While it is difficult to determine cost per contact per channel with any real accuracy, we can say with some confidence that telephone calls to the support center are costly in comparison to some other channels. In the never ending quest to lower costs, it has become popular to talk about deflecting calls to other less expensive channels such as self-service, chat, web forms, and even email.
When we deflect something, we turn it aside or cause it to change direction; we block it’s intended course. In hockey or soccer we would say, “The goalie deflects the shot.”
Take a look at the photo (Source: asteegabo - Creative Commons) and imagine that you are a customer, and that the person deflecting your inquiry is acting on behalf of the support center. What’s the message you get? It’s probably something close to, “I don’t want to talk to you.” What’s the message you get when you have some information to tell your boss and happen to be walking by her or his office, when the boss sees you coming and closes the door? “I don’t want to talk to you.” When we talk about deflecting calls, our message to customers is, “We don’t want to talk to you.”
I don’t want to give the impression that it’s not important to keep costs down. It’s more important to keep costs appropriate, but explaining the difference is for another post.
Whether or not any customer ever hears us use the term call deflection is unimportant; the language we use indicates how we think about something. If we’re thinking about avoiding (and yes, the term call avoidance is also used in the same way) or deflecting calls, we are thinking less about managing the reasons people want to contact us in the first place.
Instead, we should be talking about contact management, and we should have an ongoing dialog with users and customers about how they want to contact us and why.
Instead, we should be talking about contact management.
In general, people pick up the phone and call for service when:
- They have a complex issue and want to discuss it with a person
- They want to report an urgent issue or request
- They are frustrated and need someone to talk to
Remember that urgency or complexity here is from the customer’s point of view, and may or may not align with how the support center views those same characteristics. If, for example, you’ve just had Word crash four times on a report that’s due this afternoon—and your boss told you not to dare to be late with that report—you want help right now. Is that issue stopping the business? No. Is it impairing other users? Probably not. But it is stopping you from doing your job, and you want it fixed now.
Sending important inquiries (i.e., important to the customer) off in a direction the customer did not seek out is delivering the message, “What’s important to you is not important to us. We don’t want to talk to you.”
I’m not suggesting that we only have phone as a channel; far from it. HDI now asks, in its annual survey, for stats on 10 channels, and we’ll likely see that number grow in the future. Having options for contacting support is a good thing. It’s how we think about and explain those options to ourselves and to our management that matters.
Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.