“Do you provide phone support?”

This is a question that our support officers receive a lot. The answer is “No” because we believe that our customers will be assisted faster and will receive a service with higher quality if they send us a ticket instead.

The support process on our side goes like this:

  1. The client has to register a support account. This is free, takes just a few minutes, and has to be done only once. During the sign-up process, the client will have to enter the username and the password of their hosting account on our side for verification purposes.
  2. When our clients need assistance, they will have to navigate to our support site, log in with their support username and password, and submit their request.
  3. Seconds after such a request is received, a support officer assigns it to themselves. The support interface has links to all the resources of the hosting account that is associated with the particular support username. This allows the support officer to immediately start working on the request.
  4. The average response time is less than ten minutes, so the client can expect a reply within such a period of time.

Let me use this process as a base for a comparison between the phone and ticketing support.

Phone support is pretty much linear. Only one client can be serviced by a particular support officer at that moment. The others are waiting in the line.

It is much different when tickets are involved. At peak times our support officers usually handle two or three requests at a time. The reality is that a big part of the requests that they receive are trivial. The members of our support team have responded to such questions on multiple occasions and this does not take them a lot of time. It is normal for a support officer to handle two or three easier requests while working on a more complex ticket. With phone support, these clients will be forced to wait in the line while the first one is talking to the support member.

If such client decides to hang up their phone, then they will lose their place in the queue and will have to start over when they try again. If the user sends a ticket instead, then they can shift their attention to something else and come back after a few minutes to check our reply.

Very often users are not quite verbose. Every once in a while, the technical support receives a ticket which says just “I have a problem with my site”. Usually, it is a wrong directive applied to an .htaccess file, or a syntax error in a PHP file. It happens. Such an issue will be handled much differently via the two communication channels  (phone and tickets), though. If we receive such a request over the phone, we can’t start working on it right away. We have to overcome the hurdle of identifying the site and the account of the user. Let’s say that the domain name of the users is “SaoirseAndSiobhansYogaLessons.com”. I mean no offense, Saoirse and Siobhan are two very beautiful names, but try spelling them on the phone. It is possible, of course, but this step only will take a few minutes, and probably, a few tries. Only then the support officer can start checking the site and offer a possible solution.

It is quite different if we receive such a ticket via the support account of the user. Since the support account is associated with the hosting account of the client, our backend includes links to their site, their Control Panel, and all the other resources that are associated with the account. The support officer can visit their site right away, check it for some errors, and fix them.

The phone request may get even more time consuming if the particular issue occurs in an area that is password-protected, such as the WordPress Dashboard, for example. This will require spelling even more strings and the good, strong passwords are not supposed to be easy to spell at all.

A list (which doesn’t pretend to be full) of information that is difficult, or even impossible, to be provided over the phone, but is crucial for the processing of the support requests, is:

  • Complex URLs.
  • Usernames and passwords.
  • Error messages.
  • Screenshots.

This applies to communication in both directions. The support members will be facing the same spelling challenge if they will have to provide an address to the user, such as the URL of their Control Panel, or of a web resource where they can read more about a particular matter.

At the same time, it is trivial to receive/send such details in a ticket, in writing.

Another drawback of phone support is follow-ups. It is rather inefficient when the user has to contact the support service with additional information about a particular case. Basically, the user will have to start over, wait on the line, explain everything from the beginning, including the new details, unless they are lucky, and the same support officer picks up the phone. And, yes, they will have to spell “SaoirseAndSiobhansYogaLessons.com” again…

Ticketing communication is again more efficient. The information about the particular case is kept in a single thread. If a different support officer picks the ticket with the follow-up information, they can quickly read the previous communication and get up to speed.

There are a few other dimensions of the comparison between these two types of communication, and they are:

  • Quality.
  • Cost efficiency.
  • Security.

If an eventual phone support service decides to catch up at least a little bit with the ticketing support in terms of response time, then the company will have to hire more officers in order to reduce the waiting time on the line. However, more employees will mean lower salaries for all.

