Read enough technology headlines these days and it’s easy to assume that the human voice box is about to become a vestigial organ. Much like an appendix or tailbone, it will soon be remembered as a formerly useful tool that’s no longer fit for our modern world.
Customer service leaders certainly seem to be leaning into this trend, building an ever-expanding range of communication options for anyone allergic to human conversation. But startups hoping to skip phone support altogether would be wise to reconsider.
Because, at least until telepathy matures, telephony will continue to satisfy a few vital needs that digital channels rarely do.
When Speed Is The Need
Typing “ASAP” into a text, Tweet, email, or chat is rarely the most effective way for customers to resolve a service issue as soon as possible. Because although their inquiry always feels urgent to them, that adjective has a slightly different definition to an employee already staring at five open chat windows and 55 open support tickets.
In the end, nothing gets attention and answers faster than a customer call ringing on Line 1.
Blinking chat windows and dinging email notifications only set off low-level alarms, generating the kind of momentary attention that’s easily divided and diluted across multiple tasks. A live conversation, on the other hand, demands serious and sustained engagement.
There’s also no guarantee that the ease of submitting inquiries through digital channels will ultimately correlate with the speed of solving inquiries through digital channels. While 87% of customer phone calls are met with a response AND a resolution, the same can only be said for 70% of chats and 64% of emails, respectively.
No wonder so many customers still pick up the phone when they have to have a final answer ASAP.
When The Details Are Delicate
Any healthy relationship, whether personal or professional, has a clear boundary between what can be shared publicly and what should be held privately. And in an age when digital messages can quickly find their way in front of unintended audiences, the phone remains a crucial channel for sensitive conversations.
In the context of a business relationship, no matter is more intimate to a customer than their money. They expect companies to keep financial data and details as private as possible. So it’s no surprise to see that 60% reach for the phone first when they need to discuss a billing or payment issue.
Dollars and cents aren’t the only customer issues that deserve a safe space, though.
Oftentimes a phone line is the only place a customer feels free to share candid feedback, behind-the-scenes context, and personal struggles. Perhaps they have news they’d rather not share with colleagues, or maybe an unconventional request they’d prefer to leave out of print.
In any case, companies that don’t offer an avenue for these sensitive discussions will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to cultivating the intimacy and trust required for lasting customer relationships.
When The Decision Is Difficult
The continued shift toward self-service channels has armed today’s customers with an astounding amount of information. But at a certain point, a more detailed FAQ page isn’t the answer. Sometimes what customers ultimately want is an advisor who can help transform raw information into practical insights.
Complexity is usually the driving factor in these phone calls. Customers reach out feeling overwhelmed, confused, and unable to identify their next move. This is a familiar narrative in the tech industry, where sleek solutions are often built atop unimaginable intricacies.
Other times, it’s more about gravity than complexity. Customers arrive on the phone line already knowing the best answer, but the impact of their decision is so dramatic that they have to secure a second opinion prior to moving forward. Big-ticket purchases and long-term contracts, for instance, may induce the kind of customer anxieties that can only be soothed by the voice of an expert advisor.
Whether the customer calls seeking a solution engineer or a sounding board, it’s important to acknowledge what their choice of the phone channel implies. They won’t want more technical documentation to read or ambiguous emails to decode — they’ll want to hear a human voice clearly and confidently offer personalized advice.
Greg Smoragiewicz is the Head of Content at Aircall, the NYC startup that finally built a phone system flexible enough to meet the needs of modern sales and support teams. Aircall is also a proud sponsor of TechDay Los Angeles.