I Need Phone Support…

In my daily scan of Facebook comments and posts I saw something that went a little something like this:

  • Does Company X really only provide phone support for “emergencies”? I recommended them to a friend who needs some help setting up her site, because I thought they had better support than other hosts. But their phone prompt basically says that if it’s not an emergency outage, then you have to go through their website. Is it true that they refuse to speak to their customers via phone unless it’s an emergency? Or does that phone prompt just give the wrong impression?

I found this very interesting, mainly because of how close it hit home.

At my company we are a services company that depends heavily on its support function. For us, it’s perhaps 80% of our focus these days, and it should be. All too often though we have come across this same dilemma with clients. Why don’t you offer technical phone support?

Why isn’t Phone support offered?

I will give you some insight into why an organization might not want to provide phone support for everyone. It really comes down to basics, and you base it, like most things, on an 80 / 20 scale. Can I do with 20% of my clients being unhappy? Often the answer is yes. I do forewarn you though, this isn’t the PG version, it’s the reality perspective. It’s not meant to appeal to your sensitive side, it’s just meant to outline it for what it is.

Here are a few reasons why an organization might not support it:

1. Hysteria

Believe it or not, as a society, we have not figured out a way to control our emotions and or how to talk to people when not looking at them in the eye. Similar to liquid courage, over the phone, and even via email, people insist in have some altered sense of entitlement that empowers them to yell and scream at the person manning the phones. This is a bit absurd, it’s more absurd reading it, think now of going through it.

This was perhaps the most shocking of experiences I had when we were first testing the waters. Our inability to control ourselves and get ourselves in control when everything appears to be falling apart is truly amazing, and frankly not worth the headache or stress. I’m not saying support is not worth it, I’m saying convoluting the discussion with emotional tones isn’t.

2. Noise

It’s amazing the amount of things a person will tell you when you say hi. It can range from the most depressing of matters like a death in the family, to WWWI experiences. What do these have in common? They have absolutely no place in the discussion and any relevance to the matter at hand.

3. Off-Shoring

Let’s face it, here in the states we’re a bit of prima donnas. Our expectation is that every single person that picks up, via a US company, needs to reside in the US and should speak perfect English. I mean, really, are you as a client supposed to make sense of an accent? Nope, not in a million years, right?

4. Global Reach

When you’re an international organization the same issue as off-shoring apply, but in reverse. You expect anyone calling to speak English, the minute it becomes broken the level of effort increases three-fold.

5. Unlimited Support

Imagine you are a company and your focus is hosting. You get a hysterical client on the phone and in the hysteria you are doing everything you can to help. In the process you have moved beyond the services you provide. Case in point, my company is a malware detection and remediation firm. We have played with the idea of phone support, and some times we do, every time its the same. We go into an endless support call that can sometimes last hours or days. Where do you draw the line becomes the challenge. There are likely very clear academic models and opinions on how that works, but like most things applying an putting into practice is a very different case.

6. Value

The reality of the situation is that most people don’t recognize the value of phone support, at least not enough to pay for it. You might be one of those sitting reading this thinking, but wait I do, yes you’re unfortunately the minority. Many see the value, but like most things today expect as a given.

Wait you don’t have phone support? Pff… your support sucks..

It’s the unfortunate dilemma we find ourselves today. Providing 24/7 support is costly enough, compile that with phone support and it becomes even more challenging. No one wants to take the GoDaddy approach and charge for everything, they also don’t want to take the approach that off-shores everything and when you call you get the same automated responses from the person, but in broken English:

Sir, did you reboot the server?

Sir, did you clear your cache?

Sir, I’m just going through my script…

Tell me you haven’t experienced that before when calling support.

7. Cost

As in any business it comes down to those hard earned green backs. That’s the god honest truth of the matter. Getting folks to sit by idly waiting for a phone to ring, all the while keeping them engaged and still managing your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) is very challenging and hard to justify. There comes a point in your support where you start having diminishing return, what I have found is that you reach that diminishing return a lot faster on a call then via chat or an email.

I also get a lot of business owners that respond with, I run a support system myself and I manage phone calls. I ask you to think about scale as well. Managing a few hundred, is very different than a few thousand, versus tens of thousands, veruss hundres of thousands, etc… It’s all about perspective. As those numbers increase that cost will start looking like the end of a hockey stick, that I can assure you of.

Why I like Emails?

That being said, here are some of the reasons I like the email support process:

1. – Connected

Most folks are connected 24/7, whether via mobile or physical notebooks and desktops. Granted not all are, but if it’s truly an emergency, and mind you most aren’t then they’ll be ok sending in an inquiry and waiting for a response. I can assure you though waiting is perhaps the hardest challenge of all, I myself hate it, but I remind myself of why it is.

2. – Clarity

The idea with emails is to get clarity. On calls there is so my noise, I don’t mean physical noise, I mean non-relevant noise. Example, my dog died yesterday.. wow, ok, thanks, how can I help. That being said, don’t be fooled, you’d be surprised by what you still hear in emails. Just today I saw an exchange where a client was describing the passing of their daughter two months, all the while never saying a single thing about the problem at hand. Imagine that conversation on a phone call.

3. – Logs

Like in most things I like to be able to go back and look through threads to see where things might have gone wrong. For me, this is much faster than going through voice recordings. This is imperative for any business that depends on support, you have to understand the message being delivered and how it’s being interpreted. As you get bigger it’s impractical to think you will have visibility into every ticket or discussion, especially in your early stages, this wil help you a lot. At least until you build that foundation team that can continue to train and convey the message you want.

The Reality of the Situation

Sometimes, all we really want is someone to talk to. That unfortunately doesn’t constitute, at least in my eyes, a reason to provide the service. It also describes specific type of people that might be classified as being a bit more needy, that in turn equals higher costs and in some instances that small barrier to entry isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

That being said, I’m not saying that Phone support is never needed, on the contrary I believe it is. Just not as often as many might think.. ;)

What do you think?