Phone support? Think again!

award-winning-support

The power and clarity of the written word is undisputed. There’s a popular saying “if it’s not written down it doesn’t exist”. It’s widely used across many different aspects of business, and for very good reason; explaining complex issues in written form forces a certain clarity that cannot be delivered orally.

Imagine that you need help with a technical problem. Explaining the steps in writing is the perfect way to get the information across clearly and unambiguously. When mistakes and misunderstandings cause delays and cost money, this is the time when you definitely need to be as clear and unambiguous as possible. It’s the perfect medium for hosting service technical support.

Providing all support via email / helpdesk tickets has led Layershift’s support to be formally recognised as offering the best in Western Europe for the last 2 years running (2014 and 2015).

It’s clear that our support systems serve our customers’ needs extremely well. Even so, from time to time we get a pre-sales request asking why we don’t offer technical support via phone. We understand the apprehension; if you’re used to struggling through with other hosting companies who often take days to respond, only to provide inadequate assistance even when it finally arrives – the immediacy of phone support appears compelling. Even though waiting on hold wastes your time, and talking to the wall yields no results, it all seems like a good idea at the time… but truth is it’s not. Not at all. Here’s why:

5 reasons why we don’t leave our customers on hold

1. Online support is faster

Whether your server is offline, or you just need a little guidance, getting the help you need as quickly as possible is essential; it can save you time and money.

It turns out that we can investigate and resolve problems reported via email in the time it would have taken just to explain what was wrong via a phone call (let alone fix it).

It’s obvious when you think about it. The vast majority of technical issues are understood and resolved far more quickly when provided with the exact error message, domain name, log excerpts, print screens, etc. Take a look in your PHP error log right now. Read a few lines out loud in full to a colleague. Now try showing them another one. Which did they comprehend more quickly?

It turns out that we can investigate and resolve problems reported via email in the time it would have taken just to explain what was wrong via a phone call (let alone fix it).

Error messages and logs convey a lot of technical information as succinctly as possible: when you say it out loud in a high pressure situation (e.g. your site is offline) it’s very tempting to abbreviate or rush that sentence out. The person at the other end of the line has to write that down to have any chance of capturing all of the relevant detail. It’s a slow and painful process for both sides. If you skipped the first or last 40 characters to save some time because it “didn’t look important” it might completely block the support engineer from resolving your problem.

With email you can send a huge amount of technical information very quickly, clearly, and unambiguously. This can sometimes circumvent the gap between what you think you’ve set and what’s actually set (i.e. the engineer has the chance to see any configuration mistakes with their own eyes).

The bottom line is with all information in hand, the support engineer can understand and resolve your problem / query more quickly, meaning less disruption to your day.

2. The right person for the job

Getting your issue resolved promptly and accurately first time every time is our mantra. This is only possible if the engineer working on your issue has expert knowledge of the subject at hand.

Even within a single service, a problem or question can arise in wildly different areas. You might be a WordPress wizard but a Django dunce; it’s exactly the same for our server admins – each person has their strengths and weaknesses in different areas of technical expertise. The best results only come by matching the issues with skillsets.

We don’t outsource our support to call centres. We’re too passionate about quality to ever do that. However a certain law dictates that whoever answers the phone will not be the most appropriate engineer for your specific issue. Connecting the right issue with the right engineer is non-trivial. By phone this can only mean putting you on hold!

By handling your support requests via email support tickets, we transparently route each one to the most appropriate engineer without delay.

We’ve all sat idly on hold listening to dreadful music waiting to be transferred to a more appropriate person. Actually, a study showed that the average person spends a depressing 1.2 years of their life on hold. What a waste of time! Why be an average person? This is time you can better spend doing something productive, or better yet – enjoying with your friends and family.

Just email the issue and continue with life whilst we take care of the problem for you in the background.

The alternative, as used by some, is for whoever answers tell you whatever they think is right – even though they’re not an expert in that specific area and may get things wrong. This isn’t returning a pair of ill-fitting shoes. Mistakes in technical details can have huge ramifications, such as downtime or even data loss for your clients. Don’t take that risk.

