Phones are a blessing and a curse in modern business. They enable the personal touch, but at the wrong time (and any time can be a wrong one when we’re all busy), they can sap productivity and annoy your customers more than they add value, especially with chatbots and other tools taking up the slack.

There is a trend among companies, especially among digital businesses. Many do not choose to list a contact number on the about me page of their websites, some business cards just have an email or Messenger contact, and there are entire organisations that have ditched the desk phone, either for a softphone on the laptop or going straight to mobile, or using social media or chatbots as contact points.

Naturally, this trend depends on the business. A global cloud firm with a distributed business model, connected customers and all-digital services has little to no need for phones. The few people who do need to talk to each other will just have their mobiles, Skype or Microsoft Teams on hand.

But even local firms and traditional trades are increasingly finding their phones always full of voice mails that they have to respond to in an endless circle. These businesses too are wondering if there’s a better way.

Customer pain or gain

From the consumer perspective, most people only call a business when they have a problem or a complaint, both of which will distract the business from its current tasks. So, does ditching the phone number help businesses? And, if there’s a major problem like an outage, does it benefit your customers to all be left on hold or getting an engaged tone?

Customers are flexible individuals and will soon understand (and get used) to a move to a message-based system, and the larger the company, the greater the saving there is in staff time and resources when it comes to fielding large numbers of calls, especially when they are likely to be angry customers as with the recent Virgin Media multi-hour outage which resulted in tens of thousands of customers venting their spleen on social media due to an inability to get through compounded by not being able to watch live TV.

Yes, there are some businesses and instances when the personal touch or a call is required, but by moving the phone option to an as-needs or priority basis, perhaps as an option at the end of an unsuccessful FAQ or chatbot interaction, your business can limit the calls to only essential ones. And even businesses with a call center facility find the cost and value falling in the era of digital instant response.

Digital solutions are taking over

Many businesses might think it is enough to let voicemail take calls during any busy period, but that only delays an issue, and might send customers or prospects elsewhere. Web forms provide a similar set of solutions and problems, with them being easy to ignore.

More popular, and growing fast, is the chatbot, able to provide an increasingly full range of communication services and smart responses to a growing range of contract requirements, see “Should My Business Use A Chatbot.”  and the growth of bots in most vertical markets.

More customers are used to dealing with chatbots as the first point of contact, often via Facebook Messenger or the active content on the home page of a website or taking primacy on the contact or support page.

Bots can help customers who need help and support instantly, without waiting in a call queue. They are good for resolving the majority of simple queries, eliminating the need for a call at all, and as customers get used to that aspect, they turn to the bot by nature.

Bots also help reduce training time and costs among your business team, so not everyone needs to know the answer to any question. All of which will help increase customer satisfaction and increases their confidence in relying on digital contact points.

The smarter the chatbot the better

While many businesses first launched a chatbot to help with customer service, they are increasingly used as part of the sales and marketing function to engage, upsell and encourage further interactions with a brand or business.

Many bots are perfectly functional with a script, as long as it is well thought out and meets customer and business needs. AI in chatbots through training and natural language processing can expand conversations beyond the script. They can recognise keywords within everyday language, or the user’s tone of voice to better engage the customer.

Advanced bots can dig into a wider range of data sources to find better answers, and learn how to respond to questions that haven’t been specifically trained for. Sure, these bots require development and management, but any business can be up and running with a live value-adding, time-saving chatbot within a few days. 

Bots are also increasingly used among teams and businesses for internal purposes to get new workers up to speed on training and to reduce the reliance on HR or other workers to give them basic advice.

All of which makes a chatbot an increasingly useful tool for the business, with instant metrics to demonstrate time and other savings. Also, the ability to instantly update them when there’s a new product or a common query that needs resolving can help them keep up with customer needs, encouraging trust and improving their value.

The bot future

Increasingly, bots are playing a key role in helping businesses in all markets and of any size operate more effectively. This trend will continue as bots become digital personal assistants, virtual avatars and other ways to engage in real-time with a growing number of customers. Those businesses that lag behind will find their business going elsewhere, especially when there’s a problem that can’t be answered promptly.

For those that do, cost savings and happier, more engaged customers will help drive them to a more digital always-on customer service effort that can proactively help people with their issues, or simply booking new appointments on your web calendar without the need to keep disrupting your current tasks.