Cutting back on phone support.

I had a conversation yesterday with a lady who runs customer service for a company that is growing very quickly. The amount of customers they are signing up is amazing and the company is really stressed out over all of this growth. It is definitely tough to handle what is essentially exponential growth happening monthly.

With such growth, the number of customer service inquires goes way up. They are growing several percent per week in terms of increased number of phone calls and tickets. That is a lot and a lot to keep up with. The staff is growing and they are having trouble finding good employees as quickly as they need to.

It is a classic example of rapid growth.

One of the issues they are debating now is whether or not, and if so, how to cut phone support. She told me they are getting the same 25 questions over and over again and it is frustrating for the staff, time consuming, and expensive. In the same time they a representative can one phone call, they could do 5 emails, or 3 chats.

So, how do you handle it? Here are some ways that I suggested to her that they could cut back on phone support:

  • Offer call backs. Call backs have a lot advantages. Some of them are discussed here in a guest writer post on Service Untitled. They allow a little bit of pre-screening for calls, save money, and are easier to limit.
  • Limit phone calls per account type. I suggested (and they had considered) limiting the amount of phone support calls per month for each account type. For example, a premium account could have 4 per month, and a basic account could have 1.
  • Charge for phone support. This could either be done by itself or in addition to the above. If a customer needs extra phone support (for technical support – sales and billing would be free), they could pay. I suggested a lower fee (like $10 or something per call). This model serves main purposes:
    • Helps recover some costs – $10 is better for the company than free.
    • It makes the customer actually try to fix it themselves or try other solutions (like reading an FAQ) before picking up the phone.
    • It isn’t so expensive where it will cause a customer to get really frustrated and cancel instead of paying the fee for phone support. 
  • Suggest more alternatives to phone support. The company has their phone number clearly posted on their web site. This is great and I commend them for it. However, they can work on making it clear to customers that phone support is probably the least efficient way to solve their problem and they should try looking at FAQs, tutorials, and such before calling. This is probably the least effective solution, but it can help a little. Do note that it is not encouraging the company to hide their phone number or create impossible to navigate menus.
  • Ask some customers. Though I didn’t suggest it at the time because I just didn’t think about it (the lady I spoke to reads this blog), the company should ask some of its best/oldest customers what they want. Some may be furious if they had to use a callback system, others may think it is a good idea. It isn’t something that should be done by a survey, but by having a few members of the management team call the customers and discuss it with them.

There are lots of ways to cut back phone support without cutting back customer service. They really depend on the company and how the company likes to do things. It is an interesting challenge that is not that easy to solve. It likely requires experimentation.

Another thing that we discussed was customers basically asking the company to teach them how to use the software. They already offer lots of guides, webinars, an extensive knowledge base, and all of that, but some customers simply demanded more. More about that tomorrow. I will also touch a bit more on remote employees and how rapid growth companies really need to consider using them.

Next week I will publish the interview with Robert Stephens, the founder of the Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy.

6 Responses to “Cutting back on phone support.”

  1. Dan said:

    Feb 08, 07 at 2:54 pm

    “In the same time they a representative can one phone call, they could do 5 emails, or 3 chats.”

    This is something that should really be looked at carefully. As many analysts have noted, despite promises to the contrary by chat vendors, most agents can not realistically handle 3 simultaneous chat sessions without having to rely heavily on canned or automated responses.

    While chat may be good in certain instances, if an agent is handling too many at once and relying on canned responses, the level of service deteriorates and the average handle time for each of those sessions starts to creep up.

    Deflecting the wrong kinds of inquiries to chat or email could result in an even more irritated customer when they’re forced to escalate to a phone call because their needs were not being met by email or chat options.

    If the goal is to convert a sale or handle a complex service question, the phone is still the preferred method of contact for most customers.

  2. eStara said:

    Feb 08, 07 at 3:14 pm

    Call Deflection. Panacea or Massive Hoax?…

    Service Untitled raises an interesting issue today regarding call deflection.  According to this post, th……

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 08, 07 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the comment and the link!

    I think you misunderstood my post to some extent. When I said three chats, I meant in the time the phone call could have lasted. If it takes 10 minutes for a chat, 5 minutes for an email, etc. and the phone call is a half hour – it is therefore the least efficient method.

    In my experience, a qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced representative can very comfortably handle two chats at once. Many can handle three, but it varies more from person to person and the type of issue.

    I agree with you that for many things the phone is appropiate, but as the post here at Service Untitled mentions and you acknowledge in the post on the eStara blog, a majority of their phone calls were about the same 25 issues.

  4. Service Untitled » When (and how) to say no. - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Feb 09, 07 at 12:21 pm

    […] So yesterday I introduced a topic on Service Untitled that is pretty popular among companies – when to say no to a customer. That is, when to tell them that whatever they are asking for is not within the typical realms of the service you offer and that you will be unable to help them. […]

  5. CustomersAreAlways said:

    Feb 12, 07 at 10:48 pm

    Carnivale of Customer Service: The Great Tips Edition!…

    Thanks for your patience as the Carnivale of Customer Service is a little bit late today.  I meant to create the post last night and have it scheduled to be published this morning, but that was before I found out……

  6. Service Untitled » Guest Writer: Cut back on phone service? No way! Enhance it instead. - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Feb 22, 07 at 11:04 am

    […] As mentioned here about two weeks ago, a number of companies are implementing alternative contact solutions, like click to call, to control the volume and quality of calls sent to their contact centers. […]