Startups: Is the Phone An Instrument Of Torture Or Communication?

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“Is Phone An Instrument Of Torture Or Communication?” is actually a quote taken from a really interesting answer written by Jason Lemkin on a Quora post: “How do I reduce the number of customer phone calls we’re getting?

Jason sums it all when he says: “IMHO — this is a sign of a large cultural problem.  That you must change quickly.  I’m very worried.  Change this soon or you may fail.” and later “Just as a phone call or web meeting isn’t a substitute for a face-to-face meeting … a trouble ticket and an email isn’t a substitute for a genuine human conversation.

We are really aligned with this answer. But we also understand why this question was asked and why it’s legitimate.

A big part of this “cultural problem” comes from several misconceptions that early stage founders have and which they shouldn’t fear in reality.

You’re an early stage startup still looking for product market fit? No, you won’t get drawn under thousands of calls per day and yes you should put a phone number on your website.

Misconceptions about phone calls for early stage businesses:

  • you cannot afford to do phone support because you’ll receive too many calls and you don’t have enough time / people to handle them. You have to focus on your product, right?
  • people will call you for the wrong reasons, asking irrelevant things.
  • phone calls take more time to answer than emails

In reality:

1 – You’re still looking for product – market fit, you’re struggling to attract and retain users on your product, to drive traffic to your website. So no, you won’t get tens of calls per day. Chances are high that you’ll receive only several calls per week. At that point, the CEO should take the time to answer them personally.

2 – Since your brand is probably not well known you won’t have too many crazy people calling you. It’s quite the opposite you’ll get calls from people who have a real interest in your product / business.

3 – “a trouble ticket and an email isn’t a substitute for a genuine human conversation”. Very often, you’ll solve a problem faster and learn more about your customer needs with a simple phone call. Ok writing an email is fast but you generally end up writing several emails before you close a conversation. It can be done with a single call.

Do we say it only because we’re a phone startup? No, we’re also experiencing it ourselves and we see it from our users

We didn’t make up these misconceptions. We actually see it from our own beta users (a lot of them are early stage businesses from SaaS to ecommerce) by talking to them and by looking at their phone use on Aircall. And the data do speak.

We’re also applying it to ourselves. We added a phone number on our homepage and on every single article we write. We were scared at the beginning, not knowing if we would be capable of handling all the calls.

Guess what? We were wrong of course:

  • in 6 – 7 weeks we’ve received 20 – 30 calls (roughly 5 per week)
  • it enabled us to be contacted by people from the US, Israel and other countries (we are based in France)
  • it enabled us to have conversations with people who are really interested in our product (high qualified leads)
  • it enabled us to discuss directly what their real needs were and how much they were willing to pay for.
  • every incoming call really boosts the team’s motivation. It’s an unbelievable feeling to answer questions from people living in other countries, that you don’t know and who are interested in your solution.
  • it’s an unbelievable training program. We were really scared at the beginning to answer calls from unknown numbers. Now we’ve built confidence and answering them is fun. As usual it’s by doing that you learn the most.
  • Now our aim is not to get less calls, it’s actually to get MORE calls. We’re thinking about creative ideas to attract more leads through this channel.

Scaling your phone support

We also understand that the question asked on Quora probably came from a person running a business which probably found product – market fit.

Of course at one point, chances are high that you’ll receive more “low” quality calls and that it can become really time-consuming to answer them all (and the question of the ROI becomes relevant).

But the situation and the solutions are then totally different. It doesn’t mean that the problem comes from the phone calls themselves but from your overall support effort and how you’ve organized it.

Adopting phone support from the start is great to learn along the way. Even if we are ourselves a phone software company we are completely aware that at one point we will need to use a normal ticket support tool. We don’t pretend that phone support is a silver bullet. But it should definitely be in your startup playbook from the start. Especially if you want to scale your support smoothly later.

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