How to Turn Off a Support Channel Gracefully

With all the emphasis on omnichannel customer support, it might seem like every support team is adding more and more support channels to their repertoire. Bain & Company expect to see omnichannel platform adoption increase from 16% to 54% in the next three years. Everyone is jumping aboard the omnichannel train — the more channels, the better, right?

Not always. Sometimes teams need to roll back a channel and turn off a method of communication that isn’t working for them or their customers. More channels don’t always mean better support, especially if you’re overstretched and understaffed. Sometimes it’s better to do one thing really, really well . As Elizabeth Wellington says about developing your multichannel support strategy, “Most companies don’t have the human power to manage every channel, and it can be worse for customers to have a bad interaction on the channel of their choice.”

Recruiterbox ended up in a familiar-sounding situation where they needed to break up with live chat as a channel due to changing requirements and stretched resources. Chelsea Baker, Head of Customer Engagement at Recruiterbox, explains: “We introduced Live Chat as a pre-sale support channel when we had free trials in our system. Once customers signed up for a paid account, they would ask why they didn’t still have access to live chat. We ended up adding it as a support channel for this reason — but we were never staffed or prepared for the volume.”

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Is it time for you to break up with an underperforming customer support channel? While changes might come with some customer grumbling, there is a way to turn off support channels empathetically, effectively, and with grace.

Reasons you might need to turn off a channel

There are several signs that you might need to scale back and concentrate on offering better service on fewer channels.

Your team isn’t able to handle the backlog.

Some channels are more efficient than others. If your team is underwater trying to deal with phone calls, incoming chats, staffing a customer community, and replying to users on Twitter, it might be time to re-evaluate if you truly have enough bandwidth to operate all these channels with your current customer base at the quality level you desire.

Your support costs are too high.

While customer support is not a cost center, and investing in new support opportunities can bring a return, it’s still possible to spend too much money supporting customers. This is especially true if you offer a freemium product. If your customers aren’t paying you, expensive forms of support like video chat or inbound calls can really impact your margins and might not necessarily give you the return you’re looking for.

Customers aren’t using the channel very often.

Rather than keep a channel open for just a few customers, it might be better to cut the ties and focus on the more popular options. For example, if you’ve tried to grow a customer community and it just isn’t happening, it might be time to close shop. There is nothing sadder than wandering into a forum and seeing that the last post from a user was three months ago.

The channel is restricting the customer experience you can deliver.

This could be for many different reasons. For example, Tom Maxwell, Head of Customer Experience at Practice Ignition, realized that offering phone support meant that their customers who wrote in through email or chat were getting slower support than the customers they were serving through the phone — even if their issue was more urgent. “Phone support allowed people to jump the queue, albeit unintentionally. An agent would have to stop whatever they were working on to answer a call, which was never more urgent or important than the issue they were already working on. As a result, that person got a delayed response.”

Recruiterbox’s Baker realized that offering on-demand chat meant that users weren’t properly training themselves, and customers became reliant on instant help. She knew it would be a better experience for customers if the Recruiterbox team spent more time improving user education resources and less time holding their hands in chat — thus the decision to turn off chat.

Making the decision to turn it off

If a customer support channel can’t be tended to properly, it can hurt your brand and damage your reputation. It’s better to be upfront and honest about what your team can provide, rather than write checks your team can’t cash.

Turning off a support channel can feel like a failure to your team, even if it’s for all the right reasons. As Baker found out when deciding to break it off with chat, teams can feel guilty or “less customer friendly” when they reduce the number of contact options: “We had a lot of discussions about how this wasn’t anyone’s fault — it just wasn’t a good fit — and how we’d rather do a few things really well than do a lot of things in a mediocre way.” Baker explains that going through the process of making the decision was key to communicating the change effectively to customers. “Once the team was okay internally with the decision, it wasn’t hard to present a shared front to the customers.”

How to turn off a channel

Once you’ve decided to turn off a channel, it’s important to do it gracefully. Immediately turning off a channel will frustrate customers and leave them wondering where to get support . By taking your time and communicating effectively and empathetically, you can reduce the impact on customers and make it a better experience for both them and your agents.

1. Understand why customers might get frustrated

Nobody likes change, especially when it feels like something is being taken away from them. Eliminating phone support seems to bring up this feeling for customers more than any other channel.

Why? Phone support feels very immediate. When customers pick up the phone and get a human on the other end, they feel heard. They know that someone is listening and that they will get a response. This isn’t true for a lot of other types of support where, to a customer, it might feel like they are tossing a letter into a very deep well with no guarantee of a response.

How can you replace this feeling of immediacy of phone support in your other channels? What language can you use to reduce the feelings of frustration and speak to the “I need help now!” feeling customers have when something goes wrong?

Approaching support channel changes with empathy ensures that you think about what customers actually need, how they feel, and how you can provide an experience that works for them, not just for you.

