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Leveraging the Online Service Experience of Customers

Many of us can recall a story about poor customer service that went viral on the Internet. (Think United Airlines and guitars, or Federal Express and computer monitors.) These negative stories have become legends. Unfortunately, we don’t find as many stories going viral about outstanding quality service.

In addition to these legendary stories are more day-to-day examples of how online information has changed the face of service. Nearly every company, product or service has information and opinion about it circulating on the Internet. This includes a wide range of commentary on the level of service and service experiences you provide. And it may even include outside sources, completely unknown to you, who provide service for your products.

I encountered this recently when trying to solve a problem with a technical device. I looked for a solution on the company’s support website, but there were only simple “how-to’s” for using the product – and very little about solving issues when the product was not working. Then I did a wider web search and found a multitude of helpful resources – but none from the company itself.

These outside resources quickly helped me solve the problem – awesome!  But in the process I also learned how frequently others had encountered the same problem, what new or lurking problems I might run into, and the frustrations many users had experienced when getting repairs or replacements.  I also found a thorough review of competitive products that were serving users better. I chose to keep the device I have, but I did seriously consider exchanging it for a competing product.

The service I received from sources outside the company was fantastic. I solved my problem and learned a lot along the way.  Why couldn’t the company have done the same thing? Solving problems is an ideal opportunity to build greater loyalty and educate customers. We cannot control everything that is said on the Internet about us, but we can offer a compelling online service structure and service message.

I decided to check two other companies where I am a customer – a bank and a furniture maker. I tried to find answers to service questions I have had in the past to see which was more effective – the companies’ websites or information available elsewhere on the internet. To its credit, the bank had a robust help site and much to offer through a site-specific search. (And I did learn about some new fees I was not previously aware of!) The furniture store’s online support was basic but it was fascinating the number of other sites with positive reviews and even better “how-to” instructions than the company offered itself.

So what to read lessons have I learned, and what can you apply?

1. Service mindset and service attitude are experienced electronically, and not just in person. Many companies concentrate their service improvement efforts on in-person or over-the- phone communications but may not realize the full impact of the online mediums. You may have the best service people in the business but if your error messages and support sites are too technical or unfriendly it may not matter. You may have the best service guarantees in your industry but if users are finding all the answers they need from other users on the web it may not matter.

2. It is vital to keep your help website, FAQs and customer forums current. Continually updating these resources to address the most current enquiries, issues and concerns will keep customers on your site and in your care, and not give them a reason to look elsewhere.

3. Provide useful education for customers as you help them solve their problems. Providing solutions and adding more value in the process generates greater loyalty.

4. Use a range of online media to connect and support your customers. This includes your websites, social media, YouTube, chat and electronic support documentation. Discover where your customers congregate online and meet them there.

5. Create online videos that are service-oriented, user-friendly, and helpful for your customers. Video is the fastest growing area of content on the Internet. It’s a vibrant medium that easily goes viral. It’s where you want to be useful, visible, and engaging.

6. Pay attention to what your customers are saying on other websites. Search regularly. When you see a problem trend or major service issue being discussed, add your voice to help address it.  Acknowledging problems, apologizing and offering a fix are far better than ignoring the issue. (This is how Federal Express quickly turned a negative viral video into a public relations opportunity.)

7. When you see someone else providing better service for your product than you are, learn from it!  When “power-users” offer sound advice online, incorporate it! Seek permission to add their comments to your own, appreciating their contribution and creating a richer and more fulfilling experience for everyone.

You cannot control all the information about your company, your services and your products on the Internet. But by paying attention to how you and your customers communicate online, you can upgrade your service and keep your customers loyal. Positive service stories may not be the stuff of legendary viral videos, but the service you provide online can become the source of many positive solutions.

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…and we’ll be in touch to share more ideas 
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