No business can work without a customer. That’s obvious from the start. But what is not always obvious is the way those essential relationships are built and maintained.
You probably have all kinds of KPIs and protocols to ensure that customer emails are answered promptly and that your invoices arrive on time, but in a digital age it’s all too easy to forget about one of the oldest and most important methods of customer communication: the telephone.
And since it’s still the number one method customers turn to when something serious needs to happen fast, the last thing you want to do is deliver the disappointment of a missed call.
Missed calls – what, why and how
Missed calls are a matter of confidence. Whether you’re a global player or a mom-and-pop, your customers want to believe that you have it under control. Failing to answer your phone frustrates them, leaves their issues on the table, and convinces them that you just don’t have a solution for them.
What happens when your business misses a call? There are only a few options:
The customer calls, and the call rings until your customer loses interest and hangs up
The customer is put on a hold and either put in a queue, or offered a call back at a later time
Your voicemail service kicks in and the customer is given the option to leave a message
Why it happens
There are a lot of reasons why your business might miss a call:
You have insufficient staff to answer the phones, and are overwhelmed
You have enough staff, but they are too busy focusing on other customer service issues, like answering emails
Your business chooses not to prioritize phone-based customer service
A customer calls after business hours
You don’t have the right technology to match your eagerness for great customer service with the realities of your business
Missed calls – how much do they really cost?
Ok so now we know what missed calls are and why they happen. Let’s take a look at some alarming statistics that reveal the true cost of missed calls:
80% of all business communications take place over the phone
In this digital age you might have assumed that emails or perhaps even social media messages had already overtaken the phone but in actual fact, around 80% of the enquiries that your business receives are still likely to be in the form of telephone calls. With so much resting on your ability to answer telephone calls in a timely manner, failing to do so is not an option that should be seriously entertained.
Roughly 85% of people whose calls are not answered will not call back
This is a hugely important figure that should ring alarm bells for any company that cannot cope with the volume of calls it receives at certain times of the day. If the callers are potential customers who were ready to place an order, the cost to your firm could be extremely high.
More than 60% of unhappy clients will take their business elsewhere
Around 70% of people will stop dealing with a firm whose customer service is not up to scratch and more than 60% will go on to do business with a rival company. Unless you are running a physical retail outlet, the vast majority of your customer service functionality will involve the making and receiving of telephone calls. It is for this reason that you need to ensure no calls are left unanswered.
Over 80% of people in the United Kingdom are not willing to trust overseas call centres with their personal information
This means that using the services of such a centre to ensure your calls are answered promptly could cost your company almost as much business as if the calls were left unanswered. When dealing with professional answering services in their own country, the reaction is far more positive. Almost all callers are quite happy to leave a message if they believe the information they give will be kept safe.
People will tell 1.6 times as many people about bad customer service than good customer service
To put it in more simple terms: impress a customer with first-class customer service and they may tell 10-15 of their friends about your company. On the other hand, bad customer service such as failing to answer calls in a timely manner is something about which they may tell 16-24 of their friends. Bad news spreads faster and further than good news so you need to ensure that all news about your company is positive.
It is estimated that businesses in the United Kingdom lose over £30 billion every single year due to missed calls
This is a massive figure and illustrates very clearly the money that is being left on the table every time that you fail to answer a telephone call.
The illustration below sums it up beautifully, courtesy of Telux HD:
Why it’s bad
For a lot of businesses, especially if they are small-to-medium sized, this is doesn’t seem like a problem, on the surface. It’s easy to be tricked into thinking that phone calls don’t really matter anymore, and that if the issue is important enough, the customer will simply send an email or contact you through your website instead. Especially when budgets are tight, phone calls can take a long time, and justifying expensive answering staff becomes difficult.
Unfortunately, the reality is that first impressions do matter for businesses, and for many of your customers, the phone is either their first contact with you, or the one they remember the most. Studies show that 86% of communication comes from tone and only 14% comes from the content of that communication.
So it’s no surprise that an email can seem cold and inhuman. Even if the customer has received notification emails in the past, for many customers the first chance to speak with a live agent from your company is the one that indelibly marks the way they look at you.
So what happens when a customer calls, and you miss it? Well, research from BT Business reveals that most customers only call twice before they take their business elsewhere. For about 20% of your customers, they won’t even make that second call, if you don’t answer their first one. A study by the International Journal of Service Industry Management found that customers continue to crave prompt responses from businesses by phone. Responsiveness by phone was the single most-frequently mentioned factor in identifying service quality.
