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Ask the Readers: Phone or Email – Which Makes For the Best Customer Service?

icon-35342_640I’ve got kind of a personal question for you:

Do you like to communicate by email? Or are you more of a phone kind of person?

There are camps. There are arguments on either side, and there are times when each are appropriate, all of which I’ll get to.

But, at Mirasee, we like email.

I mean, we REALLY like email.

We use it as our primary method of communication between each other and how we provide customer service and support.

(Though we do have lots of in-person, face-to-face interaction, too.)

Email takes up a pretty significant portion of our time. And for the most part, when people want to get in touch with us, it’s the only option we give people.

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve started telling my friends and family to just email me if they want to get in touch – as I’m less likely to even bother picking up my phone if it rings. I don’t think I’ve checked my voicemail in weeks. (Sorry Mom! Email me!)

But this is not everyone’s cup of tea. And there are times when even the most avid email user (ahem) wants to get on the horn. For example, many of our Audience Business Masterclass students, who signed up during a promotion, are entitled to a 1-on-1 phone call with Danny. This is an important touch point, and it usually makes a big difference for them in terms of strategy and outlook.

Let’s look really quickly at the differences – but then I want to know: Phone or email? Which do you prefer, and why?

Email

Okay, you know I like email – but here’s why:

Email lets you have some control over the timing of your conversation. Instead of picking up the phone and being at someone else’s convenience – you can get to an email when you have a minute to really focus on the answer.

When you use email marketing best practices, you can also transfer a whole lot of information in a wonderfully efficient way, and there’s a record of it. That means I can link to resources I’m talking about, and if the person I’m emailing later claims no such information was provided – there’s proof.

Telephone

Undoubtedly, a telephone is more personal. Actually hearing someone’s voice is a lovely thing, and it can be a good way to really delve into an issue. You can get a back and forth going that really isn’t possible through email most of the time.

You also get a much richer understanding of what someone is saying when you can hear the tone of their voice – what words matter more to them, where to they stumble, when the get excited – and that’s very valuable insight to have.

Which medium is more appropriate really depends on your audience, and the type of relationship you want to have with them.

What about you – what do you think?

When should you use email vs. the telephone? Do you get annoyed when your phone rings, or irate when you have 6 unread email messages? Which do you think is best for Customer Service? What works best for your business?

About Megan Dougherty

Megan Dougherty is an alumnus of Mirasee and is passionate about online education, small business and making a difference in the world. You can find out what she's up to and how side-hustles will take over the world at PayingforLife.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganTwoCents.

49 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: Phone or Email – Which Makes For the Best Customer Service?

  1. I agree with you, Megan. I prefer email because it gives me the control on when and what to communicate. It’s better for me as many of my friends and family are in different time zones.

    For important occasions like Mother’s Day or a birthday or when I need an immediate answer, I usually call.

    Either way having so many options of comminication is truly great. I remember when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were on different continents in a long-distant relationship in the 90’s, all we got was phone, fax, and letter!

    What truly matters to me is that bidirectional, honest communication exists between both sides whaterver the method is. In that sense I think Firepole is excellent in reaching out and responding.

    • I completely agree with you Yoshiko.

      Email has more flexibility, but if it is urgent, a phone call would be the best way to reach me (and I’m sure others).

      Firepole is amazing with emails. Not too much to annoy, but not too little to feel distant.

      • I’m with both of you on this one.

        Most things can be resolved via email, but it is urgent as Davis said it could be more beneficial to hit up the phone.

        You can solve a 20 email problem in like 2 mins on the phone. There should almost be a rule. If it hits 5 emails, resolve it by phone, or something like that.

  2. If someone needs something from me urgently, I expect them to call. “Urgent” emails are annoying. Also, emails that are sixteen paragraphs long are annoying.

    But generally I do prefer email for sharing information and for a lot of important correspondence, because it creates a written record that you can refer to if you need to (such as I did when I spent two months trying to get a refund on an unauthorized Visa charge of $420 that a local business networking group put on my card).

    I also like email for work inquiries because it makes it easy to ask permission to put the person on my email list.

    I don’t like conversation emails. If you want to have a conversation, please call me!

    Don’t get me started on what I think of communicating important information via text messages and Facebook…:)

  3. I prefer phone when making calls to prospects. I don’t think, at least for what I’m doing, it is something that should be emailed until I have spoken to the contact and introduced myself and why I’m calling.

