Regular communication with customers is critical for building an enterprise software business. But when it comes to technical support, sometimes not talking to customers and deflecting them towards self-service resources is the better policy.

If putting the words “deflection” and “customer support” in the same sentence makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Recently, when we asked a client about their company’s deflection strategy, the co-founder replied “We don’t want to deflect anybody. We love our customers. We want to talk to our customers!”

Obviously, our client’s heart was in the right place, and many enterprise software publishers share his attitude. Most companies view deflection as simply a cost-cutting measure, and assume users would rather talk to a live rep, if they could.

Yet enterprise software customers see the situation differently: in a recent poll, 67% of users said they prefer to find answers on their own, and regard calling support as an inconvenience. By the time most users connect with a rep, they’ve crossed the frustration threshold and you are doing damage control.

So, if we can agree that “deflection” does not equal “ignoring or undeserving customers”, let’s discuss some general types of deflection strategies. Just note these suggestions assume you have excellent self-service support resources and the user in question is a regular user (i.e., not the CIO of a major account) experiencing a first-time issue.

  • Hard Deflection – Hard deflection eliminates real-time support entirely. Typically, users are directed to a knowledge base, then – failing that – a forum or a contact form. Often, publishers will take this strategy with users on the discount or free tiers, and reserve live support as a perk for higher-tier clients. That said, you don’t want to completely cut off users from your support team: it’s possible their issue is symptomatic of a larger problem with your software.

  • Soft Deflection – Soft deflection allows your users to access live support only after they have browsed the knowledge base and/or viewed video tutorials. Yes, some of them will simply click past the self-service options to get to the contact/chat form or phone number, but deflection is never 100%, and every bit helps.

  • Passive Deflection – Passive deflection can be used together with both soft and hard deflection. In this case, live support reps refer users to the knowledge base during interactions or by attaching a link to a resolved ticket. Done consistently, this practice has been shown to improve first-time resolution by 15%.

At the end of the day, support is about helping users minimize frustration and maximize value from your products. If the shortest path from pain to productivity is a knowledgebase article or video, then you are doing users a favor by deflecting them towards self-service. And if they still need hand-holding from a live rep (and their subscription/license warrants it), they should have that option, too… just not as a first resort.

If you’re interested in developing better self-service resources for your software or discussing your support team’s deflection strategy, contact Sonata Enterprise Success for a consultation.

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Skyler Schrempp is the Lead Learning & Development Consultant for Sonata Enterprise Success.  She has developed training, support, thought leadership and marketing content for enterprise software publishers in healthcare and govtech, among other industries.