Phone Support Is Dead. Here’s What You Should Do About It.

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It’s a commonly held belief among executives that customers still prefer phone support over self-service, and that the tipping point for self-service is somewhere off in the future. However, research by CEB tells a different picture: the future is already here. Customers already prefer to self-help before reaching for live help – and they are somewhat annoyed you haven’t caught on yet.

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Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi, the authors of The Effortless Experience, found that executives are dead wrong about how their customers like to get help. However, the authors found after extensive research that customers are both ready and willing to use self-service as much as the phone.

“This is nowhere near what the executives expected — a 2.5-to-1 margin in favor of phone service,” say the authors.

Comments like these that the authors collected during customer interviews seem to drive this home:

“I always feel like I have to call, not that I want to call, but I have to call. It’s hard to think of other companies where I always have to call. Their sites make sense to me.”

“Your web site told me to call. If I wanted to call I would have.”

“Your agents are very nice and I always have good experiences when I talk to them. I just don’t always want to have to talk to them.”

In no uncertain terms, they want to do things on their own time. They want gratification so instant that they’d rather not talk to you at all.

Across many fields, “phone first” customers are effectively dying out. Getting on the line with customers isn’t nearly as important as you think. This is great news, because phone support can be expensive!

Forrester finds that “call center support can range from an average of $6 to $12 per call or more while a Web self-service interaction can cost a company less than 10 cents to support.”

Now is the time you should be asking yourself: “Do I really need to be focusing all this time and resources on phone support?” Let’s find out.

How much do you really need phone support?

  • Do you deal with extremely time-sensitive support issues?

All support requests need to be answered quickly (of course!). However, some requests need to be answered instantly. Companies like Travelex and AAA handle lost card and flat tire emergencies all the time, so they need to be able to respond and send help fast to stranded customers. These kind of businesses can’t leave customers in this position without a direct 24/7 support phone line.

  • Are solutions easily accessible elsewhere?

Customers should have at least two other options for reaching solutions. This could be through a live support agent, or a crystal clear support article. If there’s no other avenue to resolve an issue, whether by social, chat or email, you should continue to offer phone support. They need it!

  • How much do you charge for your service?

Does your product cost a company tens of thousands of dollars each year? Then they deserve really good phone support. You may even want to give them a direct line to a  dedicated account manager or support rep.

T-Mobile recently rolled out a custom support line for business customers with more than 50 phone lines.

“Companies don’t want to spend a lot of time talking to their carrier,” says Michael Katz, T-Mobile’s VP of marketing. When they have to contact support, those business customers want the process to be as painless and efficient as possible, according to Katz.

He’s exactly right. When you’re running a large business, running into phone issues can result in loss of revenue and productivity. This is no time to send your customer to your support page to figure things out for themselves.

Offering reliable phone support to companies like this gives you a significant competitive advantage over the rest.


  • Who is your customer?

Consider accessibility issues. If your customer base is low-income and doesn’t have easy access to the Internet, phone support may be the most convenient way for them to reach you. If they’re visually or hearing impaired, again, you should consider how you might be able to accommodate their needs.

It’s always a good rule of thumb to meet your customers where they are.

Be Sure To Invest in Great Self-Service

If you’ve found that perhaps your customers don’t quite need as much phone support as you thought, then congrats!

This is a golden opportunity to strengthen out your knowledge base. Whether through articles, video tutorials, webinars or templates, you can start building the kind of content that keeps on giving.

When customers do call in, you’ll be able to start directing them to links and articles you’ve already developed.

The best thing about this evergreen content isn’t that it dramatically brings down the cost per contact (which it does!). It isn’t the fact that you’ll be able to dramatically scale the number of people you’re able to help (which you will!).

The best thing is that you can give your customers exactly the help they need when they need it fast.

The best way to start winding down phone support is by improving articles and slowly directing people to the KB. This is where your customers go first anyway – and they’ll start their journey and as long as the content is helpful, they’ll stay there.

If you’re ready to cut the cord on your phone line, find out what’s next on your to-do list here.

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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About the Author

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Nandini Jammi

Nandini Jammi is part of the growth team at Kayako, where's she's helping build the global customer support community.

Comments

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Hi Carey, thanks for your comment. Definitely agree that killing phone support isn’t right for everyone. Some businesses just really need to be able to connect with customers on the phone. But others need to re-evaluate. Phone may be an expensive investment they don’t really need.

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Although I totally agree with the fact that most customers are relying on self-help we still believe that there is still a high demand for live phone support which is why we continue to provide it to our customers.

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