    I also think that a phone call is best to discuss many issues and then can be summarized in an email. This is good time management. I’ve worked with clients in a previous business that would only communicate through email – the number of questions that were asked almost always lead to more questions. It would have been much more efficient to talk about it on the phone and then send an email outlining the details that we had discussed.

    As well, passion doesn’t come through in an email. I’ve been told time and again, that people are interested in what I’m doing because of the passion I have for my video series. I’m sticking to the phone. Don’t get me wrong, once the relationship has been made, then I do email but the personal voice to voice goes so much further in building a relationship.

    • Wendy,
      This too has been my experience and as the written aspect becomes further disjointed on the customers timeline, they are less likely to continue to attempt to clarify their experience to garner a resolve. Thanks for your clarity on this.

  4. E-mail. I don’t like scrambling for the phone when I’m in the middle of something else, only to find that it wasn’t important. I do like talking to close friends and family by phone, but preferably short conversations.

  5. Excellent post, Megan. I base this choice on the recipient first, then my preferences. As long as meeting their preferences is doable and viable, I prefer knowing we’re operating how they like to be treated.

    In my experience, the corporate sector relies way too much on email [a ton of defensive behaviours there!], whereas the entrepreneurial sector likes to cut to the chase and summarise in writing as appropriate. Thank goodness that’s the world I get to live in these days…

    Generally speaking, I’ll tend to favour email as an opener, to give the other person time to read and think about my message when it works for them. On the other hand, anything that is best served by a conversation – urgent or otherwise – deserves a phone call, Skype chat or face-to-face. [I agree with Jessica about not being amused by urgent emails, and Wendy’s point about the importance of sharing your passion live.]

    Overall, the key is knowing our audience and acting accordingly. Within reason, it’s really about them, right?

  6. Hi Danny,

    I do prefer email because it gives me time to think about the subject matter. Yet I find that the phone is more personal and allows me to be more natural with the caller

  7. Email 🙂 ’cause it’s less time consuming + when it’s really important, you can read it over and edit before you hit “send”.

    Phone is more personal and for family and close friends.

  8. Email all the way! 🙂 It’s quicker and super convenient.
    Yet it lacks the personal touch as you mention, so I’d prefer telephone as a second stage contact medium.
    Pooja

  9. Definitely e-mail! I love my phone, because I can pick up e-mails, text and go online. When it rings – why???

    As far as e-mail and business go, it’s great to have a record of important information to refer to and be able to time things well. Phone conversations have value but I like to make that a special event 🙂

  10. There’s a time for each, but hands down I prefer email. It fits with my ability to schedule when I read them and respond. I like that its a written history of the conversation to refer back to as well.

    There are time though when you need the audible conversation. When there is a problem words in an email take on whatever ‘tone’ the receiver perceives…whether intended or not. Then a phone call or Skype conference are needed in order to sort out what what truly meant and what was perceived…..thus saving another 50 emails of over-repetitive-explaining what we each meant!

    I myself tend to not use the phone a lot except when I need a good long visit with my brother!!! Too much to say to put in emails!

  11. The apples and oranges in my daily life are not exclusive. That is to say when an arrangement is actually seen in the complexities of email and then able to be acted on,it’s good, just not trusted the same as if the “real” proffessor is speaking with me.
    Limiting, Perhaps. You can’t miss what you can’t measure and the strength of actual voice and or visual to solidify an ongoing relationship is significant enough to exercise for most, perhaps not all communications.

  12. Email is my best choice. Most of us lead busy lives not only online but offline as well. Don’t always have the time to stop and answer the phone. What is the next best thing – email.

  13. I prefer e-mail, unless it is “end of the world urgent” piece of information. E-msil gives you, and your sender/recipient time to think about something before having to respond. I think it makes for better over-all decisions, more considered decisions.

  14. When I want action… I mean, when I want/need action right now, I’m not going to write an email. I want to speak to someone and to be on the line while the action is ‘activated’.
    So if you’re in a service industry (as most of us are) you should probably provide the same facility. Telephone and electricity co’s do … and their problem is that by the time they answer their calls – the customer is already irate.
    And here is the perfect segue – by the time you answer their emails they’re probably past irritability. Can you soothe them in an email? I don’t think so.
    As a supplier of a service I prefer emails because I can’t be taken by surprise but as a customer I want to speak to someone.
    Who’s right?
    The customer’s always right.

