37signals, call me

July 25, 2008

I woke up this morning and wandered over to 37signals‘ most inspiring blog, Signal vs. Noise, to read Sarah Hatter pointedly asking How can anyone ever ask us why we don’t offer phone support?

At FreshBooks, we have a commitment that if you call us any time at 1-866-303-6061 from 9am to 6pm EDT Monday to Friday, one of us at the office will answer. I’d tell Sarah we don’t just do this because we’re friendly Canadians, but because it makes all the difference.

Sarah makes the fair point that as a civilization, Western companies have repeatedly stabbed a knife in the faces of their customers in the past twenty years. Try calling your local telco or bank to fix a billing issue, and you’ll likely to be on hold for 45 minutes. In this day and age, she accurately argues, no one expects to get phone support because other companies suck at it.

In a perfect world, calling a business for help would be quick, painless, productive, and human. But it’s not and it’s not going to be. That old time ideal of calling the local retailer or company and talking with someone after two rings was demolished by the call centers and overseas help desks that sprung up in the information age.

Here, I’d turn her argument around, and answer the question. The whole advantage of a small company is that they are more accessible. Indeed, she answers her own question why people want phone support.

Now, I know people want to pick up a phone and talk to a live human being. We all want assurance that our money is being spent on something maintained by human beings who speak our language and hopefully live in our same country. I get that instinct, because I share it at times.

Personally, I have to believe smart people wouldn’t trust their mission critical business to a company whose throat you can’t choke. At FreshBooks, many of our calls are people kicking the tires before they buy just to make sure we’re alive and responsive.

I’ll tell you the secret of why we answer the phone. Sarah is completely right: people don’t expect it. When we answer the phone right away, we have proved we’re a different kind of company. We demonstrate we put a priority on customer service.

Our motto here is Execute on Extraordinary Experiences Everyday. As Sarah points out, good customer service is in fact extraordinary in the sense that it’s abnormal. That’s sad because everybody wants it.

Therefore, if you want to truly brighten the day of a customer that wants to phone, answer the phone. It’s good for business! When a customer hits a wall, we can free their minds immediately by being a real human being that takes ownership of the problem and fights on their behalf. Those customers become your most loyal advocates.

So, why answer the phone? Because you can. Because it gives you a chance to turn a frustrated customer into your greatest customer evangelist. Because you’ll hear great stories from happy customers every day. And because no one expects it, and that makes you look extraordinary.

Still not convinced? Call me!

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.