Five customer service tips to save time and impress your online community

If you manage an online community, chances are you receive a healthy number of questions by email. Answer enough of these emails, and you realize that many of the questions are repeats. Some of the repeated questions I get from Nashville Hiking Meetup members are:

What should I bring for the hike?
Can I bring a guest to this event?
Will you post my favorite charity’s fundraising event?

My feeling is, if multiple members have the same question, then many more will have the exact query in the future. Here are five things you can do to limit your own pulling of hair and provide excellent customer service:

  1. Create a detailed About page for your community and pile everything you’ve learned over the years into that document. Update it regularly.
  2. Point to that page in your welcome email that is automatically sent to new members through the Meetup system and recommend folks read it thoroughly. (A few actually will!)
  3. When you receive an email where the question is answered in that About page you’ve so lovingly crafted, don’t be afraid to point people back to that page. I usually reply with a message such as: “Thank you for your question. This is actually answered in our About page. Take a look under ‘What Should I Wear/Pack/Bring on Hike Day?'” This will hopefully train your customers/members to look first before asking a question by email.
  4. Anticipate questions and attempt to answer the most common ones in the event postings themselves. We reduced the number of email questions substantially just by giving detailed information in all event postings such as hike distance, difficulty, estimated drive/hike time, whether dogs are allowed, etc.
  5. But my favorite method of customer service response is through Gmail’s canned responses (yet another reason Gmail is superior). After you enable Canned Responses in Labs, you have a new drop down menu when composing emails in order to save or re-used saved often-repeated email replies. Read more about Canned Responses here.
Here are some of the most frequent questions and my sample canned responses:

What should I bring for the hike?

That is a great question and one that is answered in our very informative About page here: http://www.nashvillehiking.com/about/. Take a look under “What Should I Wear/Pack/Bring on Hike Day?”

Can I bring a guest to this event?

Usually, but not always, very popular hikes do not allow guests so that as many real members can get on board as possible. However, when it comes down to the day of, there are almost always a couple of spots free for guests. If your guest can deal with a last minute add, I would say keep in contact with me and ask up through the day before if guests will be allowed. You can almost count on your guest getting in the way things go.

I will add to that, the absolute ideal thing for me would be for you to have your friend sign up for the meetup themselves and add themselves to the wait list.

Will you post my favorite charity’s fundraising event?

Feel free to post items or events like this on our message board at http://www.nashvillehiking.com/messages/boards/. Thanks!

How did you get that animation in the top left corner of your meetup?

That rotating graphic is an animated GIF file and is one of the very few animation file types that meetup.com accepts. It’s a very standard graphic type, and many programs create that file type from a series of images you specify. I use Adobe ImageReady which came bundled with Photoshop. If you’re looking for something at no cost to create one, go to download.com and search for “create animated gif from series of images” and see what you come up with.

Please remove me from the meetup.

You actually have to remove yourself from a group. Go here and log in and you should be able to click the appropriate link there to leave the group: http://www.meetup.com/account/comm/

Thanks, and sorry to see you go!

Overall, stay positive. Try and answer every question with positive language. Instead of saying “sorry, that event is full,” you could reply with “there is a wait list for that popular event and I’d be happy to put you on that list.”

What are your favorite customer service tips? Let me know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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