Rules for Amazing Digital Customer Service in 2019

I can order groceries through an app and have them available for pickup or dropped off at my house.

I can do the same with my Starbucks order. Reordering household goods. Booking my dentist appointment.

In fact, most of the things I will purchase will be done through some sort of digital space. And I’m not alone. 2016 was a tipping point where a majority of items purchased in America were done through the web.

Also consider that in 2014, we complained over 879 million times about brands on social media. That’s 2 million times a day. 100,000 times an hour. 1,600 times a minute.

It’s a lot.

As business moves more to the digital world, excellent customer service needs to follow it. Here are some rules to deliver amazing digital service.


Meet Your Customers


If a consumer complains and no one is around to hear it, does it still impact your business? Very much yes. The first step in providing exceptional digital service is to make sure that you have systems in place to be alerted to any comments about your brand. What makes listening so challenging is that consumers use a range of channels: social media, forums, email, websites, and live chat. Searching the internet every day is a difficult task, so we recommend that you create automated alerts and make use of 3rd party tools.

  1. Create Google Alerts for mentions of your brand.
  2. Save searches on social media for mentions of your brand, products, and broad services.
  3. Explore using and for automated listening.
  4. Create a dedicated customer support email address that is accessible to multiple users.
  5. Claim your listings on review sites like Yelp and Google My Business.

Only 3% of complaints use a brand’s social handle, so when you create your searches and alerts, remember to include common misspellings of your brand, products, and mentions of your services in your geographic area.

It’s also important to put your support email address and telephone number in obvious places across your profiles. A consumer might come to your Facebook page, but prefer to contact you by phone, so you want to make sure that it is easy for them to find that information. It should be easy for the consumer to connect with a real person at any point and on any channel.
consumers like digital customer support

Create Rules of Engagement


Now that you have identified the compliant, you need to have guidelines on how to respond. <

1. Respond in 24 hours

The first rule you should implement is an internal SLA (service level agreement) the defines the maximum amount of time a consumer will have to wait in order to get a response.

Customers expect brands to respond to complaints on social media within twenty-four hours.

The Northridge Group found that a majority of consumers expect businesses to respond in 24 hours of receiving the complaint. For this reason, we recommend setting an SLA of 24 hours.

A second SLA to consider is a “last word” policy. If a consumer takes the time to send you a message or leave a comment, even if it is nice, you should always respond. Your response might be something as simple as “Thank you so much!” You want to be sending the message that you are active on these platforms, welcome the communication, and appreciate the time your consumers have taken to reach out.

If you’re unconvinced that this kind of responsiveness is important, just browse some local businesses on Google Maps and look at their reviews. A business that allows complaints (and praise) to go unacknowledged looks out of touch and oblivious — not something you want to be associated with your brand.

2. Never Argue

We know that customers sometimes misunderstand policies or terms. Pointing that out publicly doesn’t do anything to endear an audience to you. Instead, it makes consumers feel like you have complicated rules and are more interested in being right than resolving the issue.

Even when the consumer is wrong, you should approach their claim with empathy and understanding. Some good response starters for this type of situation are:

  • “That’s certainly not the experience we want…”
  • “My apologies for this misunderstanding…”
  • “It sounds like something went wrong, I would love to look into this for you…”

Don’t be afraid to take the conversation to a private channel, which brings us to the next point.

3. Public v.s. Private

There are times when it is best to answer the consumer publicly in the forum where the question/complaint was submitted; Perhaps it is a common question, it’s tame, or it is easy to resolve in one message. This demonstrates a strong commitment to the consumer and adds to the community.

However, there are times when you should try and move the conversation offline or to another channel (typically phone). If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might want to move the conversation.

  1. Does this complaint have personally identifiable or private information?
  2. Does this complaint have the potential to trigger a PR crisis?
  3. Will this complaint take multiple messages to resolve? Long back-and-forths are easier to resolve over the phone.
  4. Is this message for a specific person or department other than the team that manages digital?

4. Be Consistent

Have you ever spoken to customer service representatives that contradict one another? It’s infuriating and makes the company look disorganized. To avoid this, consider developing a central repository for your support staff that houses common questions, your rules of engagement, and any new corporate announcements they should be aware of.

It may also be worthwhile to pop-quiz your employees on best practices. You could turn it into a game, with rewards for correct answers, or answers that go above and beyond.




There will always be new problems. There will always be new channels. The best way to ensure your service is always top notch is to regularly iterate on your systems.

