Customer Support: Superiority of emails over phone calls


A couple of weeks ago, there was an interesting post on Capitaine Train’s blog justifying why they do customer support only using e-mail, and were not providing any phone number to reach them.
Basically, the ideas behind this are:

  • train tickets are complex beasts full of various labels
  • you must then have time to analyze them if you don’t want to make a generic-only answer
  • since you cannot perform synchronous resolution, you’re pissing off your customer if you provide a synchronous way to reach you
  • therefore your communication has to be asynchronous
  • in addition writing makes the customer explain his/her problem more accurately since he/she has to write it down.

If you compare this train-ticket schema to a IT help desk process, you can make interesting parallels:

  • often customers calling the first level support do not take the time to make them problem clear even for themselves (“it doesn’t work / it worked yesterday” symptom)
  • the first level support when contacted by mail makes that effort to write down the problem into a “ticket”, which wouldn’t be necessary if the customer was only able to contact that support by mail
  • The asynchronous way of working by mail is the most efficient way for level 2 agents to focus on a problem or the set of problems they are assigned to by doing research and managing their own time.

However, the train-ticket support business has one big difference: the train ticket contains a wealth more information about the closed environment comprised of the train/available seats to fill in than a IT ticket could ever comprise about the IT environment you’re troubleshooting. Therefore it is likely that at some point you’ll have to either:

  • add a couple of back-and-forth mails to the end-user to gather more details
  • or have to interact synchronously with him/her to get that data or understand the environment better (Screen remote control, …)

In addition, only the comments of that blog post do mention that we are speaking about human interactions, and for of them they happen:

  • when a human is seeking help while he/she is more or less desperate: they must take their train, they must have a computer working for their job to be done, …
  • when the human seeking help is not comfortable or reluctant or not trained to use this communication medium

Given that, despite the higher cost, the worst thing you can do for an IT help desk is to limit the ways the support and the end customer may interact to exchange information. Limiting the kind of information they can exchange because of your tools or ways of communication is self-killing for your customer relationship building process. However, limiting the initial means of communication for selected subjects may make better use of the resources you’re affecting to it.

For example, a nice written message saying: general inquiries / customer dispatch platform followed by a phone number whereas the second line would say ‘Speak to our experts’ with a set of dedicated inboxes whose subjects do not cross each other would probably be efficient and add a little extra ‘I’m valuable’ feeling to the customer contacting you.