customer experience on top of your USP, you’ll be more likely to reach your business goals.

In a 2023 survey by Salesforce, 70% of customers reported that quick and easy online communication is key to winning and keeping their business. It’s true for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies: Meeting individual needs and expectations must happen with every interaction.

The average customer uses 10 different platforms for communication, the Salesforce survey reported. For example, that yoga gear company got high points for me at first for the marketing automation techniques that connected with me over email. I also appreciated that they used WhatsApp; I do too.

But in the end, they failed to ship the pants as they promised before I left for my trip. I had to cancel the order, and they lost a sale — and potentially a loyal customer. To avoid that, focus on customer service.

Customer expectations in the digital age

Today’s customers expect that the brand they’re working with will respond to their needs and be easy to access whenever it’s necessary. It’s a dramatic shift from a few decades ago when business owners closed up the shop and went home to dinner. Now, that online store may be in a completely different time zone from the shopper, who everyone wants to be a happy customer.

Customer expectations are higher than ever. That same survey by Salesforce found that 67% of customers admit they’ve raised their standards for a good customer experience. It’s especially true for Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who presume information is on-demand through voice activation or another digital format all the time.

You must be competitive within your industry, and customer service is a way to create a strong reputation among the target audience. When people have good experiences with your products or services at every step along the customer journey, they tell their friends. It’s so rare to feel great after an experience with online customer support that it’s news worth sharing. And if it’s not — that’s not the kind of organic social media marketing you want.

Customer service email example
At first, I was impressed by the company’s automated emails as an indicator of excellent customer service. [Logo censored]. Image source: Author’s email

One key to success with any customer experience is to be available when the customer is. The survey showed that 64% of customers expect interaction and solutions in real time. By implementing tools and procedures, your brand can meet these high expectations.

Effective online customer support strategies

Automate the way your business handles customer issues as much as possible, but always remember the power of personal interaction. Integrate these best practices to improve customer satisfaction, even as your business grows.

Responsive and user-friendly website design

While a potential customer may first discover you through social media or even a traditional brick-and-mortar structure, you’ll want them to continue shopping and deepening their relationship with your brand through your website. That’s why a responsive and user-friendly website is necessary.

Test that your website loads easily and quickly on both mobile devices and laptops, and without so many pop-ups that a customer gets frustrated. Think about your target audience as you include helpful blogs, another content curation strategy, and clear navigation.

Fast and reliable response times

Often, there’s a stage in the customer journey where they have questions before or after they purchase an item. To complete the sale and convert that prospect into a customer, you’ll need to have a process for fast and reliable replies. This may be a mixture of automated chatbots and customer-facing team members.

As you create these systems for enhanced customer service, spend time writing procedures for brand voice and expectations so that your business can grow as you imagine. This adds to consistency, which is one way to keep loyal customers. 

Part of the problem with my yoga pants purchase was the lack of connection between the person who answered my WhatsApp message and the team responsible for shipping out the replacement pants. That slip through the cracks could have been avoided simply by creating a process everyone on the team follows.

Personalization and customization

Customer service is about creating relationships that can last for years. To accomplish this, you also must communicate with your target audience in a way that resonates with them. You need to know their preferences, interests, and desires — information you can find in your data or through customer feedback.

Then, target all marketing materials with a customized approach. One way to apply personalization is through the practice of email list segmentation, in which you break up a huge email list into smaller, more customized groups. When you send messages designed only for the recipient, you’ll be more likely to increase your customer engagement and improve your conversion rate.

I liked that I received personalized emails from that yoga company offering me deals for my next purchase — but I’m not likely to buy again from a business with poor customer service.

Chat software and automation

No one wants to only communicate with robots, but there’s a place for chatbot software to work within your digital marketing strategy to improve customer service. There are some solutions that customers can receive from an automated chat, like:

  • Hours of operation for a brick-and-mortar store
  • Address and process to return an item
  • Contact information for team members on duty
  • Links to blogs that can answer common questions

Get creative with solutions for your customers that can provide what they need as quickly and easily as possible. When done correctly, marketing automation makes it easy for you, too.

Multichannel support

Customers expect you to meet them where they are, and they’re everywhere these days! People chat with Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. They send direct emails, and they even tag your brand’s business profile on social media posts. They’ll give you a review on Google Maps, and they expect a quick reply. Customers also may want to text your brand or call, too. Have a solution for meeting this reality. 

Customer service example email
I sent this company both an email and a WhatsApp message. I got replies from both channels from different people with the same instructions. Consistency is important for customer service! [Company name censored]. Image source: Author’s email

The best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the channels you need to monitor is to automate when possible, and then delegate and schedule time for what else is needed for each platform. For example, you can set a time for a team member to reply to Google or Facebook business reviews once a week. But you’ll need someone to check your social media pages more frequently. It’s what modern customer service demands.

Best practices for support improvement

As you create structures to ensure your customers are getting the best service to support your high-quality products and services, integrate best practices that will make sure everything is as peaceful as a yoga class. 

Ensure data privacy and security

IBM reports that the average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, a 15% increase from three years ago. Some cybersecurity threats shutter businesses permanently. Creating a system to protect your customer data and privacy goes beyond customer service — it’s the ultimate cost of doing business in today’s digital landscape.

It’s a fine balance, as your team members need to have access to the buying habits of your customers. Make sure your platforms and systems protect and support your customers at all times.

Monitor customer feedback and customer service metrics

There was a moment in my yoga pants return process where I felt like I was developing a rapport with the person who chatted with me on WhatsApp. They apologized that the pants weren’t shipped on time, and they quickly refunded my money. I gave them constructive feedback, which hopefully they’ll use in the future.

You should also be ready to receive feedback from customers. It’s the best way to grow your business, even though at first criticism may be hard to hear. Another way to monitor your customer satisfaction and your success is through the CRM metrics you set for your business.

Deescalate appropriately for increased customer retention

I’ve done enough yoga to not get upset with the person on the other end of my return, but sometimes things get a little out of control. As much as you want to say that the customer is always right, sometimes they’re frustrated with other things and put pressure on your team to make things better. 

If you succeed, you’ll likely create a customer for life. Create and implement de-escalation techniques. For example, I needed a replacement part for my RV to be shipped before I could continue on my journey. I was a little less relaxed at that time. Thankfully, the customer service representative agreed to ship the part before they received the old part. It went against their policy, technically, but they bent the rules to improve my experience. I really appreciated that.

Stay updated with the latest technology and trends

If your target audience starts using a new social media platform, for example, your company needs to have a presence there. That’s just one example of online customer service tips you’ll need to know. Make sure your business isn’t left behind while your competitors are innovating.

Schedule a half-hour of your morning to read industry news, research marketing trends, and learn about new technology that can take your business to the next level. Customers appreciate when you and your team are knowledgeable about what they care about.

Train support teams

Finally, make sure everyone has the best training possible. There’s no need to create scripts unless they’re for a chatbot. But training builds upon the power of consistency, which sets realistic and positive expectations for every customer experience. Planning for success means providing what customers want while supporting your team to help meet their expectations. 

Continue your journey through customer service

Excellent online customer service doesn’t happen without a clear strategy that includes procedures and systems that maximize the best practices of modern business. You’ll find that as you focus on the experience of your customer, your overall business strategy can be more easily refined to your target audience. That’s a key to long-term growth.

As a first step toward following these online customer service tips, start by collecting what data you can about your current customer base. Learn what kind of people you’re serving as far as demographics, behavior, pain points, and everything else. Using this customer avatar as a guide, you can analyze your current customer service strategy to see where to start improving.