By handling your support requests via email support tickets, we transparently route each one to the most appropriate engineer without delay. Your request gets into the hands of a subject matter expert straight away, ensuring that you get the very best help quickly and accurately. No delays, no waiting on hold, no time wasted.

3. Focus

Complex technical issues require full concentration to investigate and resolve. The added pressure of someone quite literally “in your ear” as you comb through log files looking for answers makes a hard task impossible. Contrary to common customer folklore, I can assure you that adding extra pressure has never resolved any issue more quickly. It only increases mistakes.

Imagine that you’ve just taken the details of a customer’s problem by phone. You need time to investigate properly. Respecting their valuable time, you take their details and promise to get back to them ASAP. Knee deep in log files, carefully studying line by line to figure out what’s gone wrong, the phone rings. Your colleagues are busy on other calls already. Perfect.

It might be reporting something serious, or a trivial cold call trying to sell a new brand of network gear; no way to tell.

You have a choice. Ignore the new call – they can wait on hold for the next available engineer. Or take the call, disrupting your train of thought on your existing complex investigation. But if you ignore the new call you might be delaying the resolution of another major incident. Too late! Already lost the thread in that investigation just stopping to make this decision. You have to take the call.

The added pressure of someone quite literally “in your ear” as you comb through log files looking for answers makes a hard task impossible.

A customer wants advice about the best TLD for their new venture. After politely helping as best you can, the customer takes a few extra moments to share an anecdote about their pet dog. Sounds like he’s a fun little guy (the dog, of course!).

Anyway, that’s 30 minutes gone… Weren’t you in the middle of something?

Do you want to be the first customer, with the complex investigation that got derailed by a lower priority interruption? This is how support by phone works. It’s the reason why companies providing phone support don’t let you speak directly to the “2nd line” engineers (aka you talk to someone without much clue).

Email support tickets enable us to triage issues so that your important issue can never be usurped by a less urgent one. You get faster issue resolution, and it’s far less likely that important details are overlooked (fewer mistakes) because our engineers are given the space to properly focus on the matter at hand.

4. Verba volant, scripta manent

This old Latin proverb, literally translated as “spoken words fly away, written words remain” is apt in all manner of business and technical disciplines. If you’re a software developer or designer, you probably practice this principle extensively throughout your work.

We provide true 24×7 support. Tired support engineers make mistakes. So of course issues and follow-ups must be able to pass smoothly from one shift to the next. If incident details or any resolution guidance, were only provided orally there’s little chance that the next engineer can continue the investigation effectively or clarify their colleague’s instructions to you.

You don’t understand the technical guidance provided and need to pass it to your developer for implementation? Pretty hard to do that accurately from your phone call notes and doodles, but with every detail written down for you in full, simply forward it along and nothing gets “lost in translation.”

There is no “he said, she said”, only fact, so the correct remedial actions can be taken without question.

By the way, you can also just cc your developer into the ticket and we’ll be happy to correspond with you both.

This added clarity and permanence of written communication is also highly beneficial for you to refer back to in future – e.g. if you hit a similar issue again, you have the resolution steps right there by a quick search of your own mailbox.

However, there’s a further benefit; quality control. Scaling a support team is hard. We offer many complex services, and there are literally thousands of nuances for even the most seasoned sysadmin to learn.

As already agreed, mistakes in this field can often have catastrophic consequences. Our engineers’ diligent writings are peer reviewed (before and/or after sending), which enables mistakes to be caught and rectified before they cause harm to your business. Oral misinformation via phone calls, on the other hand, can easily pass unnoticed – exposing your business to substantial unnecessary risk; exacerbated by the fact you’re probably not talking to a subject matter expert on the phone, making inaccuracies far more likely.

On that note, if something goes wrong during the support process and the case is referred to management for review, that absolute written record leaves nowhere to hide. There is no “he said, she said”, only fact, so the correct remedial actions can be taken without question.

5. Pair support

As a developer or project manager, you may be familiar with the idea of pair programming. It’s a practice used in extreme programming and other agile software development ideologies. The basic idea is that pairs of programmers solve complex problems more effectively than lone wolves.

We apply this same technique to complex support cases. Two heads are better than one. Bringing the combined experience and expertise of multiple engineers to your problem delivers better end results, faster problem resolution, and together of course contributes to increased customer satisfaction.

