The bread and butter of good customer support isn’t in flashy displays, free gifts, open ended return policies, or long-winded phone conversations.
Great support boils down to a set of basic principles. Whether you’ve just opened the metaphorical doors of your online shop or you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, these are the traits that will bridge the gap between you and your customers and bolster the foundation for thoughtful and dependable support.
8 time-tested principles of good customer service
Each ingredient of a great customer support strategy centers around empathy, respect, kindness, and your dedication to using feedback to improve. The hallmarks of great support are:
- The best conversation is no conversation
- Choose your channels wisely
- Perception = reality
- Speed is a competitive advantage
- Real delight means giving unexpected extras
- Get closer with your customers
- You can’t always be available; let customers know when you are
- Measure how you’re doing and make changes
The best conversation is no conversation
Nobody wants to talk to support as a default: most customers just want to buy your product, receive it, and move on. So when a customer does have a reason to reach out, use that conversation as an opportunity to solve the root cause of issues that many others may be having and fix problems overall.
By implementing feedback when it’s given, you can reduce the number of support conversations over time. This is called proactive customer service, or fulfilling a customer’s need before they notice it—much like you’d buy another carton of milk at the grocery store before you run out.
All you have to do is this: when a customer writes in, evaluate their request. Most likely, many other customers have experienced the same issue but decided not to say anything. Then, see if you can make an improvement. This could include things like:
- Making product descriptions more clear
- Improving the accuracy of shipping and delivery predictions
- Taking better product photos
- Implementing tools like Shop Pay to make the checkout experience more seamless
Another way to decrease customer inquiries is to offer self-service support in the form of an FAQ page or Help Center.
For example, sustainable clothing shop tentree offers a robust Help Center that covers everything from Returns and Exchanges to their Ambassador Program. While they also offer a way to contact support directly, their Help Center acts as a comprehensive resource intended to answer any question a customer might have.
Choose your channels wisely
The support channels you choose determine the level and types of customer service you can provide. The tricky part is deciding where you’ll meet your customers and how you’ll support them when you get there.
It’s unrealistic for most small shops to accommodate every possible point of contact that exists today. Imagine this: you make yourself available on every social channel, provide an email address and phone number, and offer live chat each weekday. While at first that level of accessibility might seem like a great idea, if you’re running a small operation—or even a large one—things can get out of hand quickly.
When you tell customers that you provide support across all channels, they’ll expect that level of support to be equal among them all. And if you don’t respond quickly, they’ll just reach out elsewhere. You may get messages from the same customers on multiple different platforms which makes looking up their cohesive support history next to impossible.
Instead of being everywhere, it’s essential that you choose support channels that fit your business and your customers’ needs and commit to a presence there.
Flour and bakery shop Flourist decided to offer only two avenues for support: email and direct messages on its Instagram page. That means Flourist is able to focus on their email inbox, Instagram comments, and Instagram direct messages. Because the company hasn't listed any other options for support, customers can expect responses on those two channels only. Setting up that expectation for customers is just as important as meeting it.
Here’s what you should ask yourself:
- What channels have you found it easiest to manage, maintain, and speak to your customers on?
- What channels do you spend the most time managing?
- On what channels have you heard from your customers the most?
- Are you willing to deal with support escalations in public?
- What channels give you the most robust information on each customer?
- Which channels allow you to connect with your customers the best?
Pick one or two channels and stick to them. And if you find that customers still write in to channels you don’t offer support on, create an autoresponder that directs them to the channels where you do. It’ll save both of you time.
Perception = reality
The areas where tone and positive language have real leverage during a support conversation are the gray areas. Gray areas in support are ones where you don’t have a simple or thoughtful resolution to a problem. Tone and positive language also have staying power during the level 5 conversations on a scale of 1 to 10.
During these interactions, the perception a customer has of your brand determines the outcome.
That means that customers weigh their support experience based on two factors: the words you use and how they already feel about your company as a whole.
For example, lifestyle brand Ban.do takes a bubbly and conversational tone on their website. Peppering snark into their website copy, you might associate their brand with words like fun, cool, trendy, or even the way you felt about the “cool kids” in your high school class. If a customer feels all of that about Ban.do, they take those feelings into any support interaction.
And because their “Contact us” page uses the same fun tone and positive words, as a customer about to write in, I’m already at ease.
As you think about recreating this in your support strategy, you might ask customers to fill out a quick survey where you ask them what words they associate your brand with so you can better understand how they feel.
