E-commerce, Telephone Support and Customer Expectations in 2014

Although you would be forgiven for thinking that telephone sales are no longer relevant in the highly digitised 21st century, many businesses would argue that you couldn’t be more wrong. A new report published by leading call tracking provider ResponseTap explains that an easily accessible and seamless telephone support system isn’t only helpful to your business’s online customers, it is essential.

Currently, the majority of e-commerce businesses don’t offer fully realised telephone support. If they do have a telephone number, its function is often to collect voice mails until such a time that the site owner can get in touch with those who have rang. For high ticket goods especially, or items which have far reaching consequences (like washing machines or cars), having a well staffed support centre can mean the difference between a happy e-commerce customer making it through the checkout and a customer who leaves nothing but an abandoned shopping cart in their wake.


For those of you with long backgrounds in e-commerce, insisting on having telephone support might seem to break the first rule of e-commerce: a customer making their journey through your online checkout should require as little assistance with the process as possible. Generally, this is how the customers like it, quick, clean and as simple as possible. In an ideal world the customer will be presented with the information they need, as and when they need it, all the way to the checkout. However, as the cost of the item goes up, the number of questions a customer has will increase exponentially. This will continue until it reaches a point where the website simply cannot provide the personalised information customers require to part with their hard earned cash. Google carried out an interesting study on this behaviour. Their findings are visualised in the graph below.


The graph shows that even in retail sectors which would traditionally not offer an option to purchase over the phone, such as retail, the point at which a customer wishes that they could do so is only $119. To keep your most valuable carts from being abandoned, telephone support is vital.

Of the 2000 consumers surveyed as part of the ResponseTap study, 64% stated that they get frustrated when the business they are trying to purchase from doesn’t offer any kind of telephone assistance. 71% of those surveyed expected their frustrations to be resolved within five minutes at the most. If they weren’t satisfied within this time frame then 48% will abandon their cart, never to return.

The research also discovered that as many as one in three online shoppers would like to have a conversation with someone over the telephone before completing their purchase. This figure leaps even higher (to 41%) in the 55+ demographic, perhaps a throwback from the age of mail order catalogues. What is interesting here is that it doesn’t seem to be the actual act of making a phone call which puts these customers’ minds at rest. Simply knowing that they have the option of making contact with a human customer support representative if they were to have questions about their order, or if there is a problem with the product, is usually enough to quell any doubts. 57% of the 2000 consumers surveyed as part of the study stated that a customer service phone number with accessible opening times adds an additional layer of trust and authority to an online retailer, and 56% stated that they are more likely to shop again with a retailer which they know offers this support.

Customers of online businesses have made their opinion clear, the telephone is still relevant to their online shopping experience. This paints a picture of the telephone support line as a vital part of the experience your website delivers, and implementing this should be as important to you as it is to your customers. But is it as easy as that – hire a customer support employee to resolve issues or process telephone sales and watch the additional revenue pour in? Unfortunately not.

While the availability of telephone support and sales undoubtedly reflects well on your business, it also presents a new host of marketing problems for you to contend with. The inability to track telephone conversions with the same level of detail available online makes it difficult to connect telephone customers with things like abandoned shopping carts, website journeys and, crucially, your online marketing activities. Out of the 250 marketing managers interviewed as part of the Response Tap research, 82% said that they feel the inability to link online and offline activities in their analytic data is vital to their understanding of customer journeys, but 52% of them only have a limited picture of which of their online activities are generating calls to their business.


This is an alarming knowledge gap, especially considering that IBM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Study found that two in every three CMOs felt that return on marketing investment will be the primary metric used to determine the success or failure of a businesses by 2015. To gage this metric effectively, telephone conversions must be attributed back to the advertising or online marketing which generated the initial call. This allows marketers to make informed decisions based on which channels are giving them the most bang for their marketing buck, lowering costs and driving up ROI. The image below (from the ResponseTap study) demonstrates just how dramatically conversion rates can be affected by integrating telephone leads into online reporting.

The conversion rate almost doubles when phone calls generated by desktop and tablet visits are taken into account and, thanks to the widespread adoption of click to call technology, conversion rates on mobiles more than triple.

Whether your business is only just starting on its journey to fully integrate telephone support with the online experience, or you are currently the proud owner of a busy call center team charged with reassuring and converting your online visitors, it should be clear that the telephone still plays a fundamental role in e-commerce. To see the full findings of the Response Tap report or download the white paper, visit their micro site at www.responsetap.com/offthegrid


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