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Summary:

I’ve been reading with great interest this past week as some of the leading web application companies discuss their philosophies regarding the providing of phone support for their services. 37signals started the debate, wondering Why would you want to call me? which, by describing a “typical” […]

Phone or PCI’ve been reading with great interest this past week as some of the leading web application companies discuss their philosophies regarding the providing of phone support for their services.

37signals started the debate, wondering Why would you want to call me? which, by describing a “typical” phone support experience justified why they only offer support via email. This prompted responses from both FreshBooks and BatchBlue who both acknowledge that, while email can be more efficient than phone support, personal interaction by phone is key and offering that level of service is important to them.

I know a couple of us here at WWD have had interesting and lengthy phone support conversations this week, long calls to resolve issues that really shouldn’t have been so difficult. Would email support have been better? Perhaps. Does that make it the best method for all communication? I certainly don’t think so.

Inefficient and unpleasant phone support isn’t the fault of the medium, it’s the fault of the provider. I personally have had good support experiences via phone and horrendous experiences with email. It really comes down to the commitment of the company to have a wide range of efficient customer support services available, and the telephone is indeed a powerful and useful option in that arsenal.

Are we as web workers more inclinded to take advantage of email and online support options? Which do you prefer?

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By Scott Blitstein
  1. I prefer email support best. My patience is really low for phone call support… probably has to do with being a former phone tech support agent.

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  2. I prefer online support options over phone support. I view phone support as a “for emergencies only” kind of thing. Unless it’s on fire, I would prefer to deal with the issue on my own time and just send an e-mail or post a question to the forum.

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  3. The phone support is becoming very critical. Users pick-up the phone after they have exhausted web, email and chat channels. Indicative are your “interesting and lengthy phone support conversations” towards that end. So phone support people have to be really good at resolving customer problems.

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  4. Based on my experience at JBoss, I would say that web support is by far my favorite. Email and phone are both insufficient b/c it’s too difficult to follow any lengthy conversation to resolve an issue. Provide a webform where people can provide details, set priority, specific topic (to route appropriately), and attach files. The user gets a ticket number.

    Now when a support person responds the response is posted to that support portal that the user can see (user is also sent email).

    This provides nice auditable conversations that are easily transferred to another employee. This specific case is where web-based support shines. Whether it’s the user who needs to delegate to one of his underlyings part way through resolution, or whether it’s the vendor who is escalating the case. Being able to pick up a case part way through and read the entire history is critical. NO! The support person’s hand-typed notes do NOT provide the same value… first, they are never detailed enough and second, they don’t include what the client actually said (just an approximation).

    Obviously, this is primarily appropriate for techies who hate sitting on hold, hate voicemail even more, and are very comfortable working asynchronously. I’m not suggesting that AOL try this ;)

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  5. I much prefer email support but find the quality of most responses to be extremely lacking. I will force myself to phone for support if I have multiple questions or if it is a tricky issue because generally the reply to an email will only cover part of my issue.

    The general level of customer service / support quality in the US and Australia has dropped significantly in the last 10 years and it is starting to get to a lot of consumers.

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  6. We have made phone support available to our service contract clients on a per-case basis, but I must say it’s terribly inefficient and therefore not financially viable for us on a large scale.

    We have a support ticket system that does three things : allows the issue to be clearly presented, allows the issue to be answered in priority, and most importantly allows tracking of time spent and resolution for accountability.

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  7. It should be a cascade:

    FAQ
    E-mail
    Phone (maybe)

    There are troubles with all of these. (There are a lot of bored and disinterested folk who land up running this stuff.) FAQ’s are often given no serious thought…

    I personally really object when a company I deal with encourages and even forces phone support. This can cost all customers a big pot of money. Servicing people who don’t do their homework and don’t even try. A company that forces at least “e-mail first” tends to get a thumbs up. They are saving me money.

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  8. E-mail: done in my time.
    I only go phone support as a last resort. Biggest reason: I use international services, and an international mobile call – to be put on hold for ages – is just too expensive.

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  9. I like chat support. Surprisingly, AT&T & Comcast have been pretty good at it.

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  10. Phone support is the bane of my existance. At least, for the next week and a half it is, because that’s when I leave my job in the support department for a wireless tech manufacturer.

    The problem I see with phone support ( at least where I work ), is that people use it as a crutch when they don’t know what they’re doing. Just recieved their radio, and don’t know how to set it up? Call tech support. Something went wrong, and you haven’t done any basic troubleshooting? Call tech support.

    I can understand the new guy in a company getting confused every now and then and needing pointers. But often the calls are coming from the head network techs, or whoever is in charge of the entire WISP network, which is just plain scary.

    Okay, rant time over. I’m just glad I’m leaving phone support behind. The email stuff wasn’t too bad, at least people mostly listened to your suggestions when it’s spelled out plainly.

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  11. Thank you all for your comments. I think the key here, and what I take away from them is that even though we all have different ways of wanting support – we really just want it done well.

    SB

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  12. Both are a pain when the support person on the other end is a drone reading from a script. Too often, that is the case. If the support person is capable of actually listening and responding to my question, i’ll take either form of support. Though I do prefer email support because I am able to articulate my issue more precisely.

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  13. [...] PDC is Personal Digital Coaching and it’s totally different than the kind of experience that’s being discussed here… “I’ve been reading with great interest this past week as some of the leading web application companies discuss their philosophies regarding the providing of phone support for their services.” WebWorkerDaily » Archive Phone or Email Support – Which Do You Prefer? « [...]

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