When it comes to doing business online, the fundamentals remain the same while many of the specifics (and the tools) undergo drastic changes.

The same goes for handling support online: at the end of the day, it's all about taking care of your customers, but how you do so does hinge on your ability to adapt to the many options that online service offers.

From choosing the correct support channel, to using online resources to get out of the way, to empowering teams to keep customer happiness a priority, understanding how to properly conduct online support is paramount to creating an amazing customer experience.

Below are three simple ways for you to improve your online service today.

1. Ask yourself: what are my customers’ support needs?

One of the most important things to consider when it comes to online customer service is finding what your customers typically need from your support team.

As an example: when I've looked at hosting companies in the past, my #1 concern was definitely live chat (from a service standpoint), since I typically only need to contact someone in support when my site goes down.

I don't want to get sent through a ticket system and I don't want to get sent to a forum: I need a response now, so live chat was essential for me, and those companies with stellar live-chat reputations got my attention first.

On the flip-side, we saw how Wistia was able to remove their phone number from their site and still provide the exceptional customer service that they are known for. As it turned out, customers had no issue resolving many questions over email, and while their incoming email went up, it was much easier to scale.

Small-businesses need to consider this most of all. With a small team, it's easier succeed by placing emphasis on the support channels where you customers actually need you. Email support is still the most popular in many instances, but considering the needs of your customers takes priority over anything else.

2. Get out of your customers' way

Superior customer service cannot be maintained with an iron fist; there are many opportunities to remove yourself from the process. This can actually end up being a benefit to your customers, and not a hindrance you may perceive it to be.

The idea of "content as customer service" is one that many businesses can benefit from.

One of the better examples out there can be found over at the wonderful WooThemes. The Woo team offers WordPress themes for site owners, many of these folks being beginners. If you've never run a website before, even on a relatively simple platform like WordPress, know that there can be a myriad of headaches and questions as you take your first steps.

What's the support team of Woo supposed to do? If they had to handle each and every customer question, they'd likely have zero time to focus on making themes. To stem the tied of common questions, Woo turns to content, coming in the form of Documentation, Best Practices tips, FAQs, and video tutorials.

Just check out the support section on Woo's site, and you'll see that the first 3 options are all content-based forms of customer support:

As a WordPress user myself, help content is invaluable to me: I don't want to get stuck in a support forum or have to email the staff for every little question. Even larger companies in industries notorious for "lackluster" support have taken charge with self-service options, such as how Comcast rebooted their online self-service system for customers who wanted more control.

We've taken this to heart at Help Scout as well, taking time to create a variety of customer service resources that run the gamut of free e-books, webinars, and whitepapers that address common customer questions, such as "What is a Help Desk?". When customers ask about these sorts of topics, we have an full suite of content pieces that can help them out, instead of creating a separate reply each and every time.

You should also take things a step further by running a company blog. When you're providing a ton of valuable content to new visitors and prospective customers, you begin the chain of Know, Like, Trust, turning random visitors into long-term customers.

Are you solving customer headaches with content?

3. Empower your entire team to help customers

One of the biggest benefits of conducting most of your support online is definitely the flexibility, and empowering your entire team to talk with customers and handle their questions is critical if you want to turn your support from good to great.

Why take the risk of running into a customer service trainwreck: create a customer-centric culture into your employee's mindsets by having everyone do support. It won't hinder their long term company specific skills, and it will make sure that each employee knows how to properly talk with customers.

With this team system for talking with customers in place, you have to actually give authority to your employees to make decisions. Consider Nordstrom's notorious employee handbook and their #1 rule for dealing with customers:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

When your customers come to you with concerns, you can be all but certain that they are not concerned with your company policies: they want results, let your employees give it to them without having to go through all of the needless red tape.

Have systems in place, but embrace the nimble nature of being a small-business and utilize the power of Whole Company Support by putting your employees on your customers team. Nothing builds customer goodwill quite so effectively.

Want to know more about your customers? Check out our infographic on What Bad Customer Service is Costing Your Business.

Help Scout gives you the tools to serve customers in the most human, helpful way.

Better experience for your customers, fewer headaches for your team. You'll be set up in minutes.

“We were able to utilize Help Scout with minimal technical support. All in all, we got Help Scout integrated and the team trained in a day.” — Brianne Hederlong, Community Experience Director
Gregory Ciotti

Gregory Ciotti is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout, where he helped build the content program and brand from the ground up.