We recently got an email from Ryan, a long-time FoxyCart user who’s contemplating a shift in his approach to web development and client work. Ryan has spent years with a partner, building high-quality sites for clients with decent budgets. Though this type of work definitely pays the bills, it also requires a fair amount of communication with clients. Ryan was ready for a change, and it’s from that perspective that he asked us the following:
On Having or Not Having a Phone Number
We are taking [my company] in a new direction that is more product-based and less service-based, and I am toying with the idea of not having a phone number; rather, we’d offer really great email and ticketing support.
I wonder if you’d care to share your experiences on having or not having a phone number. I could be wrong, but before your website overhaul, I don’t remember being able to contact you via phone. That was fine, however, since your forum support was fantastic. It got me to thinking… is it good business to make your customers contact you via email or forums only? Isn’t this fine once they realize your online support is great? Or is it a risk since you could lose potential customers who are nervous about trying you out and view a phone call as the only way to establish credibility?
Our Answer: Phones Are Worth It
Ryan’s right that we didn’t really offer a phone number initially. Over the years we’ve changed our approach, and now do have 855-FOXYCART manned (mostly) from 9:30am-6pm Central M-F.
Or is it a risk since you could lose potential customers who are nervous about trying you out and view a phone call as the only way to establish credibility?
When we started FoxyCart in 2007, there was simply no other way than not taking phone calls. We were two guys, one of whom couldn’t answer the phone because he had a day job, and the other (me) that couldn’t justify the time when there were hundreds of other things to do. (It’s entirely possible that wasn’t the right decision, but given that I also was doing client work to pay the bills, it was the reality.) The only thing we did by phone was billing (cancellations and refunds), since our phone number was on the bank statement when we charge cards. We’d rather make it easy for people to cancel than deal with frustrated users and chargebacks.
As we grew, however, we started hearing (via email) things like, “I’d never signup for a service that I couldn’t reach by phone,” or “It’d be easier to discuss my needs over the phone.” So we added the phone to the site but tried to make it very, very clear that we didn’t do phone support. We added notes to the site and to our phone prompts explaining this. We still got support calls, but not too many.
At this point, we’re making the phone number a bit more clear for a few reasons:
Big fish. Especially now that we’re rolling out our Advanced and Enterprise plans, we get enough higher-dollar users to make taking phone calls worth it. A lot of them email, but some call, and it’s much easier to ascertain specific needs and “sell” FoxyCart to a larger business when they can talk to somebody.
It also helps us improve our marketing and communication. It’s much easier for us to understand what our website isn’t doing if we can field questions by phone. The trick is that we need to use the info we glean from calls to improve our website, so potential users don’t have to call to get answers.
Credibility and Confidence
I don’t have data to back this up, but I’m pretty certain that showing a phone number on our www site gives potential users additional confidence in FoxyCart that they might not otherwise have. Even if they never call, they know they can phone if they need to.
It’s still sometimes just easier, though now that we’ve improved our receipt emails and billing functionality in our admin, we get less calls about this.
With our new plans, we’re adding phone support for users that really do need it. We’re charging more for this because it costs us more (and we’ve had many, many people over the years that have said they’d gladly pay for it). I still imagine that we’ll do a fair amount of “phone support” via email, but it’ll serve as a way for people to open tickets and (potentially) bump them higher in our support queue, since phone calls (which are “synchronous”) have a sense of urgency that emails (which are “asynchronous”) typically lack.
It got me to thinking… is it good business to make your customers contact you via email or forums only? Isn’t this fine once they realize your online support is great?
For support, we think (for us, at least) this is absolutely the best way to go. 98% of the time, doing support by phone just doesn’t make sense. This is compounded by the fact that people who prefer to talk over the phone are (generally) not the people who we need to be talking with to fix the problem in the first place. This might be different with others’ users, but we target web developers, who are generally comfortable in forums and email.
Further, the forum works out really well because of the “long tail” of support. We have people posting on old threads pretty regularly just to say, “Thanks, that’s exactly the problem I was having.” So not only does pushing support to a public forum tend (for us) to be faster, it also allows us to answer a question once instead of two or ten times over the years. Sometimes we’ll take a discussion from private email to the public forum for that exact purpose (which we explain to the user when we request the move).
What are your thoughts on phone support? On vanity numbers? What are your expectations for a modern SaaS? Does it make a difference if it’s project management or time tracking or ecommerce? What monthly fee do you expect to pay before you feel entitled to phone support?
There are a variety of approaches throughout the SaaS landscape, but we’re happy to offer our phone number to our users if they feel more comfortable reaching out that way. We’d love to know your thoughts.