  15. Megan, that’s a trick question, right? Two colors in the palette – which is the best one – red or green? Sometimes red is good, sometimes green is great, sometimes a splash of this and a smidgin of that makes it all good. And what about blue (face to face) or purple (digital face to digital face)?? I say that the artist has a rich palette and needs to choose depending on the context. Even cultural context matters – there are certain cultures that I have worked with who will respond with a phone call even if you send a detailed email. The wishy-washy answer as with many things … it depends.

  16. Both of them are important, IMHO.
    In fact, the subject “dictates” how one should communicate: asynchronously (e-mail) or synchronously (instant messaging or phone).
    When I have to schedule a meeting, it can be done asynchronously, and even with a specific tool (like Doodle: http://doodle.com), no need to have my recipient taking the call in-person. But when I’m in a hurry, I can assume that my recipient will be checking his/her e-mail every 5 minutes. Then I have to pick-up the phone or instant messaging tool to reach him/her as soon as possible.

    I also often recommend people to put their preferred medium of communication directly told on their personal profile (on their blog or so), especially for first-time encounters: some prefer taking their time with an e-mail, when others will be more sensible to a more “human” way of communicating, i.e.: by phone.
    The requesting part must then adapt to the other one so that there are more chances to get a positive answer…

    What’s more important is to choose the right medium at the right time, depending on the circumstances… We are in the attention age, so don’t waste others’ time with useless synchronous call and don’t rely on a quick answer when using synchronous media!

    Also, I think that one of the keys is to choose the right tool. There aren’t only e-mails & phone alone. One can use online scheduling applications for meetings, file transfer services for exchanging big data (Dropbox…), comment for giving one’s advice related to a blog post…

  17. Sorry for my last comment:
    “when I’m in a hurry, I can assume that my recipient will be checking his/her e-mail every 5 minutes. ”
    I meant the contrary: when I’m in a hurry, I CAN’T assume that my recipient will be checking his/her e-mail every 5 minutes.

  18. I’m with you on vastly preferring email.

    For one thing, I’m not a fast thinker. I like to put thought into how I respond to a problem. I wouldn’t be much help to you during a disaster, but with most business problems, there’s no reason not to take a few minutes to think, research and plan before taking action. An email response is likely to be more thought out and well-reasoned than an off-the-cuff phone response.

    Of course, the same issues you raise with the immediacy of a phone call vs being able to better organize how you spend your time when responding to emails plays an important role as well. As a writer, when I’m in the midst of working on a project, to drop everything and take a call destroys my concentration.

    Also, if you’re a consultant who charges hourly for some clients, it complicates time tracking. If one client calls you in the midst of doing work for another client, you have to quickly shift your reporting so you don’t end up charging the wrong client for them time spent on the call. It’s a minor issue, but it matters.

    I could probably list off 4 or 5 other reasons for my preference, but that seems good enough for now.

  19. For everything related to marketing – both marketing to prospects and receiving marketing from vendors – I go email all the way. When it comes to sales, I like small-ticket items to be completely automated and big-ticket items to close in one or two elegant sales conversations. (Danny, thanks for introducing us to Dov Gordon and his program!)

    I agree that phone is information rich and valuable. But it can also wander.

    My solution: a phone call is a meeting, and all meetings have an agenda. We use email to set up the agenda. We use the phone call for an information-rich exchange that is either focused on brainstorming (creating new ideas) or locking down decisions (as in a pre-launch meeting) and making sure everyone is solidly on the same page. Then emails follow up with action items and we do the work to succeed.

    I’ve developed these practices over years, and I’m getting really strict with them. At this point, no agenda, no meeting.

    I even apply some of this to friendships and marriage. The agenda can be light though, like, let’s get together and have fun! But I’ll want some detail: Is a meal involved? Should I arrive hungry, or well-fed?!?

    I have a friend who’s voicemail says, “If this is urgent, please email me at . . .” I find that hilarious. But I also get it!

  20. Megan … I appreciate your asking the question above. It props up my view that Firepole gives more than “lip-service” to the notion that relationships thrive on communication that serves the needs of all parties to the interaction.

    My preferred method of communication is email, hands down … but with a follow-up phone call when “urgency” or “immediacy of response” characterizes the message. Going the extra mile would never be an imposition for me in communicating with others and I’m always hopeful that this courtesy is extended to me when needful.

    If it is not practicable to make the follow-up call on time-sensitive email, I would hope for a subject line that reads: “OPEN IMMEDIATELY!” or “TIME SENSITIVE!” or “URGENT!” This would draw my attention and enable me to respond to the message within the noted time-frame.

