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Why the chatbot won’t kill the phone call

So you think chatbots are pretty cool? You think they are going to be the next big thing? You are probably right . . . however, you’d be wrong if you think that the rise of the chatbot will be at the expense of the humble phone call.
Yeah, that’s a bold claim. It’s one that I stand by though, and in this article I am going to outline exactly why, and maybe even convince one or two of you that you should actually pay even more attention to phone calls than you ever have before.

Evolution not Extinction

I’m a big believer in things and processes evolving, not dying. Take for example Direct Mail Marketing, Email Marketing, TV Advertising. At one stage or another, they have all been earmarked with dying out. None of them have. Instead, they have all been through peaks and troughs. They have changed and evolved to become in some cases even more powerful than ever before, just on a smaller scale as more communication channels form.

This is the same for the phone call. People said it would die out when emails came to the fore, then when texts became all the rage.
You can see where I am going with this . . .

With the above in mind, the important question is now; Why are phone calls not going to die, and how are they going to be used going forward?

What is the state of phone calls now?

77% of UK inbound customer contacts are made by telephone, compared with around 10% by email and 8% through self-service (The Jabra Value of Voice Report). I think you’ll agree that 77% is a pretty big percentage and one that you should probably take significant interest in. It’s also important to notice that self-service is still the smallest of the channels. Yes, this is changing, but to focus heavily on that and ignoring phone calls is in the strongest of terms, unadvised.

In addition, 75% of people think that calling is the most effective way to get a quick response – NewVoice. This means that even with all the other channels available to customers, they still view phone calls as the most effective way to get a response. Note also the inclusion of the word “effective”. This is really important, because if a response isn’t as expected and doesn’t answer the questions or resolve the issue then the communication is potentially ineffective.

The effectiveness of phone calls is the first of many reasons why they are still so important!

When speed if of the essence . . .

Photo by Marc Sendra martorell / Unsplash
Speed is a huge factor in the reason behind phone calls being still so prominent. However, it’s also a source of frustration which could drive people away from your business. Luckily I’m a pretty positive guy so I’m going to address this section in a positive sandwich format (positive-negative-positive).

The first positive is the percentage of first time resolutions. According to The Value of Voice Report; telephone is perceived as the most effective way to resolve problems and relieve frustration by 47%. This means that once you get through to an operator the chance of your query being resolved is pretty darn high. This is great, because in the long-run this will save you time and mean that you can get back to what you actually want to be getting on with.

On the slightly more negative side. Sometimes the wait to actually speak to an operator is horrible. This is a primary reason for a surge in the number of people using webchat services and chatbots. This surge is especially prominent in the “Gen Z” and “Millennial” groups of consumers (basically anyone from 18 to 35/40). This is a big issue for call centres, who need to make sure that if they want to offer the highest quality of service possible, the time to speaking to an operator must be brought down.

Flipping back to the positive side. Talking is quicker than typing. If you can answer the call quickly, and effectively resolve the issue, you can then get your agents back to helping other customers. It’s also much easier to understand the sentiment around the words and phrases used with a phone call, because text doesn’t give an indication of emotion (yes I know emoji’s are great, but they still have their limitations). Being able to relate not only to the issue at hand, but the emotional response that the customer is showing will help you to win that customer over completely. The spoken word has to power to inform, persuade and relate. Don’t ignore it for the sake of new technology.

Believe it or not, people do actually like people, and trust them.

I know it sounds crazy doesn’t it?! To be honest, I can’t say I blame you if you just slammed your laptop screen down or turned off your phone now. But, if you haven’t I think I’ve got a pretty compelling argument in favour of this radical theory . . .

When you talk to a person you get to know them, and you make an instant rapport. This is just something that cannot happen with a machine. Why? It is because people have emotion and have shared experiences (or at least similar ones). 86% of telephone communication is made up of ‘tone of voice’ and just 14% the words we say – ContactPoint.

Rapport is the precursor to trust. Trust is the precursor to a sale. If you’ve read any marketing or sales literature online before you will have come across the phrase “Like, Know, Trust”. It’s a bit cliché but it’s pretty damn accurate actually.
It’s an odd scenario because these machine will have been programmed by people from their knowledge and should have faster processing speeds and increased memory capacity. So why wouldn’t you trust them? It’s a fascinating debate and argument. However, that’s a discussion for another time. The point is where it is conscious or unconscious there is a bias towards trusting people. If someone who has trained and works in a respected business you trust that the information you have been told by them and the facts you have been presented are 100% accurate.

So consider when your customers need to contact you, they are highly likely to call you when they need reassurance. They want to speak to someone so that they know the information they have is accurate. Remember trust leads to sales, help your customers trust you but using phones calls and those leads will turn into sales.

Size does matter

Ok, that was a bit of a clickbait header. What I mean to say is that customers generally call for higher value transactions and conversations. Chatbots are great for triage and dealing will the deluge of day-to-day requests, but when it matters – the important conversations – they will still happen by phone.

As I’ve already eluded to above, people want speed, but they also want accuracy, and they also want trust and reassurance. This is amplified when it comes to higher ticket items or items that are complex in nature. Put yourself in the place of the customer. If you have say £20,000 to spend on a new car, you are going to want to call the dealer to ask all the questions. If you are spending £500+ on a holiday you are likely to want to speak to a travel agent for reassurance that all the area is nice, insurances are in place and so on.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the future of the phone call?

Photo by Christina Boemio / Unsplash

Despite all of the above, phone calls are not going to have the same impact on their own going forward. Yes, they will still have an incredibly powerful role to play, but they will need to be amalgamated with other forms of communication. This is the part where is talk about a really sexy buzzword . . . Unified Communication. Yeah it sounds super cool, and it is.

As technology continues to progress so too does the way in which customers want to contact businesses and so too should the way in which businesses look to deal with inbound enquiries. Widespread adoption of VoIP telephony and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technologies & WebRTC means Unified Communications (UC) – which integrates real-time communications features such as instant messaging, VoIP telephony, video calling, cobrowsing and email are all available via a single platform.

This new technology empowers customers whilst also simplifying communication channels for businesses. Agents are able to monitor and interact with customer across multiple channels in real-time. You can no longer afford to think of contact points as offline and online. Instead, you should now utilise these technologies to merge the two and offer customers the most incredible experience possible no matter the communication channel.

Do you agree? Do you think the chatbot will kill the phone call?

Ben M Roberts

Ben M Roberts

Ben M Roberts is the Head of Marketing at Talkative. He is a digital marketing strategist, podcaster (The Marketing Buzzword Podcast), and regular conference speaker. He is also writing a book!

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