From the NYT: Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind
“The plain and simple fact is that they’re too busy or too important to talk to us,” he said.
Some thoughts on the underlying forces here:
1. Customer service telephone calls used to involve making small changes or untangling bureaucratic glitches. Being friendly and willing to help was often the most important skill. Support requests to web companies today involve highly complex, rapidly changing multi-layered technology that often can only be fully understood by a software developer or systems engineer. We’ve gone from ten-minute phone calls to $10/hour employees to 90-minute calls to $100/hour employees. It’s best to not even publish your telephone number.
2. Software developers and other technical employees work best when they can keep large amounts of data in their heads simultaneously, needing long periods of unbroken concentration. Taking customer support calls is interrupt-driven and ruins productivity.
3. Web companies do best with a “Release Early, Release Often” strategy and the customer is probably not the first to have a particular problem. The fix is in the pipeline and the last thing anyone wants to do is waste time with something that’s already going to be fixed in the next release anyway.
4. The prerequisite to being a fluent Internet citizen is dozens or hundreds of hours of self-motivated discovery and practice. In a sort of reverse Tragedy of the Commons, no company wants to invest in their customers’ basic Internet literacy, preferring to foist them off onto someone else.
5. One-to-one support just doesn’t scale. A driving force of the Internet revolution is customer self-service: many (thousands, millions) of customers interacting with a single web server and community forums where customers can request and receive assistance from each other.