This is a question we get a lot. The simple answer is “No, we do not offer phone support“. However, as everything in life, the reality is a bit more complex.
Below I will try to explain our support process and metrics, why we generally avoid phone support and the conditions under which phone support is an option.
Our current support system
Our support is ticket based. A user sends an email within their learning portal or through our support portal and this becomes a “ticket” within our support system. Any further email exchanged on that subject is kept on a discussion thread and is visible to all our support representatives.
This offers transparency and the ability to capture important metrics that we use to improve support. For example, we measure the number of emails exchanged to solve a problem, the amount of time between a request and first response and the Kudos our representatives got for timely and to-the point answers.
Those metrics become a yardstick against which we strive to improve each month.
The transparency of measured metrics reveals support patterns that need fine-tuning.
As an example, a few months ago we discovered that we had a very specific time-window which was problematic. People that requested support on Friday would often have to wait for more than 48 hours to get an answer. The fact that our support is located in Europe made matters worse for people on the West coast of the US, under that specific scenario.
As a good portion of our customers are indeed in West coast the number of delayed tickets was huge. In order to deal with that problem we introduced a Saturday morning support shift. This eliminated the first answer delay problem almost entirely.
Another example is the rule-of-3. Whenever a question is asked 3 times it rings a bell that it should be turned into a knowledge article. This helps reducing the support overhead and lets additional customers with the same problem get an immediate answer.
Support requests grow together with the business. This is a positive headache considering that growth is important; a headache nevertheless. In TalentLMS we offer support for all type of customers, free ones included.
This puts additional stress on our support representatives and makes support scaling a pressing issue. An extensive knowledge base, videos and other collateral can help reduce the support load but only up to an extent. The trying truth is that a growing business will have a support load that is on par with its growth.
Additionally, complex support requests will start to emerge. Those need combined effort from people with varying backgrounds.
For example, a number of our customers need help with setting their custom domain names or setting up their single-sign-on solution. This transfers load from support representatives to a crucial resource; your tech team. When the tech team needs to allocate too much time supporting customers this has a negative impact on the product improvement rate.
If mail-based support is hard to scale, phone support is a harder beast to tame altogether.
To start, phone support has little value when it is too restricted. Restrict it too much and it can easily turn into a marketing gimmick. Ideally you should offer phone support 24/7.
Also, it is hard to have shared support technicians as the phone is intrusive and needs immediate attention. This context switching is highly unproductive, especially when it involves tech people.
From a financial point of view, phone support introduces a number of complexities that make it more expensive than the ticket mechanism. At the end of the day, this cost is to be transferred to the product price tag which is bad news for everyone.
Phone support myths
Still, phone support for many customers is synonymous to better support. This perception is based on assumptions though, which often turn to not be sound. The preference for phone support is mostly due to practical and psychological aspects.
The practical aspect is that phone support minimizes the time to get an answer. In reality though, the answer is rarely immediate, as your question may require feedback from multiple people. Phone support is great for simple questions (that can easily be tracked on the knowledge base anyway) but makes little sense when the representative needs time to curate a proper answer. What you actually get is an immediate first-answer, which is important but commonly is not a solution to your problem.
The psychological aspect is also a strong one. Having immediate access to a fellow human being is powerful. We see this a lot with less tech-savvy customers. Email seems impersonal. In all truthfulness, written communication is less personal than making or responding to a call.
However, as a means of communication, written text is more useful, as putting in the time to write a concrete description for a problem (or a related solution) reduces the inherent noise of the spoken language. Which in turn can reduce the total resolution time for a support request.
There is however one case where phone support is indeed superior. This is when the customers find it difficult to articulate their problem in a proper way and, at the same time, the support agent cannot “read between the lines” and provide helpful answers. In other words, when there is a communication gap.
In such cases the total resolution time for ticket based support can skyrocket. This problem can be mitigated though with more experienced and better trained support agents and close monitoring of support metrics.
When we offer phone support
Although we have a strong preference for the ticketing support system, there are a number of occasions for which we do offer phone support.
The most common case is when pre-sales consulting turns to supporting. As part of our sales process, we offer live product demos where customers can ask us anything they want about the system. And since there is a free product version, customers may try the product for as long as they want and get a sales representative to answer very specific questions by phone before buying.
The second way to get phone support is via our newly introduced “Customer success manager“. This is available only for bigger plans, starting from Plus upwards. The customer success manager is a direct point of contact that is here to help you succeed in whatever usage of the product you have in mind. In this broader scope, phone consulting and problem solving is part of the communication scheme that is offered.
The third way to get phone support is as part of a training package. We offer paid training services where an experienced member of our team offers an in-depth walkthrough of the system. This is open-ended and can turn into a questions/answers session for you and your team with high value.
I tried to pinpoint some advantages of the ticketing based support compared to phone support. Although, as a company, we have not ruled out phone support altogether, and we do offer it under specific occasions, we truly believe that ticket-based support is more predictable, scalable and, at the end of the day, useful.
As we continue to evolve we’re emphasizing on improving the support KPIs we track, mainly the time to get a first answer, the quality of answers, the total resolution time and the size and depth of the knowledge base. And this translates to scalable benefits for everyone.