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When should you use the phone to talk to customers?

Lesson #13 of CommunicateBetter is provided by Aircall‘s CEO: Olivier Pailhes.

Why the hell would you ever consider using the phone to communicate with your customers?

It’s time-consuming. Who has never been stuck in a phone call and trying to put an end to it?

It’s a constraint. Because it’s “real-time”, you need people ready to answer calls. But calls might not come in at all. No buffer to organize yourself and the team. Technically you’re always under- or over-staffed, except if you’ve built a 100+ people call center.

Information is in the air. What you discussed on the phone isn’t logged anywhere, except if you record it, but it remains difficult to exploit. So you end up taking notes during or after the call to make sure you keep track of what happened.

It’s (mostly) unprioritized. When the phone rings, you just pick-up without any information about the customer, about his or her request or about how urgent it is to provide an answer.

So let’s wipe off the phone from our support channels! Or… let’s see if we can fix these pains – not with a tool or magic tricks, but just by being smarter about how we use it.

Not every business needs to “talk” to its customers

Admittedly, if the phone is an expensive and constraining channel, it also is the most engaging one (after face-to-face meetings). So you may want to use it as a company if you meet these 4 main conditions:

  • Your customers need real-time answers – and you can deliver them (no need for further inquiries or back-stage action)
  • Your product requires some level of customization (meaning it’s not a plain-vanilla self-service)
  • Trust plays a key role in the customer’s willingness to buy and keep using your product
  • Your* customer Lifetime value* is high enough to balance the cost of  phone support

If you meet none of these, the answer is fairly straightforward – don’t do phone support. You may still want to use the phone channel for inside sales or ops, but you’d probably better stop here and read CommunicateBetter’s last lesson on The Future of Email instead  🙂

If you meet one or several of these conditions, use this TypeForm (made just for you) and find out actionable recommendations to optimize your phone channel, or read the following 3 pieces of advice:

  1. Position your phone at the right place
  2. Use the phone to reach out proactively
  3. Give value to the phone channel

Position  phone at the right place

Phone is the most powerful yet most expensive channels (in terms of resources). It needs to be positioned very carefully, on  critical spots in your product or website:

  • On your checkout or billing page
  • After a self-service demo of your product
  • Based on  users behavior (after a long period of time browsing FAQs, or after clicking cancel on a support form), etc

Having a segmented display of your phone contact number, generally after offering alternatives like FAQs or email contact, will help you filter better and avoid the phone calls overload.

Use the phone to reach out proactively

A company like Close.io strives to give a call to each and every new user, right after he signs up. Crazy? Actually not if you have a product that’s customizable, relatively expensive and critical for the customer. Reaching out over the phone gives a distinctive edge on your level of service, and lets you help the customer get the most out of your product.

As you engage an outbound call, you manage the workload much more easily and you prevent future calls that you don’t control. Close.io’s CEO Steli Efti recommends calling right after the sign-up, to increase your success rate.

Of course, you might not be able to reach out to all your users, but if you have some simple rules on customer’s product usage (# of users, # of connexions, etc), you can prioritize your calling list and be sure to optimize the time spent on the phone. Plus, you have the opportunity to add a few questions to improve your product:

  • Understand friction points
  • Gather feature needs
  • Rate satisfaction or get NPS, etc.

Give value to the phone channel

Whether they actually use it or not, most enterprise-level customers value having access to customer support over the phone. Many software companies include phone support as a key distinctive feature of their most expensive plan. A company like Stunning even offers access to the founder’s cell phone in its enterprise plan:

Screenshot 2015-06-18 15.57.07

There are many other ways to leverage the phone channel to add value to your product – for instance, you can:

  • Provide distinctive phone numbers with different levels of service for VIP customers. Give your largest customers a unique number, accessible over extended schedules and cascading over a VIP team (which can include top-level management if you’d like). Clearly communicate that this number is ONLY for them.
  • Provide local phone numbers based on your customer’s country. Give a UK number to your UK VIP customers (but leave your team where they are). A local phone number gives a feeling of proximity, especially if you’re a digital business, which is a strong reinsurance . And it makes your company look bigger than it actually is.

Hope these few ideas will help you communicate better with your customers 🙂