Article | 10 min read

What is digital customer service? | Benefits and strategy

Phone-dominant service solutions are no longer sufficient to meet consumers’ needs. Companies can improve the customer experience and cut operational costs by expanding their digital customer service offerings.

By Teresa Anania, Senior Vice President, Global Customer Success

Published August 11, 2021
Last updated June 16, 2022

The way consumers want to interact with businesses has changed. Modern customers don’t just call support at the first sign of trouble. They want to communicate with businesses on the digital channels they’re already using in their personal lives—email, live chat, and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. And they expect a prompt response.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 76 percent of shoppers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company’s customer support team.

To provide the fast and convenient experiences that customers demand, businesses need to rethink their digital customer service. Instead of just focusing on how many channels they use, today’s top support teams are prioritizing consistency, efficiency, and personalization.

What is digital customer service?

Digital customer service, person at computer

Digital customer service refers to the support a company provides via online channels—like email, chatbots, and social platforms.

While many brands still offer in-person and phone support, digital customer service is quickly becoming the norm. According to an eGain survey, 80 percent of consumers increased their usage of digital customer service in 2020.

But to impress customers, this type of support must be thoughtful and personalized. Otherwise, companies risk losing buyers to a competitor. Our CX Trends Report revealed that more than 60 percent of customers are willing to walk away after just one bad customer service experience.

Why offer digital customer service?

Digital customer support isn’t only convenient for your customers—it’s also good for your business. Agents can reach more customers at once, work more efficiently, and deliver the personalized interactions consumers want.

76% of shoppers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company’s customer support team.

Boost agent productivity

Boost agent productivity, thumbs up

If you offer only phone and in-person customer support, agents can only address issues one at a time. And because every resolution is verbal, these interactions take time.

With digital customer service, agents can move quickly from platform to platform to address issues. An agent can respond to multiple customer messages over email and chat in the time it takes to handle one support phone call. And if you provide self-service resources, such as a digital knowledge base or FAQ page, customers can use them to resolve simple issues on their own—saving your agents even more time.

Chatbots are another powerful way to increase your support team’s efficiency. Bots don’t need to sleep or take a break, and they can deliver instant support 24/7. In a world where the highest volume of ecommerce sales happens after standard working hours, bots can reduce the need for agents to work unusual shifts.

Provide personalized experiences

Provide personalized digital customer service experiences, magnifying glass on laptop

Today’s consumers want interactions to feel personal and authentic. And our CX Trends Report found that 90 percent are likely to spend more money with companies that can offer the personalization they’re looking for.

But with phone and in-person support, your team has only so much information about customers’ preferences. When you open up your support to digital channels—email, chat, social media, and messaging apps—you have many more opportunities to learn about what your customers want.

Track those details with CRM software, and your agents will have easy access to valuable customer data: past interactions, purchase history, geographic location, and more. Support teams can use that information to offer better, more personalized experiences. For instance, you can set up a chatbot to give product recommendations based on previous purchases.

Connect with more customers

Connect with more customers, hands touching

Even when someone has an issue with your product or service, they may not feel motivated to call your support team or visit your store in person. If they sit on the problem, their frustration is likely to grow.

Digital customer service makes it simple and convenient for buyers to reach your support team. In minutes, they can speak to an agent or a chatbot on the channels they already use every day, such as email or Facebook.

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Best practices for a digital customer service strategy

You’re probably already offering some form of digital support, but there’s always room to improve your customer service. Follow these best practices to make your customers’ and agents’ lives even easier and see better outcomes.

Meet customers where they are

Enterprise companies saw customer requests over WhatsApp grow by 284 percent in 2020 alone. What’s more, mid-to-large-size teams with leading CX results are at least 1.5 times more likely to use messaging.

Messaging is fast, personal, convenient, secure, and asynchronous. Conversations can happen in real-time or at the customer’s leisure. Unlike web-based live chat, customers can troubleshoot while tuning into a Zoom meeting or doing laundry. Agents can resolve multiple issues simultaneously, increasing their overall throughput.

It’s also possible to preserve the conversation thread for later. This thread includes previous interactions buyers had with the brand (including conversations with bots, email reminders, updates, and other notifications), giving agents the context needed to personalize the experience and saving customers from repeating themselves.

Another advantage of messaging is the rich, interactive conversations, which aren’t always feasible via email and other traditional channels.

Scale smarter with self-service

Customers have adopted a “Google it” mantra when it comes to customer service. They check a company’s online resources first when they run into trouble and prefer self-service because it’s quick and convenient.

Our research revealed that 70 percent of consumers expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them. And mid-to-large-sized companies have seen nearly a 40 percent increase in knowledge base views from customers since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Handle simple inquiries with chatbots

An AI chatbot can highlight your self-service options by recommending help center content to customers and pointing them to quick answers over email, messaging apps, a product or checkout page, and more.

When bots take questions off a support team’s plate, they free up agents to focus on tasks that require a human touch. Chatbots can also protect agents’ time by gathering information from customers upfront (like order number or location) and then connecting them to the right agent for their issue.

