Best Practices to Consider When Pivoting to Online Customer Service

The pandemic made something truly clear to small business owners. If a business is not able to adapt, then it can quickly fail. When a business is first beginning to provide online customer service, they often find it overwhelming. Before 2020, only 66% of small businesses had a website, which means that 33% of businesses had no way to reach their customers locked inside during the quarantine and the shutdown. Communication with your customers is critical whether it is online or in person, and while the world may slowly be opening its doors, the way we do business has fundamentally changed.

Even if COVID-19 were to die out completely, there is always the risk of the next unexpected thing (disease or otherwise) on the horizon. So, if you are pivoting to online customer service for your business then you should keep in mind some of these best practices and tools.

Cater Your Website for Communication

The most important thing to do first after getting a website is to get it prepared for online communication. If you are new to the web, consider investing in the tools Many other web hosting services also have built-in tools for businesses to help them interact with their customers more effectively, which means you do not have to be an expert at coding to create an easy-to-use website with communication tools. This is especially important if the products or services you offer are not things that customers are accustomed to or do not enjoy using. This is particularly true for things like medical devices or services, but also applies to utilities or other basic need-driven businesses. If your business revolves around customers needing you when a serious problem (like broken pipes/water heater) occurs and they can’t quickly find a way to reach you, then you’re handing business off to your competitors.

Encourage and Measure Feedback

It is important to listen to your customers’ feedback, so having a feedback tool available for them on your website either through a contact us page or by having a specific feedback email or survey will let them know that you care what they say. It is useful to have an FAQ page with answers to common questions on your product or service for them to reference. Not only does it save them time and educate your consumers, but it also cuts down on the volume of inquiries, which can become unmanageable if you do not scale your support staff to match your growth. It does not matter if you have been the same type of business for years; every customer's needs are different. Always listen and remember to be responsive. Depending on the size of your business, you should implement an online customer service training plan for your employees. This helps create a standard of service across your business and manage expectations for those who provide support to your customers. While there are instances where a customer leaves a review or complains in bad faith, by taking a humble approach and focusing on resolving the issue you lend credibility to your business.

Track Your Responsiveness

Providing online customer service is most important when resolving questions or concerns about your services, and customers are accustomed to dealing with fast response times. Consumers prefer to do business with a company that is responsive to their needs and is professional and courteous in its dealings with customers, even the ones who are upset about a bad experience. Many social media sites also track and report to consumers on your responsiveness, meaning a timely response rate can reflect positively on your brand image.

A New Kind of Listening

If you're a small business owner, there are certainly some essential tips for personalized customer service that you should follow. While you cannot please everyone, you must be sensitive to your customers' needs and desires by practicing the online equivalent of active listening skills. This can be particularly challenging since when you are responding to a message online or an email you can lose a lot of the personal connection you can get with in-person interactions. For online communication, while you may not be able to read body language, you can very specifically focus on the issues the customers are dealing with and keep your communication relevant.


One example of this is paying attention to your customer’s signature. If their name is Debra, but they sign the email as “Debbie,” then you can refer to them as Debbie. Make sure you spell the name correctly in your response. Pay attention to your grammar, because it is a reflection of your credibility in solving the problem. Nothing makes a customer feel like they are dealing with an incompetent person who likely doesn’t understand their problem like bad grammar and spelling.


When you are looking at a customer’s query or contact, your service should focus on quickly addressing the query or resolving the problem. Don’t waste the customer’s time with unnecessarily wordy responses. Be succinct in your response and acknowledge their concern or question with a useful response. If the situation warrants, a brief statement of empathy is appropriate (i.e., I’m sorry to hear that there was a packaging error for your order).

Professionalism in the Right Context

Being professional doesn’t mean being overly formal or wordy. If your electronic communications read like a court transcript then it will be off-putting. Less is more in your response. Don’t re-state the problem in your response to an email, because you and your customer can read the problem in the last email in the chain. If you can’t identify the problem, then that’s the point where you can ask a clarifying question. Don’t give answers to questions that they never asked, since it can often become difficult to follow for customers and lead them to believe that there are more problems. Also make sure that your language and tone are consistent with the professional image you are trying to maintain. One example I have heard many times comes from Disneyland. Signing an email with “Gorsh” like the character Goofy is appropriate for that business (hospitality) and represents its brand professionally. Likewise, you can cater your communications to represent the brand you are building.


There are many great ways you can provide excellent customer service online. If you're not using them already, start implementing them. They will make your customer service more efficient and effective, and they can bring in more customers through referrals. Your digital signature is how your customer will remember your business and the services you provide to them.


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