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September 1, 2010

How Will You Handle Customer Support for Your Site?

There are many ways to deal with customer support at your website. Which method you choose will depend on how large your company is, what your customers want, and what you feel most comfortable with.

One of the classic ways of handling customer service and support is via telephone. This is often the preferred methods for customers, because they can usually get their problems resolved much faster than they might using other methods.

Unfortunately, providing telephone support probably isn’t realistic unless you have the staff to handle it and your product or service is selling at a price that covers the often huge additional cost of staffing an inbound call center. If you’re a solo operation, phone support may well be out of the question. So what other options are available to you?

The two major alternatives are e-mail and support ticket systems.

Email support lets you answer support requests in your own time, but it may upset some of your more impatient customers. There will always be people who will fly into a rage if their email isn’t answered within 5 minutes, even at 3am on Sunday morning!

The other problem with e-mail support is spam. If you make an e-mail address available for support it won’t be long before you’re starting to receive significant qualities of spam and ultimately the e-mail address can become completely unusable. Even with spam filters installed it’s difficult, even bordering on impossible, to stop at least some spam coming through. The last thing you want is to have to spend more time deleting spam than helping your valued customers and that’s exactly what can happen if you’re not careful.

On the plus side, e-mail is easy to handle for both the sender and yourself. It’s easy to set up standard replies for commonly asked questions and it’s also possible to reroute e-mails to different addresses should the need arise (e.g. when someone hasn’t received a shipment and you need to bring this to the attention of your shippers).

An alternative to e-mail that is well worth considering is a support ticket system.

More and more people are starting to turn to support ticket systems, or help desk software as it is often known, to handle their support requests. Although this is generally one of the best methods for the companies that use them, they can be troublesome to the customer.

Many help desks require the user to register in order to submit a request. This takes time out of the customer’s busy schedule, and may annoy them further if they’re already upset about something related to your product.

Some of them even require the user to verify their email address before they can log in to submit a request. This could be particularly upsetting if your server happens to take longer than a minute or two to send out the confirmation request.

Customers can be very impatient, especially if they haven’t received something they paid for or if they have a problem with something they did receive. Once people reach their maximum tolerance level, the hassle will usually no longer be worth it, and they’ll ask for a refund and that’s obviously something you don’t want to happen.

Support ticket systems do have some advantages and these can easily outweigh the downsides.

Ticket systems are an excellent way of managing the support work-flow. They keep everything in one place and make it very easy to see all the previous messages relating to any support issue. This is useful for both the customer and yourself as it saves having to search through old e-mails (some of which may well have been deleted) to find previous correspondence.

Ticket systems can also help you to get a real handle on what the major issues are. In an e-mail support system it’s easy for this to be hidden in the deluge of e-mails whereas in a ticket system it is usually possible to categorize incoming tickets so that matters pertaining to a specific subject can easily be monitored.

Ticket systems also usually offer far more robust reporting than a standard e-mail system. This makes it easy to see how many tickets are opened/closed each day and who dealt with them.

Another benefit to ticket systems is that they can avoid the issue of non-delivered e-mails. The problem of valid e-mails not arriving at their destination is one that all companies face on an increasingly frequent basis. By providing a ticket system that people can view whenever they like means you don’t have to rely solely upon e-mails getting through.

No matter which method you choose, it’s important to respond to requests as soon as possible. Due to the very nature of the Internet, people expect immediate gratification. Since the Internet is available 24/7 in most places, people tend to think Internet businesses are also open 24/7 and that is rarely the case, even with very large companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

These expectations may be unrealistic, but that is the reality you face as an Internet marketer. Some people will expect you to be available at all hours of the day, even on weekends or holidays. You can’t alleviate this problem completely, but by dealing with incoming support requests as promptly and efficiently as possible you will go a long way to satisfying the needs of the vast majority of your customers, and that is what’s important.

Paul Smithson is the creator of the XSitePro Web Design Software, XHeader, the free tool for designing web site and blog header graphics and XCommentPro, the web site commenting tool. His areas of expertise include business strategy, ecommerce, online and traditional marketing,
software development and maximizing the potential of online businesses. Visit and