The Essential Guide to Digital Customer Service

Not too long ago, if I wanted to meet up with one of my friends we'd have to be very specific: "I'll meet you at 2:30 p.m. on the right side of the McDonalds."

These days, all meetings seem to be in flux. A rough time will do, the specifics we'll work out through text messaging.

The developments in communication technologies over the past 10 years have had a profound impact on our behavior. And not just in our personal lives – also in how we interact with businesses.

For companies to stay relevant, it seems imperative that their service departments adopt the channels that their customers are using.

  1. What is digital customer service?
  2. Traditional vs. digital customer service
  3. Benefits of digital customer service
  4. Digital customer service channels
  5. Our tips for digital customer service
  6. All Userlike articles on digital customer service

What is digital customer service?

Cartoon of TARS.

Digital customer service is customer service that is provided through digital channels, like website support, live chat, email, social media and messaging apps. Since the rise of e-commerce, companies have started transforming how they provide service to match the way they provide their products or services.

According to Statista, global e-commerce sales reached over 3.5 trillion US dollars in 2019 and is only projected to grow from there. If most people are doing their shopping online, it only makes sense to offer digital customer service channels that match consumers’ way of purchasing.

Traditional vs. digital customer service

Just as we’ve changed the way we shop in the past few years, so has the way companies provide customer service.

Traditional customer service methods include face-to-face, telephone, fax and snail mail. Although some of these methods are even out of date in the way that people privately communicate with each other (when’s the last time you’ve ever sent a fax?), some companies continue to use them as ways to communicate with customers.

The telephone is the most dominant of these traditional channels. For many companies this is still the standard support channel they offer, often alongside email (the most antiquated among the digital channels).

But the telephone was obviously not designed for the digital experience, and this results in obvious frustrations for everyone involved. Service queues, choice menus and waiting lines are all too recognizable for all of us. On the business side, the main frustration is how costly it is.

Digital customer service, however, can be provided through various methods like live chat, social media and messaging support. If you’ve noticed that many of these ways sounds a lot like how you talk to your friends and family nowadays, that’s no surprise. Digital service has begun to mirror the way we communicate in our daily lives.

Benefits of digital customer service

Convenience. Probably the strongest benefit of digital customer service is its convenience– for businesses and customers. It’s available anywhere as long as you have an internet connection, and it’s available through a multitude of channels, so you and your customers can choose to use whichever you prefer.

Cartoon of a boomerang.

Wait times. Because it's often asynchronous, digital customer service gets rid of the pressure and waiting time that comes with face-to-face communication.

Customers and businesses can message each other without the need for both parties to be online at the same time, freeing up time to do other things. If both sides are online, however, your messages can be sent back and forth instantly.

Cost effective. Digital customer service is also more cost effective because one customer agent can help more customers at once. With a channel like the phone, support agents are mostly locked in at helping one customer at a time.

But with digital customer service, support agents have the flexibility to help many customers at once. And it's also possible to automate support for the easier, more repetitive questions. This frees up their time for more complex inquiries and can even help raise job satisfaction.

High customer satisfaction. Digital customer service also makes for higher customer satisfaction. A study by McKinsey showed that customers who were in touch with companies purely in digital form had a satisfaction of 76% compared to a traditional method only, garnering up only 57%. By raising customer satisfaction through providing easier ways for customers to get support, you’ll be more competitive and drive up customer loyalty as well.

Matches digital products. Digital customer service is also more fitting with the nature of digital products that are on the rise today. Say you buy a laptop and you have an issue installing a certain software. In the past, you might have had to call the company, after which they would attempt to explain where to click.

This is frustrating and confusing if you’re not a tech wiz. But thanks to digital customer service, companies can now effectively guide the customer to the solution all from the comfort of their home. They could even use a remote desktop solution like Teamviewer to do the work for you.

Every digital customer service channel has its own unique features, strengths and weaknesses. Below we’ve provided you with a quick overview of each digital customer service channel so you can decide for yourself which one(s) might be beneficial for your business.

Digital customer service channels

1
Email

Email has been a longstanding method of customer service since the transformation into the digital world. It borders the line between traditional and digital customer service because it mimics snail mail, but in digital form.

Companies often use email because it’s low-cost and well-suited for longer inquiries. However, wait times may vary and email can't often provide customers with an instant response if they need it.

It might also be difficult for customers to find the right email address, which can add to the wait time and contribute to frustration. Email is also on the impersonal side, especially when companies address their customers by ticket numbers.

2
Website chat

Userlike's Website Messenger.

Website chat is a way for your customer to contact a business directly on their website. Through a small chat bubble typically located at the bottom corner of the webpage, visitors can chat with service agents in real time.

It’s also cost-effective, which makes it a great option for smaller teams. Agents can chat with multiple customers at once and work on other tasks during support downtimes. And you could also connect a chatbot to take over the repetitive questions.

