Consumers are more demanding of products, services and brands than ever before, expecting instant responses and immediate results.
Businesses are under pressure business to deliver and are increasingly turning to technology to speed up the way they communicate with customers, via chatbots, SMS texts, and social media messaging, etc. But are digital channels really the most effective way to engage customers and generate new revenue for businesses?
New research from telephone answering service provider Moneypenny suggests not, as more than half (56%) of business owners they surveyed said the most popular way for their customers to contact them was by telephone, with call volumes increasing across all industry sectors.
Digital channels such text messages and WhatsApp were deemed most popular by only 23% and 21% of businesses respectively, suggesting that what consumers really want is the reassurance of a human voice at the end of a telephone.
Moneypenny CEO Joanna Swash says: “The survey has proved what we’ve known all along, that in spite of the rise in popularity of new channels such as WhatsApp, live chat and social media, the phone call is still king.”
A growing number of entrepreneurs are discovering the same thing. Just Move In is a concierge service for home movers, helping them manage a range of essential services, from notifying service providers of a change of address to recommending better service suppliers. Around a third of the firm’s 50-strong team are home move specialists, for who the telephone is the primary means of speaking with customers.
Cofounder Ross Nichols says: “Most of our calls are appointment-based and booked in by customers via SMS and email once we receive the details about their home move from their estate or lettings agency. But we also have lots of customers calling us throughout the day, so during office hours we always aim to answer the phone within 30 seconds.”
Just Move In does offer a website chat option for general queries, but as Nichols points out, people don’t move home very often, and when they do they have a lot to think about.
He says: “It’s not that easy to get all of those questions answered over a chatbot. We know people appreciate being able to speak to a person, and we are now seeing repeat business, with customers coming back to us for second and third moves. The telephone is instrumental to what we do.”
The value of the business telephone is only as good as the person who answers it. Employees with a detailed knowledge of the business and its products and services, who can respond confidently to customer queries, are key to converting enquiries into sales and winning new customers.
The telephone is the main enquiry route for customers at U.K. fencing business Jacksons Fencing. Founded in 1947 company has a team of experienced sales staff, whose combined experience spans over 300 years.
Managing director Peter Jackson says: “They can answer any question that a customer asks, no matter how unusual. We don’t believe in scripts. Sales staff need to know the product and service inside and out so they can converse naturally on the phone, providing a more personal and genuine service.”
Newcomers undergo thorough training before they start answering calls to ensure they are confident and knowledgeable when they first interact with a customer. Telephones are manned for over eight hours a day and if the sales team are tied up, customer calls are answered by anyone in the company. “No one left is listening to hold music,” he says.
The company has trialed chatbots in the past, but decided against implementing them, recognizing that when it comes to the value of personal service, automated responses don’t deliver.
“Without being able to speak to an actual person, customers might miss important information they didn’t know to ask about,” says Jackson. “We also offer bespoke products, which chatbots aren’t suitable for. With a personal connection, customers can be guided from initial inquiry all the way to installation.”
But he believes there is a place for social media and digital channels that make it possible to provide a high-quality online customer experience. “The human touch isn’t forgotten, and most of these orders are followed up personally by a member of the sales team,” says Jackson.
Digital customer interaction is improving all thanks to the use of AI and machine learning in chatbots, with easy access from mobile devices for busy customers on the move. But it’s hard to envisage that the technology will ever truly emulate spontaneous human interaction.
In the meantime, businesses should be looking carefully at how the way they are handling customer calls. Answering machines and voicemail systems are a turn off for most customers, as is being left on hold, or simply not having their call returned. It’s the quickest way to send them off looking for a different company, potentially a competitor.
“Calls are becoming more valuable to business as many customers choose to do easy transactions over the website or use live chat for more casual enquiries,” adds Swash. “When they’re ready to buy they are more likely to pick up the phone to get an answer straight away or schedule an appointment.”