Trends in Telephony: How to Use it Correctly without Ticking Off Your Prospects
Innovation and automation aren’t synonymous, yet they’re often thought of as such. Automation is great, but not at the expense of a great customer journey; however, that’s the trap the so many are falling for.
Don’t Trade Relationships for Inappropriate Automation
When VOIP came out in 1995, it was meant to be a bridge to new relationships at a faster speed. The entire point of technology is to build relationships, bridge gaps, and bring value to others. Yet, that seems to have gone out the window. As VOIP has turned into complex phone systems based on interactive voice response (IVR) and artificial intelligence (AI), prospects and customers often leave with a poor taste in their mouth.
Think about the last time you had to deal with a customer support line. You likely ended up more frustrated than helped. It’s a prime example of where companies have taken an incredible medium for relationship building and completely bastardized it to the point of putting more distance between the given company and its customers.
The sales side of this situation can be even worse. You’re likely bombarded with cold calls from companies using parallel dialers. It’s a fantastic concept used horribly wrong. It’s no longer just the home warranty and timeshare “consultants” that bombard your phone. It typically starts with a call from a “local” number, starts with a beep, continues with a pause, and then ends with a bad sales pitch.
The customer journey is everything. You’re either improving it or ruining it. There’s no middle ground.
As a sales and marketing professional, I value automation like anyone. However, it must be used correctly. Whether you’re using incredible technology for your outbound tooling, call center efficiency, or lead routing, it’s about how you use what you purchase. That’s more important than anything.
If your aim isn’t to delight customers with the best experience possible, you’re in an uphill battle and you’re going to lose. That is, unless you’re in the Fortune 500 ranks and can afford to do so. A quick look at insurance, cable, and cellular companies is proof of that.
Invest or divest? The Value System for Selecting Technology
While I’m taking a very harsh stance against technology used incorrectly, that doesn’t change how helpful innovative tools can be. Even in a world of telephony, which we often think of as “old school”, there are some massive changes and trends upcoming in the market. It’s not the technology that organizations are getting wrong. It comes down to the application. Before diving into helpful trends in telephony, it’s worth establishing the value system for what makes a piece of technology harmful or helpful. Technology that is worth investing in will meet the following criteria.
- Investment-worthy telephony will elicit positive emotions.
This might seem like a given, but it’s not. For example, if your IVR system is so complicated that a prospect is bouncing from department to department, the technology is being used incorrectly.
IVR isn’t intended to void relationships. It’s to quickly establish a relationship between the right people.
This idea applies to how the conversation flows as well. Companies with a script-driven call center or sales environment are going to leave a very poor impression regardless of the IVR setup. There’s a fine line between keeping calls within the confines of branding and a value stream; however, scripting a relationship isn’t possible. Your technology and conversation alike should drive a positive interaction based on empathy and helpfulness.
- Technology used correctly will improve status, stress, or safety of a prospect.
This might seem like a very strange statement. Yet, these are the three simplified drivers that affect everyone. Stress is obvious; we want less of it. More safety can come in the form of job security, physical security, etc. These two are great, but most will fall under the greatly misunderstood idea of status.
Think of each dollar in your bank as a status point. They cash itself is not valuable, but it is a medium or mechanism for getting the end desire. That desire will vary for everyone. Furthermore, status can come in the form of self-perceived impression others have of you. For example, a person risks status in their organization if they bring in a vendor that turns into a mess.
Your technology can’t make someone feel like a number. It should make them feel more important than ever.
If your prospect feels they’re just another number on your sales list to call, they’re going to express their frustration of their status by hanging up while you’re still mid-sentence. This is the problem with parallel dialers that have long pauses. At the same time, customer service call centers with complex IVR systems that make it difficult to speak with someone have the same effect. These tools can wreck the self-perceived status of your prospect, and therefore, your deal and reputation.
- Phone systems should increase the time your team has with each prospect.
The last criterion that should be used for evaluating technology is going to be related to efficiency. We typically look at tools like telephony, IVR, etc. as ways to crank through the call volume demanded. However, we should be looking at it to ease the manual work of your team so they can spend more time with a customer. We want our teams to have the simplest workflows possible so they can take their feeling of being supported and translate that into their next call. Complex technology should feel simple for your team and enhance their ability to develop positive relationships that feed into the stress, status, and safety levels of your audience.
Investment-Worthy Telephony Trends
With the definition of “investment-worthy” described above, I’ll dive into telephony trends to expect in 2023, but also the application of each one. As I mentioned before, it’s more about how you apply each technology.