This is only made possible by receiving the support case in written form, in full gory detail straight from the customer. If you rely on an engineer to first summarise and transcribe the customer’s requirements / problem important nuances may be omitted and ownership of the issue’s resolution is not properly shared between paired engineers.

Two heads are better than one. Bringing the combined experience and expertise of multiple engineers to your problem delivers increased customer satisfaction.

If you have a difficult technical case, understanding what happened (or what needs to happen) is often also a critical step; explaining the issue clearly to the customer.

Walking a customer through those details via phone can be highly problematic. It usually needs some annotated log file excerpts, and a very carefully thought out and structured explanation. Crafting this “on the fly” during a phone call is really tough.

Taking a few moments to organise your thoughts and write out the details in an easily digestible manner is much more successful. Not least because it also grants the customer the same courtesy – let me just re-read that part and make sure I got the point clearly.

Beyond the call of duty

It’s absolutely true that a small number of issues are better discussed via phone, and where that applies we are happy to reach out – though most commonly by invitation to our live chat facility just for practical reasons of getting those technical details across as accurately and succinctly as possible. In all cases we ask that you submit a support ticket with as much detail as possible first, so that we can review the issue and either help directly, or else at least ensure that you’re speaking with the most appropriate person from the outset – nobody likes being transferred from pillar to post!

Renouncing phone support may be hard, but it can be done with no regrets. One of our most valued customers, Andrew Kaplan explains::

“Great support – even without phones.

I bought Cybershore a few months ago. My initial plan was to move all the sites to my servers at Liquidweb. My concern was the lack of telephone support, but I have decided to leave them with Layershift.

However, I must admit that in 99% of cases telephone support is not preferred. I don’t need to spend time describing the problem and then waiting for a solution. Instead, I can simply type up the problem, send the email, and go back to work. The fix usually takes less than 20 minutes.The rare times where a more involved question was posted it only took a few emails to resolve. And they were not simple issues.

Keep up the good work.”

Andrew Kaplan, owner of Walden Pond Designwalden-pond-logo
26 Shorelands Drive, Madison, CT 06443
Office: 203-779-5805

Cybershore is an ISP (Internet Service Provider) located in Madison, CT, providing webhosting, email hosting, spam protection as well as Web Design and Search Optimization Services. They currently host over 300 sites with Layershift, across multiple Cloud VPS and dedicated servers.

Our support team are highly revered throughout the industry. Every support ticket reply that we send provides the opportunity for our customers to give feedback, and a rating out of 10. This forms part of our support quality review process, and is taken into consideration at staff appraisals. We publish the real-time average live on our website together with a selection of recent customer comments.

Final thoughts

The communication medium is not the most important issue. If your hosting provider is decent you can work with them via morse code if necessary, whilst a terrible hosting provider will always be a risk and liability to your business even if you have the CEO on speed dial!

Get in touch via email, live chat (available during UK business hours) or social media profiles – Twitter or on Google+ and start benefiting from our Award Winning Support Team.

  • Nick Colakovic

    I must agree that email communication provides support more time and better focus for resolving the issues and finding the best way to tackle the problem. On the other hand, I totally understand why customers prefer phone call when the problem is urgent, as this way they are sure someone actually answered their request and is working on the issue.

    • Damien Ransome

      Nick you are absolutely right about the “good feeling” it gives to get through to someone on the phone and discuss your problem in real-time – especially if it’s stop-the-world urgent.

      In practice:
      – Many companies will keep you on hold for several minutes before even answering your call (let alone giving you the opportunity to speak with someone with sufficient knowledge and skill to address your problem)
      – The most serious incidents (downtime) affecting hosting services will often affect multiple customers at once, meaning huge spike on inbound support call volume = longer wait times to get through. Similar cases by email tickets can be triaged and grouped to keep large segments of customers updated with the latest progress as the situation evolves.

      If your provider is serious about delivering good quality support, you should be able to communicate the problem, receive acknowledgement, and confirmation that it’s under active investigation more quickly by email than by phone.

      • Nick Colakovic

        Couldn’t agree more. It’s more important to actually solve the problem than be a comfort for the troubled customer. It’s good that Simona gave detailed comparison of both types of support in this post.