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The Technology page in the New York Times lamented Saturday that tech companies aren’t using phones for user support. According to reporter Amy O’Leary in Tech Companies Leave Phones Behind, internet companies like Quora, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn either don’t offer numbers for phone support or end up only playing a recording that drives callers back to their online customer support system.   The story suggests there is something wrong with this model or that it signals a fundamental culture shift in a digital world.

Not so.

Tech companies don’t leave phones behind. They’re an essential part of doing business, even in today’s online world. Having successfully reached Google and LinkedIn representives by telephone, I can assure you tech companies have phones for dealing with paying customers, in my case, an agency that wants to buy advertising. But internet and social media companies that offer a free service to users simply don’t have an obligation or revenue stream to support a costly telephone customer service system. A relatively small number of these companies have successful revenue streams, but virtually all would be driven under by labor intensive phone interactions with users trying to collect lost passwords or account for people who were mean to them on line.

You could argue that other “free” services offer users the ability to talk by phone. I could call my local television station and eventually find someone who would hear my complaint about commercials playing too loud or the sports action I missed due to a technical problem. But I wouldn’t find that after 5 p.m. or on weekends. Why? Because the phones at a TV station are there to serve advertisers not viewers. From my days in radio broadcasting, I can tell you that calls from the public with gripes about programming were an unfortunate side affect of needing phones to make and receive sales calls.

Online search services and social media sites are free to users. By maintaining that status, they already defy the conventional wisdom of, “You get what you pay for.” They deliver information, entertainment, communication and even commerce for free. There is no business rationale to set up call centers for users who pay nothing for their service.

The real travesty of this story will be when some opportunistic elected leader somewhere decides to grandstand by proposing a law that requires online companies to provide customer service support. When that happens, I hope legions of social media users get on their smartphones to call that lawmaker’s office and say, “No way.” Only I bet they won’t find more than an answering machine for most hours of the day.

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