Email support can be great or it can suck horribly. It’s a spectrum. For my own products and services, my average email response time is around 1 hour in general, and 5 minutes if I am online. Seriously, I am right there ready to help anyone who needs it. Contrast that strategy to what seems to be the typical email support response time of an entire day or much longer. It’s just crazy to have to wait that long.
Way too slow
Sorry, but if it takes your company longer than a few hours to respond to a help request, you are doing it wrong. Your customers should not have to wait 24+ hours to get help. This is the communication/information age for crying out loud. Support should happen in real time. If a one-man operation can handle it, I’m sure all you giant corporations can manage it as well.
Your answering machine software sucks
Even worse than having to wait hours upon days to get help, is to finally hear back from support staff with some stupid, general response or question. For example, let’s say you have a device that you just purchased but it is not working. Like a camera or something. If you purchased the device from an awesome company, you can call them directly 24/7/365 with no hold time. Boom. Connected to a real person (not some inane answering software) with actual support en route.
Unfortunately, when that is not a reality, you may find yourself dealing with less than optimal forms of support, such as:
- Telephone support but with limited hours
- Telephone support but with long-ass wait times
- Telephone support with useless answering machine service
- Telephone support but with a useless support staff (outsourced, ignorant, apathetic, et al)
If your site claims 24/7 telephone support, but people have to wait 10-30 minutes or longer to actually speak to someone, you don’t really have 24/7 support.
5 degrees of live chat support
After real 24/7 phone support, the next best support service would be some sort of live chat system. While not as awesome as phone support, there are several degrees of awesomeness for live chat support:
- 24/7/365 live chat: this can work great as a complete support system
- Limited hours support system: not as good, but better than email only
- Inconsistent limited support: ugh no you’re getting into what’s the point territory
- Inconsistent limited support by people who don’t know what they are doing
- Live support with useless support staff (outsourced, ignorant, apathetic, et al)
Especially if live chat is your primary or only method of providing support, you want to aim for #1 or at least #2. Unfortunately, some companies can’t even provide decent chat support, falling somewhere around #4 or #5 on the list.
And of course there is the ticket system of support, which basically is the same as email support but with a searchable archive of past support tickets. Some companies (like hosting) really put such systems to good use. Other companies use it as a support wall through which few can pass, or only people that are willing to jump through a bunch of idiotic and often irrelevant hoops.
As explained in my post, s2Member vs. Easy Digital Downloads, replacing an online forum with a support wall or ticket system is a surefire way to straight-up kill a community. No more searchable responses, no more community interaction. Just a bunch of isolated people needing help and having to wait days or longer to get it. Just.. sad.
Maybe forum-based support
Another popular method of support is seen in online forums. Online forums are great for community, and even better if moderated by people who know what they are doing. Otherwise it can be hit or miss based on who is online and willing to help. Some companies make great use of online forums, combining them with ticket systems, point/award bonuses, and so forth.
As useful as forums can be for getting help, many are just hopeless. The Apple support forums come readily to mind, as it’s a perfect example of the last place on earth that I want to try getting help. Just way too much drama, apathy, and outdated/irrelevant information to be of any practical use. Not to single out and pick on poor old Apple — there are plenty of other companies that can’t seem to get it right.
Email support can be great
Last in line for support is email support. When done correctly, it’s one of the most convenient, useful, and quickest ways to get the help you need. But when it’s done incorrectly, it can be the most frustrating support mechanism of them all, especially when:
- You have to jump through a million hoops just to submit the request (log in, provide info, answer all questions, mother’s maiden name, password, agree to terms, and on and on and on..)
- You have to wait forever to get a response. when i need help, I want it now not in a day or longer. The world is changing to always on, fast paced, instant downloads, etc. So why make your customers wait with snail-paced email support. Might as well use snail mail.
- The support person obviously does not care or is not interested etc. Nothing better than trying to get help from someone who couldn’t care less.
- Dragged out responses, questions, and stupidity. Like after waiting for 36 hours you finally hear back from “Carl” or whoever with some general, useless question, like “what is your username?” or “what version are you using?” or whatever. I mean seriously, then you decide to go ahead and play the game, only to have to wait another 24-36 hours for the next brilliant question, like “have you tried this” or “that” or whatever. Come on dude, it’s been seven days now and the feeling is gone. You have not provided any help other than ask a series of useless questions that have gotten us nowhere. I just want my money back at this point.
- The worst of them all is not even getting a response back, as if your attempt at getting help just slipped into the void somewhere or was “accidentally” deleted or conveniently “not received”. I call bollox on such service. It’s just wrong.
And it’s not like I even have to argue the point — you know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, we’ve all been there.
The wrong mentality
You have to wonder why some companies choose email support in the first place. Understandable if combined with other forms of support, so as to supplement, but used as the primary channel of support and it turns out to suck, you can’t help but wonder if:
- The company is just hiding behind a support wall
- They delay responding in hopes that you will have resolved or forgotten about it
- They “drip” support to you, either to encourage you finding another solution or resolve the issue yourself
- They think that email is safer than a public forum because nobody will ever know
The problem with that sort of mentality is that:
- Most people know that your support sucks
- Paying customers deserve decent support
- Having to resolve the issue yourself means less need for the company
- People talk and post about crappy service all the time
- You breed negativity and resentment for your company (look at Microsoft, Google, et al)
Pro tips for email support
If you have to resort to email support, forum support, and the like — basically anything less than always-on, real-time phone support — here are some tips that will help make sure that you are providing actual support and not anti-support (so named because the farce that you call “support” only serves to upset, frustrate, and alienate your users):
- Respond quickly, like in minutes or hours at the most
- Respond to all requests, don’t mysteriously make them go away or ignore them
- Ask all pertinent questions up front in the first email and provide documentation; that way the person needing help can go through each item and do their own troubleshooting if desired, and can respond with everything you need to help. instead of playing the slow-response game until they just give up and commit suicide.
- If you don’t care, at least act like you do
- Don’t spam the customer’s email address with surveys, offers, and other spam
- Don’t pitch your garbage while I’m on hold or in the email etc
- Don’t pick lame hold music in hopes that people will hang up; or provide a way to turn off the hold music
- Don’t make customers jump through a bunch of hoops
- Don’t assume that everyone is stupid; use your judgment to decide who may be more savvy than others
If your company or team provides any sort of customer support, do it right. I can tell you firsthand, after doing this professionally and independently for about 10 years now, providing good customer support is one THE best things you can do to improve reputation, gain repeat customers, and grow your business.
Especially in this modern, fast-paced, technological age, rapid, effective support should be one of your top priorities.