And when that responsiveness is lacking? The average price of a lost customer will vary wildly by sector, but BT Business estimated an average cost of £1,200 in 2014, or about $1,575 USD. That’s a lot to give up, when you don’t have to. Remember, even if you are an eCommerce company with a website you sent months or years testing and optimizing for ease-of-access, a portion of your potential customers simply aren’t going to use it. Unfamiliarity with technology, distrust of Internet purchasing – it doesn’t really matter why, but these customers simply will not use your website the way you would like. Not answering your phone will force them to leave in disgust and find a competitor who will.
But even worse than lost sales is the impression that missed calls have on your public reputation. Don’t believe it matters? Search Twitter for “business missed calls.” When your customer is happy, they tell their friends and family. When your customer is unhappy, they tell the world, and now they have more power to spread the word than they ever have before. The Harvard Business Review reported that customers’ tendencies to “punish” disappointing customer service are dramatically stronger than their tendencies to “reward” good ones. There’s nothing more valuable to you than a loyal brand ambassador, and nothing more dangerous than a customer scorned.
In the long run, the true cost of missed calls can be hard to calculate. Immediate lost sales and negative reviews are obvious, but what if the customer had some information you needed? As a business, innovation and receptiveness to new ideas can mean the difference between a successful quarter and a bad year.
By listening to your customers when they try to tell you what works – and what doesn’t – your company is given a valuable chance to seek out opportunities for expansion. When customers call, they speak freely in a way they can’t over email, because they know that they’re speaking with a human being. This is where they will share grievances and let you know what they’re looking for. This free advice can be worth its weight in gold – if you’re ready to listen.
We always say, sales can be made by email, but you make a customer-for-life over the phone.
Missed calls – don’t let it become a problem
Don’t lose hope, because there are solutions. Phone service doesn’t have to involve massive, expensive call centers with banks of customer service agents – and you don’t want it to! In 1997, the Institute of Development Studies called these places modern “sweat-shops.” By harnessing the power of technology, lean businesses can provide responsive phone service on-site, and banish the missed call to the dungeon where it belongs.
If it’s possible, the easiest answer is more staff. For many small businesses, every employee is already doing the job of two, or even three. Your team simply might not have the time to answer every phone call that comes in. But given how important human contact is for frustrated customers, you might find that the extra staffing costs can pay dividends. Even one dedicated phone agent can help hundreds of customers per day. We’ve already talked about how easy it can be to hire a virtual assistant and they can be 40% cheaper than hiring onsite staff.
But what if you don’t have the budget? What if you simply can’t add new phone lines, and have to make do? Harness the power of technology that is probably sitting in your pocket right now. Call forwarding will automatically send a phone call from an unanswered, idle desk phone to your cellphone. Imagine it is just after five, and you are rushing home for an important dinner. It isn’t time to call it a day quite yet, but you’re not in the office. An important client who works until six needs to reach you, but nobody is at your desk. Rather than let them go to voicemail and risk a disaster in the morning, forward the call to your cellphone and deal with it while you wait for your train to come in.
Sometimes customer service issues are important, but not desperate, and simply need some response. The Harvard Business Review found that 22% of repeat calls relate back to some previous problem, and aren’t an emergency. A good intermediary solution can be a better optimization of your voicemail and call sorting systems. One voicemail box will end up cluttered and ignored. Even worse, an answering tree with hundreds of branches will confuse and frustrate customers who don’t know what number to press.
Testing and optimizing your voicemail options can help ensure that every voicemail goes to the right place, and is heard by those staff members most able to deal with the problem. In this way, you can multiply the effect of your staff, and give a level of response that belies your size and gives confidence to your customer.
All of these solutions can seem complicated, and are often expensive to implement. However, the right apps can help simplify your phone service, while avoiding the dreaded missed call.
Rather than forcing your customer to dial expensive long-distance numbers, you can set up local numbers for up to 40 countries, encouraging your customers to call from anywhere without worry
Once the call is placed, calls to any of those numbers appear in one convenient place for your staff to respond to efficiently.
With options to set up phone queues, hours of availability, and interactive voice response, your customers will find their way to the right person, at the right time.
So what happens when the call does come in? With the push of a button, you can send it to the right teammate. Record calls automatically for quality control, and use powerful analytics to measure performance, missed calls, and the performance of each team member.
Remember those solutions we talked about? Aircall helps with those, too. Easily forward calls to cellphones, receive voicemails directly to your email, or transfer calls to other agents on the fly.
When your luggage is lost on a flight, the last thing you want is to hear the airline’s phone ring without anybody picking up. You want to know that somebody knows where your bag is, and that somebody actually cares.
The most powerful function of the phone conversation is the connection you make with your customer. Whether that’s making the big sale or solving a big problem, it’s an opportunity – and a phone call – that you can’t afford to miss.
Published on February 22, 2023.