Provide a choice of digital channels upfront and reserve calls for complex issues

On its own, the phone limits agents to helping only one customer at a time within confined call center hours, so it’s hard to scale existing resources. It also increases the cost per contact and slows down first-resolution time.

Businesses can reduce first-response time by providing a choice of digital channels upfront and reserving calls for sensitive, complex issues. This will give agents time back and enable them to offer more meaningful support.

Take UGG’s Click and Reserve program, which allows people to reserve stock in-store before purchasing. This process traditionally required shoppers to call the store and wait while employees checked for the item. Now, digital-first customers receive an email or text confirmation as soon as their reservation is ready for pick up.

“The more experiences you can offer on digital devices, the better chance you have of keeping the customer happy,” says David Williams, director of online, EMEA for Deckers at Deckers Brands. “Digital is the glue for it all.”

Consider messaging. It enables agents to help multiple customers simultaneously, and when paired with a chatbot, it can become an “always-on” channel. And resolving support issues via social media can be up to six times cheaper than a voice interaction.

Bring it all together with one view for agents

Agents are less efficient when they have to toggle between tabs to view incoming conversations across channels. They need a 360 customer view. When data from various customer touchpoints and systems are in one place—and support teams can easily access these key details across digital channels—agents can tailor their interactions accordingly.

High-performing enterprise teams have three times as many agents working across multiple channels and are 5.8 times more likely to say they give agents a single view of important customer context.

Promote knowledge sharing with collaboration tools

CX integrations with partners like Zoom and Slack saved the day when companies suddenly shifted to remote work. Yet collaboration remains a trouble spot. Only 57 percent of agents reported that they’re able to discover knowledge base articles easily.

Enabling agents to work with one another and other teams through collaboration tools helps avoid repetition, lag time, and confusion. And empowering agents to document and share their knowledge can save their teammates a future headache and, even better, allow them to assist customers faster.

Connect customer data across support tools

At large companies with sprawling customer bases, data is often siloed and scattered across systems, which means agents can’t access it to personalize interactions.

Choose support software that integrates seamlessly with your team’s tech stack so you can consolidate customer data. Tools like Workato allow businesses to sync data between cloud-based applications throughout their organization. With customer insights at their fingertips, agents can anticipate customers’ needs and further personalize their service.

3 digital customer service examples

Looking for inspiration? See how these three companies used digital customer service to strengthen their CX and their bottom line.

  1. Instacart

    When online grocery shopping skyrocketed in 2020, Instacart revamped its digital customer service. A data-driven organization, Instacart integrated its customer support solution with tools that allowed the company to incorporate the data needed for customer interactions—like contact information, recent orders, and coupon and credit balance, among other things.

    Instacart also made it more convenient for shoppers to contact the support team about any issues they were experiencing. Customers can now chat with agents in real-time to update their orders. Plus, Instacart’s website and app both feature clear navigation menus that make it easy for customers to reach out.

    The company’s digital support efforts seem to be paying off. Instacart has a 90 percent satisfaction score from more than 175,000 digital customer service tickets per month.

  2. Grubhub

    When the pandemic changed eating habits and takeout became the only way Americans could enjoy food from restaurants, Grubhub received an influx of customer requests. But even when ticket volume increased by 100 percent, Grubhub was still able to meet its goals.

    How? The company bolstered its self-service options, such as enabling diners to obtain refunds without the help of an agent. It also reduced the number of contacts per order by allowing customers to make changes to their orders via the app and website.

    Grubhub’s tech teams converted some of their processes to more automatic solutions, too. This was especially handy at the height of the pandemic when a restaurant couldn’t fulfill orders due to staffing issues, which resulted in customers canceling orders and requesting refunds. Grubhub proactively created tickets so agents could step in for the diner, improving the customer experience.

  3. Polaris

    Polaris launched Polaris Adventures in 2017 to connect more closely with end-users and increase accessibility to its vehicles. The team knew prioritizing the customer experience at all touchpoints was crucial, so they adopted a customer-centric, digital-first approach. As a result, the company’s business has been doubling yearly.

    To keep up with the volume of customer inquiries, the Polaris team increased productivity by using a CRM, enabling support agents to handle 30 to 40 percent more business. Most consumers can now expect a 30-minute reply time after first contacting Polaris’ customer service team.

    Agents can collaborate more effectively, work together on tickets internally, and access an internal knowledge base for FAQs—empowering them to provide proactive customer support.

Strengthen your digital customer service with the right software

Elevate your digital customer support by investing in a full-service omnichannel solution. Provide agents with a unified workspace that connects conversations across channels with customer data from other sources via out-of-the-box or custom integrations. Deliver more personalized support at scale while increasing productivity and cutting costs.

How Zendesk powers an evolving workplace

Take actionable steps towards building a robust and adaptable experience for employees and customers alike.

How Zendesk powers an evolving workplace

Take actionable steps towards building a robust and adaptable experience for employees and customers alike.

Learn more