Is Email the best customer support channel?

A lot has been written on how companies can grow their business through customer success. The terms “customer success” or “customer experience” seem to be the new buzzwords in the growth-driven tech world.

These discussions are great, and we at Usersnap believe that customer support and customer success are important factors when it comes to business success.

However, I do believe that some basic and core questions remain unanswered. And one of these questions is this:

Is email still the best customer support channel?

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Amazing customer support through email?

A while ago, I started interviewing other SaaS companies on how they deal with customer requests and how they’ve set up their customer support and – success workflows internally.

I was a bit astonished to see emails rank at the number one spot when it comes to providing customer support.
email customer support

Do I think that amazing customer support can be provided through email? Yes, I do.

Do I believe there are better alternatives to email available for providing better, yet efficient customer support? Yes – to some extent.

The basics of customer support

First of all, let’s create some mutual understanding of customer support. Customer support is more than just providing answers through email communication.

The definition of customer support by Wikipedia is plain and simple.

“A customer support is a range of customer services to assist customers in making cost effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, trouble shooting, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal of a product.”
(source: Wikipedia)

As you can see in this definition, customer support isn’t linked with any particular communication channel. Support can happen in various stages and channels.

Overall, I believe giving your customers the best support when they contact you is a key to happier customers and more successful businesses.

Amazing customer support is simply no longer a nice-to-have.

Alternatives to email

Let’s try to take an objective look at alternatives to emails as your main customer support channel.

  • Phone support
  • Live chat support
  • On-site support
  • Remote support
  • Social media

According to Wikipedia, these are the existing communication channels when it comes to customer support. So let’s take a closer look and compare each one to email communication.

Phone support vs email support

A lot of software companies, especially when starting out, resist to think about phone support as their prior support channel. Why? Compared to email, phone support tends to be expensive and hard to manage. But phone support can also be a great chance for building deep relationships with your first customers.

In SaaS, phone support is often used for pre-sales activities, upselling, or troubleshooting enterprise customer.

Pros of phone support compared to email:

  • Instant & real-time communication channel
  • In-depth relationship building through voice interaction

Cons of phone support compared to email:

  • 24/7 phone support might be not cost-effective for many companies
  • Barrier of time zones, language- and culture differences
  • Expensive
  • Hard to monitor and analyze

Overall, it can be said that phone support still is one of the most popular means of customer communication, especially in B2B industries.

So, SaaS companies, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone! 🙂

Specific key metrics in phone support:
When you consider offering phone support, make sure to think about key metrics for your support agents in the first place. Besides overall customer support metrics (such as customer satisfaction), you should probably consider the following ones:

  • Average call wait time
  • Call abandonment rate
  • Average call time

Live chat vs email support

Nowadays, there’s the big trend of using live chat tools as a prior customer support channels. There are a lot of advantages in using live chat as it lets you fix customer problems in real-time.

Pros of live chat support compared to email:

  • Real-time communication
  • Guiding customers through onboarding-workflows
  • User-friendly and easy-to-use

Cons of live chat support compared to email:

  • 24/7 live chat availability is a challenge for companies
  • Managing live chat conversations and follow-ups is a big challenge

On-site support vs email support

In the old days, on-site support was the primary and only support channel available. Still, some tech-heavy industries use on-site support as their primary customer support channel.
on-site customer support

With complex, high-tech software and hardware, on-site support seems to be the most effective channel available.

Pros of on-site support compared to email support:

  • Close distance to customers and their needs
  • Efficient channel for highly complex products
  • Up- and cross-sell opportunities

Cons of on-site support compared to email support:

  • Expensive (especially with international customers)

Remote support vs email support

With screen sharing and remote control software like Teamviewer available, remote support became pretty popular among software and hardware companies.

Support agents can take over sessions and take control of a customer’s computer no matter where the person is located.

Pros of remote support:

  • Cheaper and more effective than on-site support
  • In-depth look on customer problems and incidents

Cons of remote support:

  • Real-time support
  • Additional software on customer’s computer needed

Social media support vs email support

Social media support becomes more and more popular as people spend their time on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. A lot of software companies already adopted to that trend and created their own accounts just handling incoming customer requests.

When Slack went down a couple of months ago, people went to twitter to ask for help. The team was suddenly confronted with thousands of tweets asking for help.

As it turned out, Slack had a plan in place for such sheer amount of customer requests via twitter and managed to write 10 tweet replies per minute on average at the peak of #SlackDown.

Answering the core question: Is email still the best support channel?

Obviously, the answer to this question must be: It depends. But I don’t want to stop there. I decided to collect all the situations in which email is a good form of communication.

I recommend email support…

  • If you’re a small team and want to offer a first communication channel with your users and customers
  • If you’re looking for an asynchronous form of communication
  • If you do not have a complex or highly technical product which needs in-depth explanation

I do not recommend email as your primary support channel…

  • If you provide a highly complex software or hardware
  • If you want to build close and deep relationships with your customers

Testing the unconventional

When you take a look at how customer support works in many industries and companies, we tend to forget about unconventional customer communication. There are two ways of looking at customer support channels.

On the one side, companies should be open to all forms of communication. Some customers might prefer traditional forms, like phone calls and on-site support, and some are open to less formal channels, such as Twitter or live chat.

As Daniel from Brand24 stated it:

There is no one recipe for what works and we are very flexible when it comes to means of communication with our users. So whatever way they prefer, we follow.


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