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Dollars and sense: The math behind communication support channels

Nina Godlewski
12
minute read

The goal of any customer who is contacting support is to get an answer to a question or to resolve a problem in the easiest way possible. That means they want their needs met in the easiest, speediest, most knowledgeable, and most empathetic way. 

When done successfully, this enhanced customer experience will ultimately keep customers coming back, but it comes at a cost. Companies need to consider the costs of different customer support channels, including the cost of staffing and training on those channels. 

But the value of customer support and even proactive customer service is high. About 65 percent of consumers reported that the quality of customer service they receive helps them decide where to spend their money. This is why it’s no surprise that more companies are closely considering the most impactful customer support channels and working to create a seamless experience.  

65 percent with a headset icon
The percentage of consumers who reported that quality of customer service helps them decide where to spend their money

The rise of customer choice

Customers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by having too many options; studies show that consumers are better at making choices when they have fewer options. When it comes to customer support the same concept applies. Customers will likely go with the channel they’re most comfortable with or have experienced the most success with in the past.

Offering too many choices can also mean your customer support specialists end up spread too thin. It’s nearly impossible for one person to manage support across email, live chat, social media, and text all at the same time. Ultimately, this could lead to you making less money and losing customers, so you want to carefully choose which channels you’ll offer and then allocate the proper resources to each one. The right channel for you will be the one that is most effective for the type of communication that your customers prefer using.

How to choose which customer support channels to offer

In order to choose the right channels for your company to offer, you’ll need to think about your customers and your team. 

Where are your customers?

Think about where your customers are and how they tend to communicate already. Are they in an office or on the go?

For example, field workers or parents might be on the go and constantly busy, making nimble channels like mobile first options best. But if your customers are knowledge-based workers who sit at their computer most of the day, live chat and email might be easiest for them. 

Thinking about your customer’s daily motions will help you gain access to the forms of communication they use the most and respond the most too. After all, having another communication channel is no good if it’s not something customers ever respond on.

What do your customers need?

You can’t choose which support channels to offer without first considering the needs of your customers. Specifically, you should think about what a typical customer support request looks like and how it’s most effectively handled. 

This is going to be different for every business owner because with each request, there will be a different fix, necessary conversation, and urgency. Your customers will also already have certain communication channels they’re most comfortable using. For instance, if your business is a retail operation with a strong visual presence online and on social media, your customers are already fluent in social media DMs, live chat, and texting. These channels are more mobile focused and also allow for images to be sent back and forth. 

But if your company is one that has a lot of customers who are field workers, or don’t regularly sit behind a computer all day then you want to reach them where they are: their cell phones. That means phone calls and texts are likely the best channels for you to use. That way you can easily check in with customers, send them updates, and keep your customers happy by being able to schedule them quickly and easily. 

What can your team handle?

As important as what your customers need is what your team can reasonably handle. You can’t add a channel and expect it to do well without the workforce to support it. You’ll either need to hire more support specialists or you’ll need to have your current employees split their time between channels. 

If your team currently works on channels that are real-time like phone calls, then adding another real-time channel like texting or chatting might be an easier adjustment. But if the situation is reversed, and you’re looking to add phone calls to only text based, non-immediate channels like email, the adjustment will be more difficult.

Remember, every channel has different expectations and poses different challenges for your employees. If you add another channel without the bandwidth to cover it, you might just end up stressing out your employees and frustrating your customers. Keep in mind you’ll also need to train your employees to use the tools you’re going to offer support on, like training them how to write business texts. With some 74 percent of contact center employees at risk for burnout, you want to be strategic about any added workload you give them. 

Think about choosing the best channels for your business as choosing a place for business to shine. It’s better to have a few customer support channels that are highly successful than to have numerous channels that are just okay. Your customers want a stellar customer experience and that’s what will help you retain them over time, so you want your customer support team giving customers their all.

This is why it’s so important to think through which channels you want to offer, because you realistically can’t offer support on all of them. A survey found that 66 percent of consumers actively use three or more channels. Additionally 33 percent of the respondents in the survey said they start their support requests on their mobile devices. The want for mobile experiences is something important to note because it might also influence how you choose your channels.

Communication support channels to consider

There are numerous support channels for you to consider when deciding on what might work best for your customers. We’ll go over the cost, pros, and cons of them below.

For each channel, you can do a simple equation to calculate how much each interaction is really costing you. Simply plug your numbers into the following equation:

Total Cost Per Agent for That Channel Per Month / Total Number Of Calls or Texts or Emails Answered Per Month = Total Cost Per Communication

Phone

The cost per interaction for phone calls will vary by business but you can find your cost per interaction by doing some simple math. Simply divide your total cost by the number of phone calls answered. When all is said and done that cost per call will likely be anywhere from about $6 to $12.  

Telephones, $6 to $12 is the cost per call

Phone call pros

Phone calls are arguably the most personal form of communication available for customer support. You can hear your customer’s tone and they can hear yours as well, adding to that personal touch. Nearly 40 percent of customers in one survey said personalized communication was significant to their customer experience. That means customers are both willing to pay for it, and more likely to stick with a brand where they’re given personal treatment.

Phone calls also allow you to get plenty of context about your customer that you might not get with the other forms of communication. When it comes to phone calls, 58 percent of customers prefer to solve urgent issues via phone. This is likely due to the fact that it can sometimes take just one phone call to solve a customer’s problem.

