Phone Support and Great Customer Service

About two years ago I wrote a post about how we essentially stopped taking customer service phone calls on Detailed Image and still increased revenue that month.

Fast forward to 2010. We have a “real” phone system with multiple lines at our warehouse now, but we still don’t answer the phone. Greg checks the messages daily and responds to the person via email if he can, or phone if he can’t find an email address. We still have essentially no phone support. We’ve doubled in size several times since that post. Seemingly not having phone support hasn’t hurt us. In my opinion, the time freed up has helped us scale better.

Some online retail companies couldn’t dream of life without phone support. “Our customers will revolt” they say. Maybe. Or maybe the premise that you need phone support is masking the real issue: customers want their problem solved, they don’t want to pick up the phone and call you. They call you because whatever they were trying to do didn’t work. So the real solution to having happy customers is to make whatever they’re trying to do easier. Build a more user friendly website. Put up how-to guides for beginners. Write better FAQs. Put the answers to questions in the exact spots where the questions arise. That reduces customer inquiries AND leads to happier customers.

Some customer support is inevitable. As we’ve grown, even the emails have become more and more time consuming, particularly for Greg who handles the majority of them. The nice thing is though, that the majority of those customers that do contact us have the questions/problems that we want to hear about. The things that they really do need our help for. And we take care of them…fast. That’s what they care about – that their damaged order got re-shipped or that we fixed a mistake we made – not whether or not they were able to pick up the phone and chat with us.

Like with anything else, there’s a small percentage of people we’re going to alienate. The “phone people” who don’t like to place orders on the web. For us though, those people aren’t our target market. Not even close. And I bet it’s the same for most small to mid-size online retailers. In most niches, there’s such a large market of web-savvy customers that it doesn’t make sense to spend magnitudes more time appeasing a comparatively small customer base.

We’ve been collecting customer testimonials recently to put into rotation on the site. Any time someone says something nice on email or Twitter or Facebook or on the forums, we’re trying to save it. It’s awesome to hear how loyal our customers are. A lot are related to our personal customer service (again, mostly Greg), but we also get a lot of compliments about the ease-of-use on our site and the efficiency of our operations. Here is just a quick sampling:

“My order was placed on December 30th and was at my office door on the 31st!” – Brad P.

“Nice job with the website, very efficient and user friendly.” – Greg S.

“You have an EXCELLENT web site” – Jim

“The most intelligent educational pages, least BS, and most thorough writing.” – Jim K

“Thanks for the detailing education you’ve provided. Priceless.” – Sean B.

“Thanks again for all the help. You’ve won a long-term customer!” – Rex A.

“Greg’s service attitude is so refreshing. I’m sure it is a big part of your success.” – Chris O.

“It’s nice to have a relationship with a business that takes such good care of their customers” – Mike S.

“Incredibly helpful, lightning fast shipping. Can’t find a better vendor!” – Chad G.

“One of the most customer friendly commercial websites I’ve seen.” – Todd K.

“Great Product selection, website layout and delivery times!!” – Chris A.

“Just want to let you know how great your customer service is.” – Jeffery J.

“The best detailing store ever! I’m on my second order because you guys blow everyone else away.” – Dan D.

“The level of customer service simply cannot be beat. You have me as a customer for life!” – Andrew F.

“Your Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Deals are AWESOME and on top of that you even have sales and free shipping!” – Dustin R.

7 comments on Phone Support and Great Customer Service

  1. tim says:

    When I saw the title of this I thought it was going to be about your experience dealing with another companies phone support and customer service! I was pleasantly surprised 🙂 I think it’s very difficult for a company to break the habit of phone support, I’d liken it to quitting smoking. Even if you know it’ll be good for you to quit, it’s still easier said then done, in particular if you’ve been doing it for a very long time.

    This is a practice several companies have down to a science, such as BMG Music – it’s rumored their phone number is only listed on a tablet that is sitting next to the holy grail. Google is another company that is difficult to get on the phone, yet paypal is fairly easy…. every company has their own culture and habits.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for the comment Tim. Just to be clear, there are some online companies where phone support makes sense. I’m strictly talking about small to medium e-commerce companies like us. I think that if we kept it, it would have significantly hindered our growth or maybe even crippled us. We were getting calls all day long, and that was back in 2008. I would think it would take up at least one person’s full time job now, and that’s 25% of our resources (not including the part timers). And then we’d still need someone for the emails.

  2. Jeff says:

    I can’t even find your phone number on the site, maybe that’s why!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Jeff –

      Thanks for the comment. It’s right at the top of the FAQs so I don’t think it’s that hard to find, but yea, when we decided not to provide phone support we weren’t going to plaster the phone number all over the site 🙂 It was a conscious decision to stop taking phone calls to help our business grow, and it’s worked out. I really think we’d be in poor shape right now if we had a 1-800 number and had phones open 10 hours a day. E-commerce has a lot of expenses as it is, staffing 1-2 phone people would crush us.

      Anyway, the point was that phone service doesn’t automatically equal great customer service. Ideally, you’d create such a great customer experience that no one ever had to call or email. That would be the best for both the customer and the business. For a small company like us, email is just SOOO much more efficient for the majority of questions. You can have semi-standard responses for similar questions, and you can link – imagine suggesting 20 detailing products for a new customer over the phone…you still have to follow up with an email to link them to everything. Plus we can link to guides and tutorials. It takes us less time and I think it works out better for the customer, even for some customers who in the beginning might have preferred a phone call. Plus you don’t need to listen to someone blab on for 45 minutes 🙂 You can answer the email in 5 minutes and move on. You can also batch your email and sit down for chunks of time and rip through all of your emails for the morning. Phone calls are very interruptive by nature.

      In the rare instances where a problem does require a conversation, it’s not like we avoid the phone. We pick it up and call the customer. That’s just a really really small amount of orders.

  3. Rob says:

    Yeah, it’s very well hidden! Took me a while, certainly. However, totally agree that having/not having phone service is missing the point, it should just be about getting the customer the things they want, if that can be done without using phone support then that’s fantastic.

    My girlfriend experienced a stupid error trying to get in touch with eBay this week – their CAPTCHA was broken and whaddya know you need to get past the CAPTCHA to get to email them (phone support for premium customers only apparently). In the end we resolved the issue using IE6, but it remains broken on firefox 3.5 on all of our computers – clearly some incompatibly that needs addressing. Avoiding phone support is great, if you have something in its place that will do the job. If you do, you rock at customer service. If not, you suck.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      “Avoiding phone support is great, if you have something in its place that will do the job. If you do, you rock at customer service. If not, you suck.”

      Haha well said Rob

  4. […] customer service, something we’ve been dedicated to providing since day one. Given that we don’t provide phone support, it is even more important for us to provide the absolute best email customer service that we […]

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