How To Run Customer Service For A Small Shop And Why Live Chat Is A Bad Idea

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One of the beauties of running a business online is that you don’t have to be physically present to accept orders. A computer server can handle and process monetary transactions while you sleep and even fulfill orders for you if you sell digital goods!

Photo By Teamstickergiant

But inevitably, you will have to deal with problems or questions about your products. And often times, answering questions will require your personal attention. There’s no way around it.

Unfortunately, your time and freedom are both scarce commodities. Chances are if you run a small shop, you probably don’t have much bandwidth to handle customer calls.

In addition, you probably don’t want to be tied down to your desk or your computer all day either.

After all, you went into business online to give yourself more freedom right? So what is the best way to conduct customer service if you are just a small store? Here are some tips and tricks that we use with our online shop.

Avoid Using Live Chat

My wife and I used to think that Live Chat was the holy grail of customer service. With just one computer, you can answer questions from multiple customers at the same time. Live chat scales well. A lot of big name stores use it. It’s very convenient and the cost is not prohibitive either. So why am I telling you not to use it?

The main problem with live chat is that someone has to be behind a computer at all times. Why? It’s because as soon as you get up from your computer, your store faces a big catch-22.

On one hand, you can turn your “Live Chat” offline. But when a customer sees that you are “offline” during regular business hours, it looks really bad. Why the heck are customer representatives not standing by when the store is open? Going offline makes your store appear to be understaffed.

On the other hand, you can just place your customer on hold until you can get behind a keyboard when a live chat is initiated. Unfortunately, if you place the customer on hold too long, they’ll get pissed off. Even worse, you might get up and do something else and completely forget that you have live chat activated on your site.

End result? You have to stay glued to your computer to handle customer support which kind of defeats the purpose of running your business online in the first place.

Dealing With Phone Calls

Sometimes a customer wants to speak with someone human and as a result, you may have to physically answer calls. But realistically, when you are a small business you can’t always be waiting right by the phone. This is where a virtual phone service like EVoice comes in handy.

With a virtual phone service, you can have a single phone number be forwarded to as many other numbers as you want. For example, when someone calls our online store, we can have the call ring our home phone, our office phone and our cell phones all at the same time. So wherever we happen to be, we can pick up the phone and answer the call if we want to.

Related: How To Handle Customer Support With Little Or No Staff Using A Virtual Phone System

A virtual phone service also allows you to establish a menu or phone tree. In the event that you can not answer the phone call, you can have the customer leave a voicemail and bucketize their question according to priority.

If the matter is urgent, you can have them leave a high priority message which can alert you immediately. For common inquiries such as delivery times or store hours, you can direct them to a standard message or a lower priority inbox.

With the rise of smartphones, it is often easier to send email rather than pick up a phone call. For example if my wife is in a loud location like a coffee shop hanging out, she can’t answer a call but she can easily send email.

So when a customer calls and we’re not available, we set the voicemail greeting in such a way that encourages a customer to email rather than call.

All our representatives are on the phone or busy with other customers but if you need immediate assistance, please email and you will receive a reply within a few hours.

What usually ends up happening is that a customer will often call back, jot down the email address and hang up.

Answer Common Questions On Your Website

One of the most common questions we get is when a customer will receive their order. So, we place this information on every single product page and on the shopping cart page as well.

Having a comprehensive FAQ page is a good idea as well, but often times customers will either be too lazy or oblivious to find and read it in its entirety. As a result, you should answer common questions on as many different pages as you can as the customer traverses your website.

Doing so will cut down on the number of phone calls and ease a frustrated customer’s concerns early on.

Don’t Use Customer Service As An Excuse

I get a lot of emails from readers worried about not being able to deal with customer service in a timely fashion once they get their online store up and running. After all, a lot of new shopowners have full time jobs and/or busy schedules.

But here’s my take. If you are getting a lot of phone calls and inquiries, then that’s a good thing. You have a lot of people that are interested in what you have to sell and chances are you will generate a lot of sales. Once the call volume gets to a point where it’s unmanageable, you’ll probably be making enough money to either hire someone to help or to quit your job.