Phone call cons

While the phone call is the more personal form of support, it also tends to be one of the most expensive forms of support too. Part of the reason for that high price tag is that each phone agent can only solve one problem at a time. The more problems an agent solves at one time, the lower the cost.

The immediacy can also be a downside, because your support team will have to put a caller on hold to verify something with a manager or do some research before answering. These phone calls can also be more difficult for managers to review after the fact or for another agent to review before speaking with a returning customer.

Email

Email also comes with its pros and cons. The cost per interaction tends to be lower in part because agents can complete more of them than phone calls. Not only is email less expensive, sometimes as little as $1, the return on investment from retention and good customer experience can amount to thousands of dollars. 

Telephones, $6 to $12 is the cost per call

Email pros  

Email is significantly more scalable than phone support. While a customer support representative can only work on writing one email at a time, they can be involved in multiple conversations and working on multiple solutions at one time. That means more issues are being solved, sometimes simultaneously. This inherent pro of email brings the cost per interaction down. There’s also the benefit of email not being completely immediate with the slowest response expectations, the average response time is about 12 hours. Luckily, this allows support reps to take time to think, research, or ask for help forming a response. Those more thoughtful responses can lead to higher customer satisfaction. 

Email cons

As we mentioned, email is less personal than customer support phone calls, it’s actually less personal than most other alternatives. It’s slower, which can be a slight benefit but isn’t the best if you’re trying to lower response time. 

Email also has low response rates, and it can be a little difficult to get your point across, especially if you’re trying to explain something that requires step-by-step directions. 

Text

When it comes to texting, the cost per interaction is around $1 to $5. For messages that are automated, the cost can be even lower than that, hovering around $.25. This means for cents you can help increase your customer experience. You can also see returns on the investment of business texting more quickly than you might for another customer support channel. The immediacy of texting offers more than a stellar ROI. Business texting is highly trackable, you can calculate the response rate, response time, and the conversion rate easily.  

New message on phone, $.25 to $5 is the cost per text interaction

Texting pros

Texting offers the ability to be personal without being intrusive and with the convenience of allowing customers to answer when they have the time. It’s a low touch form of communication that makes inbound and outbound messages easy too, with a 45 percent response rate. Using business texting allows agents to manage multiple conversations at once, bringing the cost per interaction down.

Texting is immediate and convenient but doesn’t come with the expectation to answer within seconds like a phone call does. Texting is also scalable, reps can be texting multiple people at once and solving multiple problems at once as well.

Texting also allows you to send links and photos to help get the message across, an aspect that phone calls lack. And with texting managers and other team members can look back at a conversation for a refresher if necessary. 

Texting cons

The benefit of texting is that it’s immediate, but you have some time built in to respond to messages. On the other hand this also means there’s room for customers to potentially ghost you. The response rates tend to be higher for texting than they are for email and for phone calls but a text is still easy to ignore. Some customers also still prefer to talk to someone and hear the person’s voice to feel like they’re really getting a personal touch.

Live chat

When it comes to live chat, it’s estimated to cost about $5 per contact per chat session. While this cost per interaction is lower than that of a phone call it’s still more expensive than texting. Studies show that 46% of consumers actually prefer live chat over social media or email support. So if you can offer chat, it could help you retain customers and increase your ROI. 

Chat bubbles, $5 is the cost per contact per chat session

Live chat pros

Many of the pros and cons that come with live chat are similar to those that come with texting. It’s immediate, has higher response rates, is super scalable, and can be more personal. But live chat offers no need for a phone number the way texting does. 

Statistics show that customers who use live chat are three times more likely to make a purchase than those who do not use it. These customers also get to mentioning their reason for contacting more quickly as well.

Live chat cons

While live chat may seem similar to texting, it does have its cons. Number one, it’s not mobile native and customers would need to be in an app or on a website to keep the conversation going. You can’t use live chat to initiate conversation with a customer either, like you can with other channels. So it’s missing that key component of communication.

Social media 

Social media customer service is one of the least expensive options out there, with the interactions costing as little as $1 per interaction. But like we mentioned, it’s not usually the preferred method for consumers. Social media is sometimes a last resort for customers who haven’t been able to reach a brand on another channel.  

Chat bubbles, $5 is the cost per contact per chat session

Social media pros

Social media is a public form of customer support and automatically has user information built in with their associated profile. The response time isn’t quite as quick as texting because users likely don’t sit in their instagram DMs or on Twitter all day. Using social media for customer support also allows the customer to see their past conversations with your brand too. You can also use social media alongside business texting by displaying your texting number on your business social profiles.

Social media cons

There’s a lack of infrastructure around using social media as a customer support channel. You won’t get notifications in a consolidated or consistent way like you might with other channels. This could lead to longer response times for your team on the channel where customers expect fast replies. Studies show that 42% of customers expect a response on social media within an hour.

While social media being public can be a pro, that can also be a significant con because any unhappy customer could put your brand on blast. This could potentially reflect back on your business poorly where other customers can see it. 

You should keep in mind you don’t really own the social media interactions because there’s just a profile that could disappear, no email or phone number. It’s also a bit more difficult to follow up with customers for this reason. 

Dollars and sense: The bottom line

When it comes down to it, offering phone support is going to cost your business the most up front. Texting offers the lowest prices, with each interaction costing potentially less than a dollar. Your other options like social media support and email support fall somewhere in between. 

What’s important to remember is that you can offer several types of support. You don’t need to solely choose one, but you should try to do the best job possible with the channels you do choose to offer.

Chart showing the average cost per interaction of communication support channels

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