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The enduring importance of the phone call
Despite our ever more web-centric lives, phone calls are not going away.
In fact, the number of calls made each year is growing. Most people have smartphones, and they like to use them.
Calls to businesses are expected to exceed 169 billion per year by 2020 [Source]
Even as we message, text, and tweet, most people still see the phone as a vital communication channel between themselves and those they do business with.
One recent survey of 1206 18-65 year olds found that 88% of respondents still prefer to call a business [Source]
This might surprise you. But considering that our smartphones stick to us like glue, every time we conduct a web search, initiating a call takes just one click.
Google’s research arm, Think with Google, tracked call usage after using its search engine.
Google’s research found that 70% of mobile searchers have used the ‘click to call’ feature directly from the search results page on their mobile phone. [Source] Of these searchers, 61% stated that calling a business is the ‘most important’ phase in their shopping process. [Source]
It’s not only the number of calls that’s on the rise. The expectation for exceptional customer service during those calls is rising, too.
How you answer your phone is critical.
Nonverbal communication – even on audio-only calls – is a fundamental aspect of perceived customer service.
Put simply, the manner of your communication is actually more important than what you say.
A famous 1967 study on nonverbal communication by Albert Mehrabian at UCLA found that information is transmitted through [Source]:
Body Language: 55% (Not relevant to phone calls!)
Voice Tone: 38%
Spoken Words: 7%
This study’s findings mean that your customers are judging your business based on call agent attitude and tone of voice more than the actual words they speak.
The attitude and tone during calls must be of a consistently high standard or customers will rate your service as poor, even if the actual information provided does not vary.
When you don’t pick up the phone, potential customers will call your competitor
Phone calls remain a vital communications channel. So what happens when customers call but you don’t answer?
Simple: When you aren’t available, customers will go to someone who is.
A survey by BT Business found that customers will only try to call you twice (as a maximum!) before taking their business elsewhere [Source]
Automated voicemail isn’t a realistic solution to deal with the availability problem.
69% of callers sent directly to voicemail don’t leave messages. [Source]
And it gets worse for your younger customers.
84% of 20-29 year olds shun automated voice messages. [Source]
What about placing people on hold? Tread carefully.
Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed 1,016 adults. 75% reported that they are ‘highly annoyed’ when they can’t get a live person on the phone. [Source]
When potential customers are deciding whether or not to do business with you it isn’t best practice to ‘highly annoy’ them during their first interaction.
One recent survey asked people about the worst customer service experience they endure and would like to eliminate.
‘Being put on hold’ was the most common ‘bad customer service experience’ when communicating with businesses. [Source]
Do everything you can to avoid putting your callers on hold; they hate it!
The damage to your business when you miss customer calls
If phone calls to your business are growing and poor customer experience is universally hated, what are the real-world implications for your business?
People don’t just call you to find out basic information. Calls are often a vital customer touchpoint in the sales process and have a much higher conversion rate than lead generation forms on your website. People respond to other people.
Phone calls are 10-15 times more likely to lead to a sale or prompt follow-up activity than digital form submissions. [Source]
The importance of a human connection to your customers isn’t just about driving sales and closing deals. People want to do business with you when they perceive a friendly, useful service.
In a 2011 survey by American Express, 7 in 10 respondents said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service. [Source]
The reverse of this finding is also true. No one wants to give money to a business that doesn’t seem to care, that doesn’t treat you with respect.
One survey found that 82% of us have stopped doing business with a company due to bad customer service. [Source]
What is the impact on the bottom line of not picking up the phone, perhaps the easiest bad customer service issue to fix?
BT Business calculated that missed calls cost UK small businesses £90m each year in lost earnings [Source]
Great customer service wins sales and lifts cross- and up- selling opportunities. Bad customer service means you’ll never get a chance to engage in those conversations.
Make phone communications a value-added channel for your business
Tackle these common issues to improve customer perceptions and gain a reputation for excellent service: