Update: This post was written way back in 2008. We’ve come a long way as a company since then. Over the years we’ve had the good fortune to be able to bring back phone support for Detailed Image customers who need it. While emailing us through our contact form is still the fastest way to receive a response, we do have our phone number listed on our FAQ page. We also offer support on Twitter and Facebook. In 2008 offering phone support would have impeded our growth and we may not have survived as a company. However, it still has tremendous value to many customers so we’re glad that we’re able to offer it now and hopefully we can expand that offering in the future.
Earlier this year we were getting crushed with customer service contacts. Particularly with Detailed Image, but also to a lesser extent with SportsLizard. It became apparent that emails and phone calls were becoming a full time job and that we either needed to A) find a way to reduce contacts, or B) hire someone to handle customer service. In my previous life I actually tackled a similar project as an engineer on a much larger scale and was able to significantly reduce customer contacts without impacting sales or satisfaction. So naturally, we gave option A a shot.
Before getting into exactly what we did and how, I want to preface everything with: I do not recommend implementing this for a brand new site/business. In the beginning it is important – especially as an owner – to have contact with as many potential customers as possible. Your initial customers will likely give you important feedback about important adjustments you need to make to your business. If you make it hard for them to contact you, I think you’re impeding your chances for success.
But after years and years of customer service, as is the case with both Detailed Image and SportsLizard, the same questions keep coming up and you just end up wasting your time copying and pasting the same response over and over. For both your sake and the customers sake, making those answers readily available is a smart decision.
We had three types of customer service contacts that were repetitive and time consuming:
- Detailed Image emails – questions about what products to buy, where we ship to, shipping quotes, technical site questions, etc
- Detailed Image phone calls – very time consuming. The same questions as above, but dragged out over the course of 30 minutes or more many times, especially when discussing their cars and specifically how to detail them. Now, these longer calls also generally resulted in large sales, so there was some risk involved. However, in addition to the time spent on the phone we would also have to manually put the order through the website, which added an extra 5 – 15 minutes. We knew it was worth it to take a stab at significantly reducing these.
- SportsLizard emails – mostly about the Price Guide: how to sign up, how to cancel, and how to get better prices. Also, people emailing in customs for the gallery was very time consuming for me to post.
There are more complex solutions to these problems than what we came up with. We were trying to get the most bang for our buck. No sense in spending a week programming a solution when you can spend an hour and get the same results. If the results fell short, we probably would’ve gone back to the old contact pages and spent time developing a more complex question/answer system.
Greg put together a FAQ of the most common questions. I turned it into a “drill down tree” FAQ to replace the contact page. So instead of a contact form that included our email address and phone number, customers are presented with the following:
Which drills down like so:
At the end of certain “branches” we give our phone number and/or email address, only when necessary.
Replacing the contact form with a page that has the top 5 most common FAQs, a link to a regular FAQ page for the rest, and the text “I checked the Frequently Asked Questions and they did not answer my question.”, which then reveals the contact form.
To minimize the time it takes to post a custom, I created a custom submissions form.
For the email side of things, Greg reports a huge drop off in basic questions like “how do I log in to the site?” or “how do I get a shipping quote?” We are attempting to quantify the improvement, but the data set is incomplete at this time (it’s hard to determine what exactly constitutes a “contact” via email so it takes quite a bit of work to comb back through emails and only count specific instances). That said, contacts are definitely down.
The phone is where we’ve seen a HUGE improvement. I went back and studied our bills for the past few months. In March we had 36 incoming calls and we checked our voicemail 16 voicemail times. In June we had 2 incoming calls and checked our voicemail 15 times. That’s a 94% reduction in incoming calls. We went from handling almost two per business day to handling none. That’s a lot of time saved.
It should be noted that an incoming call only happens when the phone is left on, and we’ve been turning our phone off with the exception of turning it on to check for voicemail occasionally. Keeping the phone off has the added dual benefit of allowing us to stay focused without distractions, similar to keeping your inbox closed or IM off (for another post). So the combination of adding a FAQ section, making it harder to find our phone number, keeping the phone turned off, and steering customers to email via our voicemail message has essentially eliminating incoming calls. On the rare occasion that we do get a voicemail, I’d say half of them have already been resolved by email or by the customer themself and don’t require a call back.
I haven’t tallied the data, but I’d estimate I went from about 5 customer service emails/day to about 2 emails/week, a huge improvement. I really love making people click the link that says “I checked the Frequently Asked Questions and they did not answer my question.” That extra step of forcing people to click the link makes them spend a minute really thinking about their problem and checking the FAQs before jumping in and contacting us. I really like this solution and will definitely use it in the future on other sites.
On the customs side of things, I probably went from spending 2-3 hours a week posting in the gallery, to spending about 10 minutes a week approving submissions in the database.
Detailed Image is continuing to exceed our expectations, with 100%+ growth each month compared to the same month in 2007. SportsLizard – despite my minimal effort – has seen an increase in paid subscribers to the Price Guide and an increase in ad revenue.
No, we haven’t done a customer satisfaction survey, but here’s my opinion: most customers don’t notice a difference, some customers are more satisfied because they get their answer immediately via FAQs or our detailing guides or other info on the sites, and a small minority are mildly inconvenienced because they want a person on the phone right now. For some businesses that aren’t e-commerce, that minority would be a majority and a system like this wouldn’t make sense.
In our case, we’ve made a commitment to minimize unnecessary contacts and funnel the necessary ones to email. We have received a few emails from people who complain that they can’t find a phone number. In these cases, we either apologize and answer via email or pick up the phone and call if the situation warrants it. The difference of course being that we’re the ones deciding whether or not a phone call is necessary.
While I’m sure we’ve lost a sale or two because it’s harder to find our contact information, we’ve more than made up for that in revenue generated from the time saved. It’s OK not to appease everyone – we know that the majority of our customers are happy and praise our sites for having exceptional customer service. We’re now able to get to the important customer service emails faster. I personally will sacrifice the profit from one pain-in-the-ass, hold-my-hand customer for the free time to pursue customers that value our time and won’t bother us with unecessary emails/calls without first checking the site.
The bottom line: it seems as if my hypothesis – that putting a customer service system in place would save time without sacrificing revenue or customer satisfaction – was a correct one.