Most of the questions that we get for our online store can be addressed by highlighting content on various pages of our shop. As long as you make an effort to be responsive and answer questions in a reasonable time frame, you shouldn’t lose too many customers early on.

The key is to run your store and not have it run you. Use all of the available technology at your disposal.

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17 thoughts on “How To Run Customer Service For A Small Shop And Why Live Chat Is A Bad Idea”

  1. Steve,

    This is really a great article about how to manage customer service issues.

    I think as a business owner if you follow the rule of treating your customers as you would want to be treated and served, you really can’t go wrong!

    Great post as always!


  2. Really good post and very timely, as I was wondering about using LiveChat myself. And can’t wait to get the point where I’m getting “too many” customer calls! :)

    1. You will Mariana. You’ll get there soon.

  3. Interesting point. I’ve seen sites where, when someone isn’t there, the Live Chat option disappears from the website altogether. So if you’ve never used it before, you wouldn’t even know it’s an option (though it does frustrate people who have used it before). I think you can succeed with phone and e-mail response, provided (on the e-mail side) that you reply quickly.

    1. THanks for the comment! Am I going to see you at FINCON?

  4. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to respond. Avoiding live chat may be right for some, but for many others, they’d be missing opportunities. I think my blog post linked above, thanks for the conversation today, Steve!

    1. Hi Carreen,
      I agree. Don’t get me wrong. I love live chat and plan to use it when we can have a dedicated person running customer support. But when you are a one or two man show, it’s much less binding when you stay away from live chat. Most of the shopowners I deal with on this blog have full time jobs and run their shops on the side. You can imagine how hard it would be to stay on top of a live chat window when it demands your immediate attention.

      1. Definitely! You certainly know your audience and your business. It’s a powerful tool when you get to that point in the life of your business.

  5. Valeri says:

    This is a great article. I wondered, Steve, if your level of success with an online store is a real exception to the rule, or a generally possible thing, would you say?

    It’s clear from your articles how good a job you do with your store, and I just wondered how much of your success was down to your skill/expertise? I know by following all of your great tips we’d already be far ahead, it’s just I don’t seem to hear great success stories about small online stores in general.

    1. Hi Valeri,

      There are many small ecommerce stores out there that are doing extremely well and many are doing far better than we are. The reason you probably don’t hear about the success stories as often is because most shopowners choose not to blog about it. In my case, I started this blog because I was getting a lot of questions from friends about our business experiences. It takes a tremendous amount of work to run a blog and I’d say most business owners are either shy or don’t have the time to write about it.

  6. Cassie says:

    The best reason not to use live chat some callers are very how I say manipulative/aggressive and will test your patients beyond barriers to get you to say things negatively most recording it to defame a business. This does another bad aspect reset your tone/attitude for the next caller. And or manipulate you to defame your business yourself.

    Don’t believe “A morning radio show did this to a small business owner” via one of those morning prank calls of the day the person initiating it was the businesses competitor an assistant manager hoping to gain brownie points ………………..

    Great article Steve but honest you forgot the main reason most will step away from live chat or too nice to say “Once in a blue moon” you just get that one call that a person refuses any reasonable solutions and there goal is to sap the energy out of you…………….

    1. Hi Cassie

      For those customers, we don’t waste our time or our energy. We simply give them a full refund and move on. Our sanity is worth more than a single sale.

  7. Rajon says:

    I think you offer a great alternative perspective, but if you do it the right way, there is no medium quite like live chat. I almost doubled my projects after put live chat ( ClickDesk) on my website.

    Of course, there are a lots of if’s and but’s – I personally believe live chat is great way to reach out to web visitors.

    It was nice reading your view.

  8. Jamel says:

    My live chat provider has an app for iPhone so I can stay in contact with customers through live chat even when I am away from my computer

  9. It is very helpful for us.We know different kind of information from this.

  10. Great article about how to treat your customer.
    Customer is indeed the king and companies should put in each and every effort to make them feel better.

    Live Chat will surely add in reaching customers personally and will help in understanding them better.

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