Always Be Prepared: Tips on Handling Online Complaints

December 15, 2010

It’s no secret that help desks can always improve on how, and how rapidly, they respond to their customers’ inquiries. But in the age of instant gratification across a growing array of customer feedback channels, it can be easier said than done. Here are a few handy tips on how to enhance your help desk’s effectiveness, especially when the messages come at you online.

According to Dr. Deb Brown, a South Florida business coach, “In today’s age of ‘consumer-generated media,’ it’s critical for businesses to receive customer feedback through all channels: Facebook, Twitter, text, phone, fax and any other channels the customer chooses to use. A help desk needs to have processes and procedures in place to be able to respond to all of those channels effectively.”

She strongly urges companies to offer easy-to-navigate online FAQs and help documents organized by topic and to do the heavy lifting ahead of time to prepare to respond rapidly with on-target solutions. “When questions come through any online channel, you can just answer with a link to the FAQs instead of taking the time to type out every answer or trying to cram complex answers into Twitter’s 140-character limit.

“Also, you need to cross-train all staff to field every type of incoming question. If one staff member is assigned to fielding Facebook and Twitter questions, then they should be able to quickly respond to all of those questions independently. They shouldn’t need to interrupt a co-worker to ask for help with basic questions, and they shouldn’t pass a customer from person to person to person.”

Further, Brown points out that staff members need to be able to quickly communicate with each other if they notice a behavior pattern emerging, such as a sudden influx of callers with similar technical issues or usability challenges. And to help avoid unnecessary escalation to a supervisor, front-line staff can also be empowered to handle a wider range of customer service complaints.

Companies also need to be mindful of when to take the conversation offline, especially if it’s a complicated issue, or if it deals with sensitive personal details or the messy give-and-take interactions that unhappy customer service can generate. “But if someone is angry, don’t send them a link,” Brown says. “Tell them you pulled up their file and will be calling them in the next five minutes, and take it offline.”

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