Progress Toward Unified Communications
Whether you’re speaking with a prospect for a sales pitch or a customer for support, chances are that individual doesn’t want to speak on the phone forever. We all appreciate brevity, and the notion is typically that an email, text, or chat will be quicker. That’s why companies are quickly moving toward truly unified communications (UC).
It’s our responsibility to encourage the customer journey by meeting our audience where they are at. Each person is going to have a preferential mode of communication or even multiple. UC is the act of bringing together dialers, SMS, instant messaging, etc. VOIP silhouetted by itself is going to have a limited positive impact. When we have omnichannel communications with our audience, we unlock a new level of relationship building.
A practical application of this is when you tweet the customer service of a large company. Every customer service team in enterprise organizations have groups focused on nothing more than social media. Part of this is due to the branding risk of someone complaining on social media. However, it’s also about convenience. Your audience is already on social media, so why not meet them there? UC brings everything together, logs each activity in a comprehensive database, and provides context for future communications.
Offline Conversion Tracking
If you’re in marketing, you know how difficult attribution is getting. With privacy laws increasing and technology companies like Google soon banning third-party cookies, knowing where a prospect or customer came from is a mountain to climb. This problem is especially true for those that sell with a mix of online and offline conversions. Online tracking can often be done with UTM links, but offline conversions are up to the sales representative to ask and enter correctly.
As a salesperson myself, I can testify that every salesperson hates data entry and does skip fields in their CRM when possible. Relying on sales to ask for and log attribution is an uphill battle. The growing trend is to automate this by leveraging individualized numbers for each call source. Your Google Maps location can have one phone number, a social media campaign will have another, and your Google Ads will have yet a third. This sounds complicated, but telephony companies are making it easier each year to manage a great deal of phone lines at reasonable rates. If you integrate with your CRM, you will end up with better tracking than ever and it will be completely automated.
While the idea of sentiment analysis isn’t new, it hasn’t been accurate. The idea is that you’ll be able to tell if a customer is loving what you’re saying or wanting to slap you through the phone. Theoretically, the result of post-call sentiment reports will provide management a better understanding of how calls are handled by their reps. However, this is changing with more advanced AI.
When you dial into an AI-driven IVR system, it will prompt you with information. Those prompts can be automated robot voices or AI that sounds almost identical to a human. The latter provides more of a conversational format that will gauge the emotions of your prospect far better. In real-time, customer service teams can understand which customers are irate and which ones are more patient. If you have a large customer calling in that is extremely frustrated, real-time sentiment analysis can automatically prioritize and route that call.
Native Telephony Integrations
The typical business professional uses an average of 9.4 different applications per day according to Citrix. I suspect it’s even higher for sales and marketing professionals. The last thing you want to do is roll out yet another application in the form of a telephony system. While they might integrate with your customer service or CRM software, having to dial from another browser window is always going to create friction.
Companies are moving toward native telephony integrations. This means you’re able to dial directly from your CRM, call center program, etc. Not only does this create greater efficiency, but it also merges the gap of data quality issues while promoting the idea of unified communications. All activity can take place in a single system, whether you’re on the phone, texting, or chatting with your customers.
Transcribing phone calls isn’t new, but telephony systems are moving to make this a standard. While no manager, customer service or sales, has time to listen to countless phone call recordings, they can skim transcripts. If that sounds laborious still, it’s because it is. Telephony companies are moving to more advanced combinations of sentiment analysis, transcribing, and keyword identification.
Think about how many deals your company might be losing due to competitor pricing. While this is an objection every sales professional needs to learn to overcome, it’s easier said than trained. One of the easiest ways to provide examples of this objection handling and others is to skip to the call sections containing words like competitor names, “pricing”, “cost”, etc.
This is one of the quickest, most useful ways of using telephony for sales. However, you can use the same concept on your service side. If a customer call into your service department royally ticked off and leaves with a higher sentiment, tracked by AI, you want to dive into the triggers that create a more positive interaction. Skip to the good stuff by leveraging keywords, sentiment, and unified communications all in one.
Telephony, like any technology, is changing every day. There are some incredibly advanced solutions in the market and the number is growing. To reiterate a theme mentioned multiple times, keep in mind that it’s your application and simplification of technology that makes a difference. Complex systems for your team or customer create friction. Treating prospects like a number makes your conversion rate plummet. Efficiency at the cost of a customer isn’t going to help anyone meet their business targets.