And the Phone Keeps Ringing: Update on Incidents by Channel

I’ve had a couple of inquiries this week about incident volumes and channel distribution and thought I would share some updated benchmark metrics with you. The general assumption has always been that as self-service and e-channels became more popular, phone calls would drop. Well, phone volume wouldn’t actually drop, but the percentage of incidents reported by phone would drop. That’s certainly where we were headed in the late 90s and early 00s as email, chat and web self-service became more widely adopted.  But the trend may now be reversing.

Support Incidents by Channel

Support Incidents by Channel

As you can see in this chart, phone incidents represented 66% of volume in 2001, dropping to 52% in 2006. But over the last 2 years that number has been rising, and currently the percent of phone incidents is 57%.

So what is behind this trend?  I suspect the following based on member conversations.

  • Complexity. Ever increasing technology complexity and multi-vendor support issues mean customer problems are harder to solve, and most company’s self-service systems are not sophisticated enough to handle these more complex customer issues.  As a proof point, self-service success has been trending down.
  • Personal touch.  With more advanced service options available and higher adoption of programs like a dedicated technical account manager, companies are encouraging more phone based communications because they carry the highest potential of extending and strengthening the relationship.

During my Giga days, we were encouraged to always include an ‘alternate view,’ i.e., if our best assumption is wrong, what is the next most likely scenario?  In the interest of a balanced view, I also offer these alternate drivers for this trend:

  • B2B differences.  In the conversations about my “Death of Email” post last year, some B2B members indicated that channel distribution isn’t that meaningful in their environments.  Incidents are worked by the same people using the same processes regardless of the channel of origin, and in fact they tend to use all channels on every incident.  Open via email, call them for more details, point them to some content in an online KB, etc.  So channel of origin doesn’t mean that much.
  • Bad self-service metrics.  Members frequently ask how to calculate self-service success or call/incident deflection, and without sophisticated self-service technology, accurate tracking is difficult.  It is possible the use of self-service has been under reported for companies unable to track customer clickstreams to accurately determine usage.
  • Forums a wild card.  As of yet we have nothing in the benchmark about number or percent of issues resolved in customer communities or disucssion forums, and frankly, most companies I talk to with an active community have no idea how to track or estimate this.  If even 5% of issues are being resolved via a community, that could radically change the overall distribution numbers.

What are you seeing in your environments?  Are  you encouraging more phone-based communication in the interest of building strong relationships?  Are your phone incidents trending up?  Any real-world stories would be appreciated. Please add a comment or shoot me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, Enterprise Support, Technology

9 Comments on “And the Phone Keeps Ringing: Update on Incidents by Channel”

  1. smoothspan Says:

    At Helpstream, we see radically different metrics. When you integrate community, knowledge base, and case management to eliminate the siloing, and generate reports based on visibility into all three, it makes all the difference.

    Cases whether by telephone or email are down dramatically. Self-service is way up. And Community is thriving.

  2. Haim Toeg Says:


    Interesting post, the distinction between B2B and consumer markets is valuable and I believe should be further emphasized when analyzing metrics and benchmark performance. A valuable number to track is the correlation of case volumes and the size of business which may provide further insight into the behavior of the customer base.

    Another reading may be that with simpler cases being resolved through self service and forums, complex and urgent problems benefit by being reported through the phone channel.

    => smoothspan – I’d be very interested to hear more details on the way you collect problem resolution through the customer community and knowledge bases? What methodology do you use? What tools?

  3. Jim Watson Says:


    Interesting stats. The hype and the proliferation of web-based tools would have us all believing that Self Service usage is increasing in leaps and bounds.

    That said, two of the more common requests we’re hearing from our clients these days is, “Show me how to track how often our customers are using the Self Service portal” and “How can we track the number of “calls avoided” because customers found their answers in the Knowledge Base through Self Service?”

    We’re finding that the clients who invest the resources in keeping the Knowledge Base up to date for their Self Service customers to establish the credibilty for Self Service, and actively market Self Service as the best place to go for quick, quality information, are seeing a higher percentage of not only “call avoidance”, but also “case avoidance.” And that’s the real productivity gain.

  4. smoothspan Says:

    Haim and Jim, both of your comments go to reporting in some sense. When disparate solutions are used for case management, KB, and community, it’s pretty hard to get accurate reporting across all three.

    Helpstream’s specialty is combining all three so that accurate reporting is possible. When you can actually track an incident across all three modules and see what’s happening, the behavior that emerges is fascinating, and extremely helpful for tuning up the customer experience as well as improving your Customer Service efficiency metrics.



  5. Greetings John:

    It all comes down to the ability of the technology to quickly get consumers to accurate and complete answers that are succinct and can be easily understood. Either a person can quickly find content to resolve their issue or decide on a product/service, or an email or phone call will quickly follow, assuming they just don’t go to a competitor’s site. As such, for content to be effective in helping people help themselves, it absolutely must be fronted with a high-quality search engine with linguistic capabilities and the content itself must be created and evolved using broad insights, preferably including the people that design, build, support and use the supported product or service the content is supposed to support in pre-sales and post-sales activities.

    I totally agree with you that the complexity and individuality of issues will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of any content and technology, but all too often the technology and content extended to consumers just does not cut it. Even the best technology will fail miserably if the content is not on point and does not continually evolve with the realities of real-world application. Placing that burden solely on contact center staff is doomed for eventual failure. However, I also believe that abdicating that responsibility to a community where final accountability for quality content does not reside with the underlying brand is also doomed for failure.

  6. jragsdale Says:

    Great input everyone. The two biggest trends in self-service we saw from last year’s Star Awards for Online Support were:
    1) use case analysis of customers and tools to meet the needs of novice users with simple questions, highly technical users with complex questions, and everything in between. “One size fits all” self-service doesn’t work.
    2) Rich media. Flash movies, sound files, pictures, auto-fixes, step-by-step processes, etc. all help get the facts across in an intuitive way. If all you offer is text, you are behind the times.

    I pulled data just for B2C, and their phone ratio is way up as well. And our metrics for self-service success kept trending down. I don’t think adoption of these more sophisticated self-service systems is as high as it should be, but the recession (with its push on cost savings) may finally drive more companies to invest. I talked to 2 companies last week creating RFPs for KM.


  7. Hey John:

    You are right on with the importance of using rich media. Many times a video or just a simple diagram or image is the fastest route to consumer (and staff) understanding and retention.

    It is just too easy to create and extend this type of content these days and companies of all sizes really should be taking advantage.

  8. John,

    You took the words out of my mouth. It is not that phone is better (I have seen many implementations where it is not), but rather that the approach of organizations to other channels is so poor and badly done that we end up picking up the phone to get something done!

    We have several clients that have tremendous things with their email and self-service, and we have seen really well implemented solutions that have actually cut down in email. We expect to see that continue and even grow as we learn more about how to do this well.

    Great post!

  9. […] And the Phone Keeps Ringing: Update on Incidents by Channel […]

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