    I agree with all the points you make about both communication preferences. The only feature of my “Email” preference that bears repeating is that it is (as you say) “wonderfully efficient” and removes the need to make assumptions about the message. I’m of the view that everything the sender wishes me to know is in the email and anything not written is not relevant.

    Email is a virtually indelible imprint of everything (presumably) the sender wants to convey about a specific issue. And even if the “imprint” is deleted, in many instances the message can be retrieved … Oh Joy! Shalom!

  21. I will prefer email most of the time. But when the client in critical stage, I advice them to message me on my phone (VIP), then we catch up with each other immediately when I’m available.

    Due to the nature of my business doing sales coaching, phone coaching will be better to understand a person behavior during the times.

  22. I prefer email for all the reasons you listed. I’m not really a “phone person,” and people who are tend to go on and on and on and on . . . . and wind up using a great deal of time. Also, people have a tendency to call at the most inconvenient times. Reading an email gives me an opportunity to consider my response, keeps me from overextending myself, etc.

    I have a 45 commute to and from work, so I try to schedule my calls during that time. So far this seems to work well.

  23. I definitely prefer email. It allows me to organize my thoughts. It makes it possible, as you said, to have a record. It provides a backup for my sieve-like memory. I am a visual/kinestetic learner so it suits me.

    I believe if you did a survey of learning styles you would find that people who like email are visual learners and those who prefer telephone are auditory learners. Just my guess…

  24. Hi Carol,

    I definitely agree with you about email [and any other form of pre-planned writing] giving us time to organise our thoughts.

    And there’s also even more subtlety going on with matching learning styles. For example, I’ve often shot a quick Jing video for friends who share my visual learning style. Or I’ll produce a set of slides. Or ensure that I “paint with words” more than just rattle off a series of “black and white” factual bullet points.

    The same applies with how we talk to each other. Essentially, there are five energy types [taken from Chinese philosophy and medicine], which Jung used as the basis for his personality types. And Jung’s work is the starting point for the rest of the Western thinking and systems on personality types and their associated traits.

    I’ve done a fair amount of work in this field, but my business partner is the real expert in this field – he’s a world-class authority on it, and you’re right; it’s well worth taking these factors into account.

  25. I definitely prefer email. Incoming email doesn’t break me out of my flow like the ringing phone does. I always ask my clients to email unless the issue is time sensitive, since I usually turn the ringer off on my phone while I am working anyway. Besides, it’s much easier to sound professional when you can stop and review what you are about to say before you hit send 😉

  26. For me it’s a mix. Most often email has the advantages you list in the article, Megan. Time control and efficiency are great. The times I prefer to use the phone is if there might be a 80% or better chance of confusion or a response coming back that is incomplete. Also the time sensitivity matters. If I need a quick communication that will likely have several step q & a back and forth I like the phone.

  27. I am much more prone to using email to communicate than I am the phone. I will use the phone if I can’t get the message to sound right in an email. And I’m with you Tom, if I don’t recognize the number, I will not (in most cases) answer the phone.

  28. eMail is preferred for most general questions. Telephone comes in to play when things are more urgent. More often than not, I do not answer telephone calls because they are in the middle of a class I am doing or my family time.

    Almost every time, someone calls with something that is not urgent and they just want to chat…which, to me, they need to be in the class to chat away! Then, I can listen without rearranging my schedule and all of the participants in the class.

    In other words, eMail allows the person you are contacting to remain in control of their own schedule while calling takes an urgent status that may not be relevant to the person receiving the call. 🙂

  29. When someone asks me a pre- or post-purchase question about negotiating a flexible work arrangement, I find that I can provide them with a valuable strategy angle in a 10-minute phone session. Plus, strategy by phone is what I love and do best, so I appreciate the opportunity. Some (not all) of them turn into a paid coaching client, but in any case, they’ve purchased or will purchase one of my flexible work proposal template packages.

    Email, of course, has its place for everyday correspondence, but I sometimes LABOR over a written reply to a strategy question which takes WAY too long. So I reply with, if you have 10 minutes, give me your number and I’ll call you. People are pleasantly surprised and love the added value.

  30. I’m definitely an email gal for the reasons listed above. I’m not always the best on the phone and not always in a position to talk, but emails allow for control, clarity, double-checking, etc.

    When I want to make an extra connection with someone or further explain something, then I prefer to schedule a call. Yet this is usually for peers and those ahead of me in business; not for clients.

    On the personal level, I highly prefer phone and text.