Customer support work is very stressful. Computers and software are rather punishing. A small syntax error in a script and the site goes down. The wrong box checked in the email program, and it would not connect to the email box. This all causes frustration and it often reflects on the communication with customer support. The ticketing support is shielded from this by the indirect communication, but the officers that are answering the phone will be directly exposed.

The higher stress level and the lower salary will raise the employee turnover rate in the customer support department, and the quality of the service will inevitably suffer as a result.

Providing only ticketing support keeps the stress level and the employee turnover rate very low. Very few officers who pass the initial evaluation period at ICDSoft and get used to the job leave the company. On each shift, the combined experience of the support officers can be measured in decades and this drives the quality up.

Furthermore, phone communication is one-on-one. The client relies on the expertise of a single officer, who is standing in a soundproof cubicle. It is also harder for the support officer to request help from the other colleagues on shift if they are talking over the phone as well. On the other hand, when posting a ticket, the client benefits from the expertise of all ICDSoft support officers on shift. This is possible because most of them are at a single location and actively discuss each other’s tickets. There is no problem for some of them to ask for the assistance of their fellow colleagues if a particular case is harder to solve. This also contributes to the overall quality of the provided customer support.

Phone support raises some security concerns, too. The officers never know who is on the other end of the line. Usually, it is the owner of the hosting account, but every once in a while it may be a hacker trying to get into the target account by applying social engineering tricks. Hosting accounts and domain names have turned into assets that are vital for any contemporary businesses and we would like to have much greater confidence that we are communicating with a person that is authorized to receive feedback about the particular hosting account. This limits the assistance that can be provided only to general questions, which are not invasive to the account. In other words, we would be reluctant to provide information, such as about how to log in to the account and make changes to the data.

Our ticketing interface, on the other hand, has all this sorted by default. As it was already mentioned, during the signup process for the support system, the applicants will have to submit a valid hosting account username and password. We never see the password strings (they are kept encrypted), but the signup attempt will go through only if they match the hashes on our side. This gives us confidence that we are communicating with the owner of the account, or with a person that they have authorized to contact us on their behalf. This way, even if the clients ask the support officers to make more complex changes to the account, they will proceed with confidence that the request is coming from someone, that has the right to ask such actions to be taken.

A proper phone support service would require a separate system that overcomes two challenges:

  • Account identification.
  • User authentication.  

This can be achieved by applying a separate identification of the hosting accounts with a number and pin which are different than the username and the password. The phone system should be tightly integrated with the computer terminals that are used by the support officers. As a separate system, it will cost money if it is done right and will reflect on the prices that are paid by the clients. Indeed, it will reduce the time of reaction, but the overall response time of all types of support (phone, tickets, and email) will go up, because the people who answer the phone are the same that respond to tickets and email messages. The reality is that people on the phone like to chat and it would not be polite to stop them if they would like to inform us about the weather on their side and the personal matters that have lead to a particular issue. This is great, but it all takes time that can be used to help other users who are staying on the line or have opened a ticket.

Probably, the main concern of the clients who request phone support is if they are going to get the immediate attention of the support officers to handle their request. Once they reach a support officer over the phone to request assistance, then they will indeed have it. However, due to the outlined drawbacks of phone communication, the support officer will need more time to assist them.

Indeed, some services do take 24 hours or more to reply to a customer request. This is not the case with ICDSoft, though. Once a request is submitted, a support officer assigns it to themselves within seconds and starts working on it. Usually, when our clients realize that there is a live person on the other side, who is trying to assist them as fast as possible, then their worries disappear.

The bottom line is that for the time you’ve been waiting to get in touch over the phone and identify your account, you would have already received a reply to your ticket.

The lack of phone support was a strategic decision that was taken more than a decade ago. It has saved the company millions of dollars that were invested in hardware, software development, and staff development. It has allowed ICDSoft to concentrate on our ticketing system and build a famous support service that helps thousands of customers every year with blazing speed.

If you are a client of ICDSoft and need help, then you can be sure that at any given moment of the day, and at any day of the year, there is a support officer waiting to accept your ticket and provide the best assistance possible.

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