Does Phone-Based Customer Communication Still Have a Place in SaaS?

Russell Hardy

People don’t want to hop on the phone anymore.

That’s what some recent customer surveys have indicated, at any rate. Self-service customer solutions like how-to videos are all the rage now, letting people get instant answers to simple questions.

Could the era of phone-based customer communication really be over?

The story is more complicated than that. Customers crave high-quality service that fits their needs quickly and decisively. Understanding how to provide it will increase your retention and leave your customers happy.

What the stats say

A quick look at any recent customer survey paints a bleak picture of the future of phone-based customer communications. Approximately 40% of people prefer self-service modules over human interactions. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, no. Customers may not want personal interactions in most scenarios, but they want personalized service. 33% of consumers claim to have left a company in the last year because the service wasn’t personalized enough.

Of course, this also doesn’t mean consumers are chomping at the bit to scream “speak to customer service representative” into their phone as they get dragged through yet another agonizing automated phone service.

It does mean expectations have changed in recent years. People now expect their questions and complaints to be handled promptly and effectively.

Are text-based communications and knowledgebases up to the task?

Phone-based customer service still has its part to play. Some products are too complicated for self-service, and many customers simply prefer a human touch. However, the frustrations of phone-based customer service are not nearly as tolerated as they once were back when there were no other options.

Making phone-based communication work

Phone-based communication will inevitably still have its place in the world of customer service, particularly in the world of B2B software, where contracts can be big, and products are quite complicated. When these high-ticket customers do have to speak with a customer service representative, they expect a degree of familiarity.

In fact, 72% of consumers say they expect the customer service representative they speak with to know who they are and what their history with the product has been like. Customer journeys can now be easily translated into digestible reports that customer experience (CX) teams can access to make this level of personalization possible.

Why does this matter? Besides the obvious benefit of catering to customer expectations, it also provides businesses with valuable opportunities to:

  • receive customer feedback,
  • establish brand loyalty, and
  • learn more about where consumers are at during each stage of the customer journey.

One of the problems with a strictly self-service-based customer experience strategy is it makes it harder for businesses to learn more about the customer experience they’re providing. More than 90% of customers never complain. They simply leave and look for a new provider. If customers with issues are directed exclusively to self-service portals, your business loses the already very small opportunity it had for valuable customer satisfaction feedback.

As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Customer interactions of any kind can be invaluable to the business that is interested in constantly improving its service.

What’s the ideal balance between phone and email or live chat for a positive CX?

Customer loyalty is built on excellence in CX, but “excellence” is a subjective term. What’s the right balance between the various forms of customer communication? Statistics can offer some insights into this.

A recent consumer survey revealed the top three forms of communication people prefer are:

  • email,
  • instant chat, and
  • phone

Of these three, phone communication actually ranked highest followed by email and online chat. Perfect, right? The secrets of customer experience management have been solved!

Not quite. The ratio is less important than the diversity of options and the quality of service. People want to be able to access customer service in their preferred manner, and they expect the results to be immediate and thorough.

Nearly half of all customers expect a response within four hours for written communication, while 12% go so far as to expect it within fifteen minutes.

When it comes to phone-based communication, 60% of customers will hang up if they are placed on hold for more than one minute. Despite that, the average call center hold time is 13 minutes.

Indeed, this is probably one of the main reasons self-service portals have experienced their recent gain in popularity. People want fast results and self-service portals give it to them.

Ideally, your customer service team will be able to provide layered support. Self-service portals, instant chat, and email are all great ways to quickly handle small questions. And, with these options in place, it leaves more time for handling big requests on the phone.

Tailoring your customer experience

Successful customer journey mapping is all about meeting your clients where they’re at. Consider using internal customer data to get a better idea of where your service experience is having the highest impact, and what your customers tend to prefer.

In general, enterprise-level customers prefer personalized support and their needs may be more complicated than those of customers who are using your product at the entry-level. However, you also don’t want to base your customer service strategy on generalizations. Instead, identify the solutions that make the most sense for your product and customer base.

As customer service expert Laurice Leitao put it, “Our greatest asset is the customer! Treat each customer as if they were the only one!”

Above anything else, customers want solutions that feel specific to their needs. Phone-based customer service will often be that solution, and you should have the resources in place to make it accessible for people who still prefer this route. However, by providing other options, you can cater to more people, and improve the quality of your phone service at the same time.

Quality is king in SaaS customer communication

A look at the stats shows that the story of what customers look for in their service twists and turns like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. They prefer self-service but want reliable phone communication and instant chat.

What they actually want is high-quality customer service that fits their needs in real-time. To truly increase customer loyalty, you need to have the infrastructure in place to make it as easy as possible to satisfy their concerns in the manner they prefer.

Phone-based communication in the world of customer service has changed in the last few years. That doesn’t mean it’s going away—it certainly still has its place. There’s no one ideal medium of customer communication. The ideal is a blend.

When customers can handle small concerns themselves, and get answers to bigger questions quickly on the phone, they will be happy. In the age of digital communications, immediacy is key.


Written by:

Russell Hardy
Russell Hardy
Customer Success Representative, Stax Bill

As a Customer Success Manager at Stax Bill, Russell is a seasoned customer-facing success and support representative who prides himself on keeping Fusebill’s customer base happy and resolving any problems in a timely and professional fashion. His motto – ‘Every customer’s problem is our problem, and that requires immediate attention’.