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Online customer service -- how to get started

Looking to get started with self service technology? Read advice from Jim Berkowitz on how a small business should begin planning for self service improvements.

What's your take on online customer service for small and midsized businesses (SMBs)? What is the minimum self-service capability for a small business of 75 employees? We get a lot of self-service software information from vendors, but it's hard to sift through.
You're right! There are a lot of online customer service products available today to SMBs. Some are oriented towards making your internal customer service operations more effective and efficient, while other solutions are more focused on allowing your customers to help themselves. Of course many products cover aspects of both.

Many SMBs start simply with static (possibly searchable) FAQ pages on their Web site and then move on to a more robust customer self-help solution. Where does all of this self-help content come from? Typically from your internal customer service agents who, when answering email or phone questions using a full-blown customer service system, post the answers to the Web-based customer self-service database.

If I were in your shoes, the first thing I would do is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your current customer service people, processes and technology.

Secondly, I would supplement this internally-oriented evaluation by talking to as many customers as you can. Go beyond asking them how well you're currently doing by exploring their expectations of your customer service operations and what you might be able to do to exceed their expectations. Customer service should be all about exceeding customer expectations!

Finally, once you have a handle on the processes you'd like to improve and the kinds of things that your customers would find most valuable in terms of maximizing the value they are getting from your products and or services, you should find it much easier to look for self-service technology that will enable you to achieve your specific objectives.

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