A Shopify App like Better Thank You Page could help with this. While a fun spunky tone won’t work for every brand, this will still give you a strong idea of how customers view you. Other words could be, “reputable,” “dependable,” “good quality,” “unique,” and so on.
Then, ensure you’re using positive language in every support interaction. That means pivoting from words like “I can’t do this” or “you need to…” to things like, “we can tackle this problem together.”
Speed is a competitive advantage
If there's one bit of "eat-your-vegetables" advice that always rings true in support, it's this: people like quick replies and resolutions. You shouldn't over promise or compromise on quality, but you should always look to be fast.
"Speed to resolution" is more important than "speed to reply," which means solving for the customer's full issue matters, not just responding back to them quickly.
You also need to keep in mind that even If you fix their current issue, they may need help implementing that fix or even need help with something else. So before you’re super quick to respond, identify any potential next steps and provide help before they ask.
Speed in support is going to look different for everyone. If you offer a live chat option, your response time is going to be faster than if you offer email support.
For example, clothing company Taylor Stitch aims for speed with their live chat option, but also offers an email option (with a response time of 24 hours) for those who’d prefer to chat asynchronously.
Real delight means giving unexpected extras
As we've covered before, delight isn't about rolling out a red carpet. It's about small, thoughtful gestures that break expectations and create genuine connections with customers.
Delight in support can be as simple as sending a personal email to a customer, including a company sticker with an order, or providing reliable help when it’s needed. You don’t have to go overboard, but little things like this will go a long way.
Clothing company tentree provides delight in their company mission: every item they sell plants 10 trees. Seriously. And while that version of delight might not be right for you, it goes to show that delight comes in all shapes and sizes.
Think about what you can offer, big or small, and pick what feels right to you.
Get closer with your customers
The better you get to know your customers, the better support you’ll be able to provide. We don’t mean that you have to spend an hour on the phone with each one of them, but it’s helpful to understand what works well for your customers and what doesn’t.
Customers want to be able to connect with you and your brand on a human level.
They want reassurance that your brand understands what they need, and delivers it. That’s why empathy is such an essential ingredient in good customer support.
In addition to working with a foundation of empathy, your support should always feel personal. Personal support respects your customer’s time by getting back to them quickly. It also feels like it’s coming from a human rather than a computer.
One simple way to do this? Use your name, not your brand, in support interactions. This email from clothing company Marine Layer captures personal support in a few ways:
- Though it’s automated, it generated right after I submitted a support ticket so I knew they got my request
- The email called me a part of the family, which felt thoughtful and genuine
- The email let me know when they would get back to me, which respects my time
- The email came from Dave, Megan, and Kyle, not just “Marine Layer” the brand
- They actually did get back to me within that time frame, and solved my issue immediately—now I can absolutely trust that the Marine Layer team means what they say
You can’t always be available; let customers know when you are
Customers need to know that there’s someone on the other end when they send a message. Emailing into an empty abyss isn’t that comforting, especially if a company doesn’t list its support hours anywhere.
You should have the hours you’re online to provide support in the footer of each page on your site, and on your FAQ and Contact Us page.
If you provide asynchronous chat or live chat, make sure you list the hours you or your team will return when you’re offline.
And if you offer email support, generate an automated message that lets customers know you got their message, what your hours are, and the approximate wait time to hear back.
Check out a similar message I got from Lupine Pet when my dog chewed through his leash:
All you’re doing is setting up an expectation for your customers so they know when you’ll get back to them even if you can’t right away. But be careful here: if you say you’ll respond in one business day, one hour, or even 5 business days, you have to mean it.
Measure how you’re doing and make changes
There are a ton of customer service metrics out there, and rest assured that you don’t have to track each one of them. But keeping track of a few metrics will give you a better picture of how you’re doing.
Shopify App Kustomer is a robust customer service tool that will allow you to track your or your team’s performance, and it holds the keys to all of your customer data.
You should keep track of these customer service metrics:
- Resolution Rate: From the time a customer writes in to the time it takes to work out and close the issue.
- First response time: How long it takes you and your team to get back to a customer’s initial request
- Response time: The length of time between each message back and forth between you and a customer
- CSAT: Customer satisfaction, usually gleaned from a post-purchase survey
- Internal Quality Score (IQS Score): How well you or your team is meeting the internal standards you’ve set for quality
The building blocks of great customer service
If you’re just getting started or want to level-up your customer service, start with these 8 pillars. The more you work at refining your support strategy, the happier your customers will be overall. And though this might seem like a lot of work up front, these practices will set you up for success for the long haul.