Email support rocks for web applications

Comments Comments Off by Chris Sciora on May 15, 2009

Customer service means many different things to people. Our philosophy is providing the assistance necessary to help clients get things done quickly. In many, many cases, the single best way of making this happen is through email support, not phone support.

Email is ideal for supporting software and web apps. Phone messages are typically vague (e.g. “Hey, it's John. There's a problem with Headlight, call me back”), don't ask specific questions and never include helpful items like logs, links, screenshots or error messages. Email allows for all of those things.

Email is time independent, allows multiple support people to cooperate on a single incident and tracks all communications. That dramatically shortens the time required to resolve an incident – which is a key metric – and lets us review support tickets after the fact. Many times, those reviews results in new features or changes that prevent that particular incident for everyone, including people who aren't yet clients.

Here's a good example. Our next release includes a highly visible link on the login screen called “Can't login?” that links to a post titled Headlight won't let me login. It highlights the top five reasons for login failure. It quickly addresses 99% (perhaps 100%) of all login errors AND is much faster than making a phone call. It's available 24/7, can be bookmarked, sent to other users and often includes screenshots. Which is just about perfect for task based explanations.

We regularly evaluate whole bunches of software. Web applications, development tools, graphic utilities – it's a long list. Part of that is finding great tools for MobileIQ, part is finding great recommendations for others. Having worked with MANY different software vendors, it's clear our perspective on support differs markedly from many others.

Phone support provides three options. None work well for application support.

  1. Calls are answered immediately. Regrettably, this rarely means a highly trained, competent rep just picked up. It's often someone tasked with picking up the phone quickly, followed by shuttling between different departments to locate the right person. Once the support process actually begins, you have no idea whether it will take five minutes or five hours to resolve. Be prepared to repeat the whole story again to another person after the first rep determines they can't help.
  2. You're put in a hold queue. Same as #1, but this make the process even longer. How is spending time on hold helpful to anyone?!? It's not a good use of anyone's time, particularly an end user who certainly has more important things to do.
  3. You leave a message with callback number. This is my all-around favorite waste of everyone's time. What are you doing when the call is returned? Almost certainly something different than before. It's extremely rare for someone to leave a message, receive a unscheduled return call and instantly want to drop their current work. You'e already moved onto other things, other priorities, other tasks. Now we're interrupting you, end up leaving a message (“Hey, it's MobileIQ Support just letting you know we called!!!”) and the phone circle begins.

We believe the best support call is the one that never takes place. It's far better to prevent problems entirely than answer the phone quickly. Our clients rarely ask for support because it's simply not needed.

Here's my quickie list for best application support. All provided via email.

Freshbooks @ http://www.freshbooks.com
Active forums, thoughtful answers, always looking for customer feedback. They do offer phone support, but I've never used it. See above.

37Signals @ http://www.37signals.com
One company, couple handful of employees and millions (!!!) of users. Try that with a call center.

SuperDuper @ http://www.shirt-pocket.com/superduper/
I honestly think they have an intravenous email drip. Or perhaps telepathic keyboards.

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