Online Is The New Phone Support

Customers almost never want to call you anymore. What now?


An unprecedented tipping point has taken place in the consumer world, and it’s changing the way businesses support their customers. For the first time ever, customers are now looking for help themselves online first before picking up the phone to call support.

If this graph could talk, it would say: “Just talk to us online!” (via MindTouch

This trend’s been gaining steam over the past few years. In 2012, Gartner predicted that 85% of support would be done through self-service by 2020. Thankfully, this doesn’t make support reps obsolete, it just frees up time for more high-value interactions with customers.

The opportunities are endless: meetups, house calls, callbacks, proactiv service and hand-written thank you notes. There’s plenty to do. The future is bright for customer support pros!

How can your team jump on this wave of self-service?

1. Do a knowledge base audit to see how your self-service is holding up

Spend some quality time with your existing knowledge base (KB) to make it as good as it can be. A KB audit involves:

  • Reviewing your most viewed articles to ensure they are helpful
  • Evaluating “long-tail” articles — the ones that only get a few views each month — to see if they can be condensed or retagged to be more helpful to customers.
  • Analyzing search terms to see if there are queries that return no results, or the wrong articles.
  • Using Google Analytics to find which articles are too confusing for your customers.
  • Checking the entrance path to the “Submit a Ticket” or “Contact Support” page to see what articles a customer was looking at before giving up and deciding to talk to a human.

In the example below, the article on security patches drives the most traffic to our support team. We should probably take a look and see if we can update the article to make it more helpful. (Note: we just added Google Analytics tracking to our KB last month, so these numbers aren’t significant yet!)

Related: The 8-Step Guide of the Ultimate Knowledge Base Audit

2. Write (and prioritize) amazing knowledge base articles

Start a process to tag customer queries that could (and should) be answered with articles. Your team can flag recurring issues and write articles that are so helpful your customers won’t have to take time out of their day to call.

Take a page out of UK.gov’s award-winning website: design for probabilities not possibilities. Develop your knowledge base around helping a maximum number of users and work your way down.

Related: Even Your Knowledge Base Needs A Content Strategy

3. Use your new and improved KB in the support funnel

The support funnel is essentially the customer journey to get to an answer. Trace your customer’s path from Point A (question) to Point B (answer). Is there anywhere you can make it easier and provide a knowledge base answer first? Are you directing all customers to call you right away without checking online for an answer?

Guiding your customer to the most effective resource for them makes their life easier, and reduces friction. It also enables you to make time for customers that really need it.

Related: Why Your Satisfied Customers Still Leave You

4. Evaluate which channels are important

People are surprisingly channel agnostic. 85 percent of customers say they prefer quick answers over using a specific channel. This means you don’t need to be on every channel to provide a good experience — you just have to deliver amazing service on the ones you do use.

Your best bet? Pick the channels where you can really shine and trim the poorly performing ones.

(Pro tip: Cutting phone support might not be as bad as you think.)

5. Aim for unified customer service

Now that traffic is flowing through your support funnel and customers are happily helping themselves, it’s time to zoom in to see how you can personalize the service you offer to each of your customers.

The key to great customer support is to deliver the right service to the right person at the right time. The only way to get there is by collecting customer information — every call, tweet and email, along with their behavior and usage patterns. Now you’re really getting somewhere. When you get all this information in one place, your support reps have an unprecedented level of context to give your customers exactly what they need.

Related: Support And The Single View Of The Customer

After decades of those 24/7 hotlines and round-the-clock service, it might feel strange to be developing a support strategy that doesn’t require a live human presence. That’s OK. It costs less to do it this way, all while you’ll be helping customers the way they want to be helped. That feels great.


Ready to dive into the web-first customer service era? Follow us on Twitter @Kayako or visit our blog.