1. Publish an FAQ

Consumers will typically try to solve their problem themselves before reaching out to you. Part of great service is making that simple and obvious. The best way to do that is with a robust FAQ. As new questions come up, take note of them and observe how often people are asking them. If you see some level of frequency, consider adding it to your FAQ.

an up-to-date faq is part of good digital customer service

Usability is also a concern. No one wants to read a technical manual on how to log in to their mobile banking. A more effective way to communicate the solution is by using a video. One free and easy tool to create these videos is

At least once a year, you should audit the FAQ to ensure that the answers, screenshots, and videos are still accurate. Even something as small as a color scheme change on a page can make the resource seem out-of-date and confusing. Be generous in your updates.

2. Templatize with Variables

The majority of complaints/question won’t be unique. If you can, you should solve whatever is triggering these issues (like a bad design or confusing process), but if you can’t, then create a template to answer the problem. Doing so ensures that the problem can be answered quickly, thoroughly, and in a consistent way.

Of course, templates feel cold and you want your service to feel warm. The compromise? Variables. When you create your templates, do so with plenty of variable placeholders that allow your customer support staff to personalize the response. Consider this example:


Hey [First Name] -

I’m so sorry that you had a problem with [specific issue]. I’ve gone ahead an forwarded your message to my supervisor, [supervisor’s name], and will follow up with you before [insert date]. If you have any questions before then, please don’t hesitate to reply back to me and I’ll be happy to help.

Have a great day and [enjoy your weekend, have a good week, happy holidays]!


[Rep’s first name]


3. Refine Your Listening Strategy

As you begin to field consumer issues, you’ll begin to notice trends. Perhaps it is a common phrase or issue. Whenever you notice these, create a new alert for mentions. It could reveal new conversations. You should also refine your listening strategy as new social media channels become popular.


Have Rock Star Staff


There are some basic traits and skills you should look for when finding the right person to handle digital customer support:

  1. Social Savvy - They should understand and be avid users of social media.
  2. Strong writer - A majority of digital queries will still be resolved with text.
  3. Empathetic - This person should genuinely understand where consumers are coming from and be passionate about finding a happy resolution for all parties.
  4. Positive - People can be mean. A positive attitude for dealing with the day-to-day of handling customer complaints.

Beyond hiring the right people, you need to set them up for success. Look at two brands famous for their support and how they empower their employees.

Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, said on customer support:

“I think the main thing is just trust [the customer service reps] and let them make their own decisions. Most call centers are set up by policies and so the actual person that’s answering the phone doesn’t really have the ability to do anything. If you […] call most customer service places, if you ask for anything that’s not normal they have to talk to a supervisor or just say ‘oh our policy doesn’t allow that’ and whatever. So we generally try to stay away from policies, we just ask our reps to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do for the customer and the company. And that’s actually really uncomfortable for a lot of reps that come from other call centers. We kind of have to untrain their bad habits.”

The result is a business that has turned their service into their most powerful marketing tool. Likewise, Trader Joe’s, the grocery chain, has made their service a core part of their marketing (in fact, they don’t do any of the traditional marketing like ads or sales). Employees are empowered to make decisions on their own, which often results in stories of them going above and beyond.


Measure What Matters


People will perform based on how they are measured. This can be a great thing, or it can blow up in your face. It all depends on what you choose to measure.

Pretend you adopt a “best practice” metric of response time. On the surface, it makes sense; You want to know how quickly your team is responding to complaints. However, in isolation, that metric might not actually get your closer to delivering the value you intend. A fast response doesn’t equal a fast resolution.

Instead, you might want to measure “time-til-close.” How long does it take for the support staff to resolve an issue from the time the complaint was received. This consumer-centric metric looks at what goal the consumer is subconsciously measuring. Similar metrics are:

  • Number of touches: How many back-and-forths are required to resolve an issue?
  • Volume of complaints: If the number of complaints are going up, then you need to look at what is triggering the problems and revamp your systems.
  • Net promoter score: Do you have more happy customers than neutral and negative?
  • Unsolicited compliments: How often do people say “I love this business” or something else positive? If this activity is going up in frequency, you’re doing something right.


Stick with Principles


While this guide is meant to help you tackle customer service in the digital age, you might have noticed that many of the principles are ones your know from delivering great service in a brick-and-mortar store. You’re responsive, you’re caring, and you’re helpful. Providing great service today doesn’t mean revamping your approach, it just means translating those skills into new areas.

Tags: Research