By Lauryn Winterson
Is online customer service an oxymoron? How does it stack up against the customer service people expect from traditional businesses? The truth is, online customer service, just like offline customer service, can vary a lot from business to business, but there are a few extra considerations.
One of the major ways online customer service can differ from offline is that a website may lack a physical address. This can make getting in touch the company difficult. People sometimes experience similar frustration with brick-and-mortar businesses; some offline companies have maddening automated phone systems that never allow the caller to talk to a live person and never seem to offer the selections one needs. However, offline companies with even the most impenetrable fortresses of automated telephone “service” still maintain a physical location <i>somewhere</i>, and provided it is within driving distance, it may be possible to get to a place in person and speak to someone about an issue if necessary. Online companies, in contrast, may be difficult to pin down, and the ones that care the least about customer service are likely to also be the most difficult to locate.
On the other hand, online companies and offline companies that make good use of a web presence can sometimes provide superior customer service in comparison to the traditional alternatives. With some offline companies, the only options for seeking redress are a telephone call or an in-person conversation. Online companies and traditional companies with well-maintained websites often offer a variety of options that include online forum support and online chat. Online chat in particular can be a boon to the busy consumer. There’s no waiting on hold, and multitasking while dealing with the problem can be much easier. Many simple problems can also be dealt with over email. While some people still prefer to resolve problems with a quick telephone call, many others would just as soon avoid it, and companies with robust online support make this easy.
It’s important for online companies to ensure that their sites are easy to use. Purchasing items and other activities should be intuitive and not too dissimilar from the process on other websites. Making purchases from offline stores can be frustrating as well, though, when the store is poorly organized and staff is unhelpful. In the end, customer service is largely not a function of whether a company is primarily online or off but is instead linked to the overall quality of the company.