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How to Choose the Right Customer Support Channels for Your Business

Peter Customer Service 18 Jan 2017


In a previous blog post, we looked at some interesting findings from the UK Customer Satisfaction Index. One of the points we covered related to multi-channel support - in particular, how many support channels you should aim to maintain.

The answer, in short, was that you should have as many support channels as you can manage effectively.

The survey showed that customers typically look for at least three active channels, but are disappointed when they need to use more than one to get an answer.

If you think back to your own interactions with support teams as a customer, you can probably understand these findings. We like to be able to contact a company using our preferred channel, whether it's over the phone, by email or over Twitter.

We also like the matter to be resolved without having to switch to another channel - it's more hassle for us and increases the chance of having to repeat information as the ticket gets passed to a new support rep.

How do I choose which support channels to maintain?

If you're a huge corporation with a support budget to match, it's not too challenging to work out a priority list of support channels. You don't need to worry about resources or cash flow, and you know you can hire the staff to manage every channel you setup.

However, SMEs need to prioritise resources carefully based on what they can afford and what their customers need the most.

It'd be impossible for us to tell you the best channels for your company - after all, you know your business better than anyone - however, we're going to present a few methods for helping with the decision-making process.

Step 1: List your options

There are loads of different options for providing support. Go through this list and decide whether each option is viable for you and your business.

Don't think about whether you can manage more than one at this stage - you'll do that later. For now, just imagine you've been given the option to only have one support channel and pick all the viable candidates.

Only ignore support channels that you're certain aren't viable. Any channels you're not sure about should still be added to the list.

Here are some of the support channels you should consider:

  • Live chat via your website/app - there are ways to implement this entirely from scratch, but we'd certainly recommend considering a third-party option. We use Intercom.
  • Email
  • Phone, either by publishing your phone number, by request, or using appointments (We recommend using Calendly for this.)
  • Knowledge base and help articles
  • Tutorial videos
  • Guides and manuals
  • Live training, either online or in-person
  • Out-of-hours/urgent support

Step 2: Evaluate

Now you have list, your next step is to determine the benefits and drawbacks of each.

We recommend creating a table or spreadsheet with the potential support channels in the first columns, benefits to your business in the next, and benefits to the customer in the third. You can then use another two columns to display the drawbacks or costs both from your perspective and the customer's perspective.

Remember to consider the specific circumstances of your company, including the wants and needs of your target market(s), as well as any infrastructure you already have in place.

Here are a couple of examples:

Live chat support is perfect for customers who need a fast response to their queries. It's also useful for businesses that deal with a high volume of quick questions.

However, from a business perspective, live chat usually requires costly third party software. Some customers may also find a live chat service impersonal and become impatient and frustrated if their questions aren't answered quickly.

Tutorial videos are incredibly helpful for customers who want to see how the software works without having to hassle the support team. Perhaps the main business benefit is that a well-made tutorial can reduce the load on your other support channels. It also makes life easier for your onboarding team.

These videos aren't perfect. They're time-consuming to make, and if you have don't have video editing expertise, they can be expensive, too. You'll also need to update them as your product changes. Some customers may encounter technical problems when trying to watch them, or might not have the data to view long, high-quality videos.

Even if your heart's already set on a certain support channel, do your best to be realistic about its downsides. There is no 'perfect' support channel - just those that suit your business and its needs better than others.

Step 3: Determine your priorities

You now have a list of all the support channels you might be able to implement and maintain, and pros and cons for each. You can now use that information to decide on your most and least important options.

Think about what your customer needs. For example, our customers need super-fast response times so they can keep their businesses running smoothly, so we use live chat as our primary channel. But if you provide something less critical, customers may prefer a different way of getting help such as help articles.

You should also consider your own requirements. Which channels will be the most costly to implement and maintain?

Striking the right balance between the requirements of you and your users will help you decide how to most appropriately provide support.

Step 4: Decide

You now have a list of options ordered by priority. You can now work from the top down and decide how many of those channels you can support in conjunction.

Remember, consumers look for at least three, but don't overstretch yourself if you can't manage that much. It's much better to go all-in on one support channel than to spread yourself thinly over three.

It's also worth remembering that some support channels complement each other, while others might clash and overlap.

For example, you could tie email and live chat enquiries into one system to reduce confusion and admin. Live chat support might also significantly reduce the need for email support.

Step 5: Implement

You've decided which support channels you're going to use. Now is the time to begin deploying the new system(s). There are a few things to think about here.

  • Do you want to have a testing period where you limit the support channel to a small subset of your customers?
  • Will you review your support priorities at some point in the future? If so, when?
  • How will you gain feedback from customers about your support?
  • How will you measure a support channel's success?

Final Thoughts

Support is important, but it can sometimes be tricky to work out the best way of doing it. By taking a methodical approach to choosing your support channels, you'll ensure that you provide customers with top-quality efficient support - that stays within your budget.

How did you decide which support channels to use? Comment below!