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How to get better customer service

How you contact the support team -- you'll probably be happiest with a phone call or online chat -- and what time of day can make a big difference, a study shows.

By Nov 4, 2013 11:07AM

This post comes from Christine DiGangi at partner site on MSN MoneyConsumers try lots of strategies to get what they want out of companies’ customer service, and public complaining on social media has gotten quite popular recently.

But raging on social media is not the most effective way to use customer service; at least, customers are more satisfied when they use phone calls, chat services, Web forms or email.

Woman shopping at a store © Jack Hollingsworth, Brand X, Getty ImagesAccording to the third-quarter Zendesk Benchmark, which analyzes customer satisfaction, businesses provide the best customer service through more traditional channels.

Part of that is because both consumers and companies haven’t quite figured out the social-media method of customer service, said Sam Boonin, the benchmark expert from Zendesk. Supporting someone in public is different than a one-on-one conversation or email exchange, making the matter more complicated.

"I think they’re learning very quickly that social support is important," Boonin said of customer service providers.

The secrets to better customer service

Zendesk, a customer-support software company, introduced the benchmark in March 2012 as a way for companies to see how their support performance compares with those of their peers. The benchmark data comes from "actual support and customer service interactions from more than 16,000 companies across 125 countries that have chosen to participate," according to the report.

Voice interactions (i.e. telephone conversations) had the highest customer service ranking at 91 percent satisfaction. Chat platforms came second at 85%, followed by help center/Web form (83 percent), email (82 percent) and Twitter (81 percent). Facebook was last with a 74% satisfaction rate.

The time of day customers contacted the support team was more closely linked to satisfaction than method. For consumers in need of help, it’s best to start early in the day.

"5 p.m. is probably the worst time to contact a support organization," Boonin said. A large part of that is tied to the way organizations staff their support teams, he said, because while large companies may have a 24/7 operation, most others work on a typical work schedule: eight hours a day, five days a week.

Fast responses to customer inquiries drive satisfaction and loyalty, Boonin said, and if a consumer submits a complaint at the end of the day, they’re putting their problems at the bottom of a pile that has been growing all day.

It’s important to remember that support teams are made up of humans, who tend to knock out the easy stuff early and leave harder problems for later, contributing to backlog, Boonin said.

The best times to reach out to customer service are between 8 a.m. and noon, when the average first response -- across all platforms -- comes within about 5 hours of the inquiry. Keep in mind the various expectations among platforms: Response rates among phone calls, social media and emails are very different. Also, it's 8 a.m. to noon wherever the support team is, not necessarily 8 a.m. to noon your time.

Boonin said the satisfaction among emerging support platforms is likely to change over time, but for now, consumers with complaints should start early with a phone call for the best chance of a good experience.

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