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With the rise of email, social media and chatbots, there have never been more ways for customers to get in touch with your business. We asked the UK Business Forums community: are phone lines still as important to businesses in 2017?
The labour costs of a phone line
When UK Business Forums member gibby contemplated dropping his business’s phone line last year, he argued that it was slowing down customer service. Many of the phone calls, he said, were from customers who hadn’t read the site’s frequently asked questions page and weren’t making the most of their site’s functionality. Not only were email and chat systems faster, they crucially freed up an employee who was often tied up on the phone.
Using a phone line as a primary source of customer support doesn’t always make sense from the financial perspective of a small business. Bookmemate noted in a recent thread that a large number of businesses are moving away from traditional customer care setups in favour of text-only customer care.
“Look at some of the big telecommunication companies' cost cutting measures as they get squeezed more and more,” he says. “If you pay multiple people to answer phones, it costs more money than paying one person to engage with three to five customers at the same time using a chat window.”
There’s also the question of the flexibility of a landline for a modern business. With an ever-increasing, work-anywhere business culture, do static phone lines fit in with the modern business paradigm?
The issue of trust
“A phone line is as essential nowadays as a fax machine,” consultant says. “However, a landline number is still very important: it gives many people the comfort that there is (or could be) a real business somewhere.”
It’s difficult to overlook this issue of trust. Despite the growing number of digital businesses and virtual offices, many members agree that a landline is still vital in building a reliable reputation. A study conducted by The Conversation found that ninety percent of people wanted their message to eventually reach a real, live person when they call a company, regardless of the avenue their customer service journey initially takes.
Study respondents felt more confident a human would “see it through” and that “the call wouldn’t just end” without a resolution to their problem.
Dependent on industry
“The phone is quicker and far more efficient for the consumer,” fisicx argues. ”You can get far more done in a two minute phone call than you can by swapping emails and using online chat.”
For many of the small business owners on UK Business Forums, favouring a phone over email simply makes sense for their industry.
If you needed a plumber to come and fix a leaky boiler this evening, fisicx asks, would you rather pick up the phone and call them, or send an email and hope they get it in time? This applies if you want to order a takeaway on your way home, check if your car is ready to pick up from the garage or change an order for five hundred roses that should have been fifty.
LocksDotGuru agrees. He believes that the only businesses who wouldn’t want or need a phone line are eBay sellers and those with digital businesses.
“I am a locksmith and 99% of my work comes from phone calls,” he says, supporting fisicx’s point on the efficiency of a phone line. “Most customers want a ballpark price and to know how quickly someone can attend.”
Human interaction is still a valuable currency
When The Guardian’s Dean Burnett wrote an article describing the frustration of being left on hold, it highlighted the risks of abandoning human interaction entirely. While it makes economic sense for companies to automate the time-consuming elements of running a business, Burnett writes, it’s problematic when a company tries to placate customers who may have a genuine grievance, and does it using a machine.
Clinton makes a similar argument in this thread. He points out that though all organisations have phones, many no longer take any calls:
“Try calling a bank - they'll put you through a menu system to see if there's a recorded message that answers your question. Even when calling my local council, I get urged to visit their website in an attempt to prevent me from speaking with a person.
“In fact, almost every day I come across a business or organisation that's trying to block me from speaking with a person.”
This has provided an important niche for small businesses looking to lure customers away – they’re able to compete by providing human interaction where their larger counterparts are reluctant to.
For a small business, a phone line can facilitate good customer service in a landscape of, as Burnett puts it, frustrating uncertainty.
How do you prefer to communicate with customers or suppliers?
Do you agree that phone lines are still important for a business? Or will text-only customer care eventually become the norm?
If you want to find out more about how eReceptionist can help you to facilitate good customer service, check out www.ereceptionist.co.uk. And we’ve a special offer for UKBF readers – give us a call on 0800 689 3826 and quote UK Business Forums and we’ll give you a 60 day free trial instead of the usual 30.