  31. I use both emails and phone interchangeably. More personal…phone; fast delivery and having a thread of interaction…emails.

    If the question is which do I use most frequently on a daily basis…emails!

  32. Email or phone? For a good catch up with friends…phone. For most everything else…email.

    To get the results you want sometimes means using the preferred correspondence method of your contact, i.e., respect what THEY want to use.

    So for some types of businesses or individuals..that means LETTERs or phone calls, because they don’t take email seriously.

    Also, I’ve discovered that for contacting certain friends, that contacting them via FACEBOOK works faster than email, as they are so plugged into FB that they’re checking their mobiles constantly for FB messages/updates! (Also because they get so much email that they can’t keep up with their inbox and messages get drowned).

    Most of my correspondence is with people in a different country than myself. So email rules for contacting those who like to use email. But the messages need to be to the point, as we have become so A.D.D. in general that most people can’t absorb more than one or two points per message. I use bullet points a lot for this very reason, as it improves the chances my already brief messages will actually get read and actioned on.

  33. I like both, but for different reasons and for different people. For instance, when it comes to interacting with clients, I prefer email – it gives me time to think about my response to a question and keep information for later.

    For everything else, I like the phone but, I hate voicemail and prefer to just call people back or better yet, get a text message.

  34. Have to say my experience here has warmed me to emails like no one else has!

    My inbox is pretty overloaded from some recent research, and many of the unsubscribes have not worked so that is frustrating. But being able to pick the really best people now, I am considering changing them over to a new address and just walking away from the old one to leave the irrelevant and unprofessional behind.

    This research has been to set up my own practices effective.

    Previously I was operating a one-to-one client based sessional business. I was good at that “provision” but it wasn’t effective business. Phone calls were the most appropriate for the market I started with, but once again not effective for business.

    Now I am re-working as much of my material as possible for the online world. I can have a structured approach for different processes depending on purpose. And I can better organise my time to the phone becomes more of a meeting, though I use sms on it separate from emails at times too.

    Still exploring these changes in my own habits, but definitely enjoying emails more than ever before. Still streamlining.

    • Patience Grace,

      I have multiple email addresses for this very reason. Research goes to one email, subscriptions go to another, interview requests to another, and personal to another. It really helps, especially to cut down on the spammy emails. I have an email specific for that as well (if I suspect spam, I give them that email address. If there is a pick up in the amount of spam I get in that email, then I know not to move to one of my other emails).

      It seems like a lot, but it works. All research is in one place and all personal emails are in another.

      Teressa (pardon any errors, typing on an iPad)

  35. Email, definitely. As our lives get busier and more people work non-office hours, phone calls are hard to schedule. My daughters work shifts, so I usually text them, and if I want to speak directly, I text to find out when it’s convenient.

    I think you could do the same with email: send out information, but include a request for when a call would be convenient. They can read the info at their leisure and email you back with a time slot or two. Best of both worlds!

  36. Megan, I like using the phone. I feel more comfortable talking on the phone to people. Yes, it is time consuming, but it offers an opportunity to learn what the other person needs and for me to share and listen. For me, it is quicker to share ideas then, writing out an e-mail. I feel connecting by phone is more personal and caring.

  37. Email works for me. I can read and respond quickly and it saves time. When a call is the only way to communicate then I go for that option. 🙂
    Elizabeth

  38. Research goes to one email, subscriptions go to another, interview requests to another, and personal to another. It really helps, especially to cut down on the spammy emails. I have an email specific for that as well (if I suspect spam,

  39. I think that it’s a really personal choice. It’s been my experience that some people are talkers and others are writers/texters.

    Work-wise, I rarely have to deal with issues that are so urgent that they require phone calls. Emails ensure that both sides can refer to the conversation, and encourages brevity. Being in control of when I deal with emails also allows me to be far more productive.

    Socially, I prefer messaging apps with friends and occasionally have people ask me why we don’t just talk on the phone. To be honest, it often doesn’t even occur to me because I prefer texting/email. I like that the communication is through spurts of attention. (A pause is fine when I need to deal with something else quickly.) Unfortunately I know too many people who ramble or do not speak clearly on the phone. I then find myself frustrated because my train of thought has been interrupted and I have to spend time and attention deciphering what they’re trying to say.

    Like many of you who have commented, I also do not answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize. Only my nearest and dearest have my phone number and even they know only to call if it’s absolutely important. (Otherwise, it’s f2f communication!)

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