2. Try a phased approach

Rather than just ripping off the bandage, closing everything down, and frustrating customers, look for ways that you can gently nudge customers toward a better option. For example, many people have suggested that making the phone number less obvious on the website is an easy first step toward eventually removing the option altogether. Martin Koiva explains what they did in his former role at Pipedrive:

“We phased out phone support by removing the number from our site. We kept the number open initially, so those that had it could still call and get help, but the volume dropped by 90% immediately. Very few people have support numbers saved or on speed dial, and most only call once or very rarely. Once the long tail also got small, we switched the support side off and played an automated message so customers knew where they could find help.”

See if you can nurture your customers to choose other options more often before turning off the channel altogether. This is will make it less painful for both of you in the long run — plus you can see how the change impacts your customers.

3. Identify other options

Closing a contact channel is an opportunity to be creative about the ways you meet your customers’ needs. Maybe one of your customers really does need phone support and is willing to pay for premium support on a higher-tier plan with a customer success manager. Can you direct customers to another option that will give them the same result they are looking for?

Baker shares that while most customers didn’t seem to notice that chat was no longer available at Recruiterbox, there were a few that got in touch wondering where the option went. “For the customers who did reach out or notice, we offered educational refreshers for them to help with their lingering system questions.” That way, they got the personalized attention they were looking for, but in a way that left them self-sufficient in the future.

Related: 10 Ways to Use Live Chat Across the Entire Customer Journey

4. Communicate effectively

While some channels can slink away into the background without fanfare, some require clear communication about why they are no longer available. For example, if you’ve got a dedicated group of phone support users, don’t let them find out you’re no longer taking phone calls by getting a dial tone at the other end of the line. Reach out to frequent users of the channel to let them know what will be changing and when. Create a support article that your team can use to reply to any customers asking why the channel is no longer available.

If you need help writing your own communication to customers, check out these examples below for inspiration:

Kinsta:

“Support work often requires careful, focused thought and investigation. Keeping support solely online allows us to better help you troubleshoot your website in a speedy and more efficient manner, as our engineers are able to focus all of their energy on solving your support concerns with the fewest number of distractions and interruptions possible. This, in turn, means that your support requests are ultimately resolved faster.”

Kinsta clearly explains why online messaging provides a better experience for their customers, focusing on the benefits instead of the cost savings.

Practice Ignition:

“‘What if I just want to talk to someone?’ We get it. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk to someone to explain the issue you have over the phone. We can make that happen, but please note your call will need to be scheduled. When you start a conversation, just let the support agent know you would prefer to get on a call to explain your issue. They’ll provide a link for you to select a time that is convenient for you.”

Practice Ignition offers alternatives for customers who still want to talk on the phone, but they do so in a way that works for their team. Instead of a phone call interrupting an agent’s flow, agents can plan around scheduled calls and help their customers more effectively.

Acuity Scheduling:

“Craving voice time with us? Sign up for one of our famous live scheduling training parties, happening every week! We’ll teach you all our (not-so-dirty) tricks. (And be sure to join us, because a party without you means we’re crying into our cupcakes.)”

Acuity Scheduling uses their unique tone of voice to liven up their post about not offering phone support. They also direct customers to other resources and alternatives for getting live help.

5. Don’t leave customers stranded

When Practice Ignition first turned off phone support, it didn’t go so well. They removed the number from their site, but they didn’t close down the phone line or set any new expectations with their customers who were used to picking up the phone and calling them. Customers would dial the number like they always had and not get an answer. That’s definitely not an ideal experience, but it’s one that many companies accidentally deliver when they turn off a support channel without providing other options.

Now Practice Ignition has many more options in place, including a helpful support article that explains the best ways to get support. “To give them a great customer experience, we try to respond back with a Loom video where appropriate, as then they hear their name, see their account, and can watch it back when they need to refresh,” Tom describes. “Other than that, we offer the call-back service using Calendly to schedule and Zoom to conduct the call and offer a screen share.”

Consider your customer’s journey to get support. Where might they reach a dead-end? How can you help guide them to the easiest way to get the support they need? For example:

  • Record a voicemail message on old phone lines so that customers know where they can go to get help.
  • Redirect landing pages for outdated support channels like a community forum to articles with more information.
  • Find other ways to get customers the same level of support they need, but through other channels that work better for your team.

Streamline options for better support

Experimenting with new channels and expanding your customer support stack is part of every innovative team’s playbook. But that might mean you need to roll back changes occasionally. That’s okay! Just don’t leave your customers high and dry. Find ways to get them the support they need, deliberately guide them to the easiest channel for their question, and communicate clearly. If you offer great support in other ways, they won’t even miss previous options. Phone support, who?

Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers

Sarah is a customer service consultant and the founder of Supported Content. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with her adventures.