If you use a solution like Userlike, live chat makes it easy to communicate seamlessly with international customers as well with the help of instant live translation.

Userlike's live translation feature, translating English to Japanese.
Userlike’s live translation feature

This method is a great way to keep visitors on your page, especially if they need help before making a purchase. Live chat is the only channel that allows you to guide the customer throughout their entire website experience.

Unlike with phone calls, it's not an issue if the conversation goes silent for a while. Your visitor can simply keep their chat conversation running, click through, and send their questions as they pop up.

Read more: The 10 Live Chat Benefits You Need to Know

3
Contact forms

Contact forms are an email-style form located on a company’s website. It’s helpful for longer inquiries and is more convenient than traditional email since it takes away the need to search for an email address.

Besides that, however, it shares many of the same downsides with email, like unknown and potentially long wait times.

4
Knowledge Base

Knowledge bases are a self-help style of customer service that allows customers or visitors to find information based on the resources you have available on your site.

Knowledge base articles are usually more in-depth and specific than your average FAQ pages and can be suited to answer a range of questions. But since it lacks direct contact with an agent, it isn’t always useful for specific questions or issues that need personal attention.

5
Chatbots

Chatbots are automated helpers on your webpage or mobile messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp ) that can be used to answer your visitors’ questions or as a first point of contact before getting in touch with a human agent.

Three chatbots.

To use a chatbot, you can either connect it to your live chat solution or it can stand alone. The degrees to which a chatbot can help varies, depending on the investment your company is willing to make in the technology. It can act anywhere from a choice-tree, to a full-fledged bot that uses artificial intelligence to answer your customers.

Something to keep in mind is that customers have different preferences for talking with a chatbot. Not all customers enjoy talking to a bot, especially when it has a difficult time understanding your customers’ requests.

What we’ve learned from our own research is that there should always be the option to escalate the conversation to a human agent. Other than that, chatbots can be a cool technology for your service team to use and can help get rid of boring, repetitive inquiries.

Relevant articles:

6
Mobile messaging

With mobile messaging, customers can contact support through various messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, SMS and more.

WhatsApp logo with customers and agents cartoons.

Mobile messaging for support works just like it does when we use it in our private lives. When both sides are online, you can have a conversation in real time and get answers immediately. When one party is not online, it works asynchronously: the messages can still be received and responded to when they are back online.

On one hand, this kind of asynchronous communication makes it flexible for both sides. There’s no waiting in a queue for an answer and there’s no pressure to respond as quickly as possible. Efficiency can be maximized because, like live chat, agents can handle more than one conversation at a time. And because it’s a more personal way of communicating, you can Userlike skip the more rigid formalities that email requires (e.g. Dear Customer Name; Sincerely, Michelle).

The only downside is that customers are distributed among messaging apps and unlike e-mail, those apps don’t talk with each other. That’s why at Userlike we’ve built our solution so that you can chat with customers across messaging channels in one spot: website chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS and others.

Stylized version of Userlike's Message Center.
Userlike's Message Center, unifying customer messaging channels.

7
Social media customer support

Providing customer support via social media has been of growing importance in the last couple of years. With over 3 billion users across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter who share their experiences with the potential to reach millions of people, companies understand the need to be present on social media.

But with so many corners of the internet, where can you start? With the help of customer sentiment tracking tools, you can monitor when people mention your company’s name and the sentiment that goes along with it. That way, you’ll know if you should be thanking them for a positive review or if it’s a more urgent matter that needs assistance.

Being present on social media is also an effective way to increase brand awareness and can be a fun way of interacting with your audience. But don't go in there expecting nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

Many customers use social media for support requests because it gives them extra leverage to get what they want. On social media, others are watching – which fundamentally changes the dynamics of the game. It's challenging to balance a good public image and avoid giving in to unreasonable customers.

Relevant articles:

  • The 9 Customer Channels- Strengths and Weaknesses
  • How To Get Started with SMS Customer Service- Tips, Tools & Examples
  • 11 Customer Communication Tools for Building Stronger Relationships
  • 8 Ways to Know if You Need a Chatbot For Your Business
  • The 9 Best Messaging Apps for Customer Service
  • How to Respond to a Bad Review – Principles and Examples

    Our tips for digital customer service

    As customer service has moved into the digital world, we’ve also needed to rethink how we can provide service that still remains friendly and personal even though contact is limited to what we see on our screens.

    Friendly digital service starts with a company that’s oriented towards providing personal customer service. When it’s a part of your company’s culture, it makes it easier to ensure that everyone places the customer at the forefront.

    Communication skills also grow in importance in the digital context since we all have a tendency to perceive things negatively online: it’s called the negativity bias.

    Whether you’re a pro at messaging or just getting started, it’s always helpful to know messaging etiquette that can help you communicate better and avoid any misunderstanding. You can also read our 6 tips for personal customer service in the digital age.

    Related Articles

    All Userlike articles on digital customer service