Five telephone best practice tips for small businesses

Here, Carl Di Cicco looks at five top tips for businesses on how they can improve their phone practice.

The vital role of the phone call for sales and marketing in most industries and sectors is self-evident; from restaurant’s bookings, to car dealership’s enquiries, to telecom’s call centres. And yet, businesses have typically been far slower in updating their phone practices for the 21st century than they have in online marketing efforts. While the online customer journey is tracked, recorded and refined, businesses are slower to take the same data-driven approach with the trusty phone line.

What businesses risk forgetting is that sales, particularly for bigger items or services, still often boil down to the telephone call. Across industries, data overwhelmingly suggests that inbound calls have higher intent and a higher value per sale than most online response mechanisms.

At the very least, neglecting their phones is leaving businesses with an incomplete picture, with a complete lack of data on customers that are phoning up. At worst, poor phone practice is putting customers off. It’s telling that recent watchdog research showed that 28 per cent of consumers find being directed to the company’s website is the most annoying phrase to hear while on hold.

Here are five top tips for businesses on how they can improve their phone practice:

Treat phone data like browsing data

It is widely accepted that web analytics is essential for any company operating online; businesses need to know how traffic comes to them, the search terms people enter to get there, what sites they visited first, and where they went afterwards. This insight is indispensable, and organisations are more than willing to pay a premium to get it.

Equal attention should be paid to phone interactions – where as much data can be collected on customer behaviours to inform business strategy. If the same level of analytics that companies invest in to understand their online channels isn’t applied to the voice channel, there will be a huge blind spot in customer information. Web analytics may reveal how customers found your information and what they looked at, but what happens to the trail when they pick up the phone and call?

Apply phone analytics to track your marketing investment

As part of a phone analytics solution, unique, trackable numbers can be assigned to marketing campaigns and media channels to provide insight into customer response rates. With this information, marketing can optimise the channel mix for the best return on investment.

Businesses should ask themselves whether or not they understand how people are calling their business, during what time of day customers are more likely to call, or even why they’re calling in the first place. This type of information is indispensable when it comes to allocating marketing budgets across all of the different available platforms.

See also: What is digital transformation and what does it mean for SMEs?.

Use analytics to improve call handling

Call analytics can also help organisations better distribute internal resources to maximise the value of every inbound inquiry. Using analytics to understand when the highest influx of calls will be, and what customers are most likely to be inquiring about, call handling can be improved through measures like increased staff allocation and training, and call management optimised to resolve each query through the best, and most cost-efficient channel.

This is especially important, as one of the results of the rise of digital is that the voice channel has emerged as the way to resolve more in-depth, complex queries. Phone interactions with customers, therefore, provide the opportunity for higher-quality conversations than those carried out by webchat or other digital contact methods.

Automate phone systems

On top of live analytics, technology is also readily available to automate the entire call process, ensuring no customers are missed. So far this approach has been adopted largely by the hospitality industry, for example, in the ability to make restaurant or hotel bookings using an automated phone system. However, it isn’t hard to imagine how a business in most industries – from a retail outlet to an estate agents office – could automate incoming enquiries to some extent, at least to handle calls while the office is closed.

There are multiple benefits to automating phone calls. Using hospitality as the example, restaurants can ensure that customer bookings are captured, whether there is someone available to answer the phone on the restaurant floor or not – a valuable use of resources when staff are having a busy night. Of course, this data is captured in the bookings system, but the information can also be analysed to provide insights into customers booking behaviours and needs, to help them further enhance the restaurant experience.

Take an integrated approach to customer data

The practice of integrating different data sources, for example, a restaurant’s online booking portal, its phone analytics, and it’s till system – will unlock a great fortune of actionable information for businesses. While each data set has its own intrinsic value, it is when the full customer journey can be drawn from beginning to end that businesses can really start being clever.

If an estate agent, for example, integrated its web analytics, phone analytics, and sales ledger it would be able to see how a customer found their website, which properties they viewed and which they called about, how many calls resulted in the final purchase of a property, and how much the property was bought for. By compiling the data for hundreds or thousands of customers, the estate agent would be able to pull out trends that could inform its strategy. Say it identified customers in a certain age range had been making phone enquiries from digital advertisements, and these had a high sales conversion rate. It could make a safe bet that increased digital advertising spend would result in more sales.

What’s vital to remember is the phone number is a part of a company’s integrated digital identity. With one on every desk, businesses have no excuse for allowing such an omnipresent business communications channel to become a sales analytics blind spot.

Carl Di Cicco is managing director of EMEA for IOVOX

Further reading on business communications

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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