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The Case for the Telephone in Customer Service

At the 2014 Association of National Advertisers' 2014 Masters of Marketing Conference some 2,800 marketers and vendors gathered to discuss their craft.

Throughout the event, the concepts of brand purpose and listening, as well as knowing and serving customers, came up repeatedly. Be it Target's Jeff Jones' discussion on recovering from his company's data breech, or sage words of wisdom from renown marketer Jim Stengel, these basic tenants of the marketing discipline came up time and time again.

It was particularly interesting to note that many presentations focused on what is new in marketing and branding – social media, viral campaigns, online marketing, digital – but all anchored back to the same basic principles. Know your customer. Serve them. Be real, purposeful, friendly and forthcoming. In light of so much that is "new," it is easy for marketers and service professionals to take their eye off how "tried and true" tactics should support overall strategy. This is why the basics come up so often.

Over the years, telephonic interaction has proven to be the most basic – and core – customer service, sales and ultimately brand-building tool any company could utilize to enhance its understanding of customers and ability to serve them.

There are many consumer-facing studies that back this claim. In spite of novel developments in automation, 65 percent of consumers still prefer speaking to a live agent, and, for more serious issues, this number increases to 76 percent. Eighty-six percent of consumers feel their issues are resolved satisfactorily over the phone, and 94 percent say positive phone contact makes them likely to re-purchase. Even in the realm of customer complaints, 52 percent prefer the phone.

The point is not to discount other channels, such as email, chat and social, or to make the case that companies do not need to have a presence in them. It is simply to emphasize that the advantage goes to companies where the phone sits right alongside these channels.


Chat is revolutionary and terrific in its ability to solve simple customer inquiries on the fly – with generally great cost-savings to companies. However, adoption and use are still relatively low, even as low as five percent for asking questions or filing complaints. Customers are still turning to the phone when they need help with complex problems, and service levels on the phone have to meet their hunger for quick resolution.


In some situations, people do not mind waiting 24 hours for an email response to a service inquiry. Again – the cost savings can be terrific. However, email accompanied by phone can be even more powerful. For example, customers' desire for pain-free resolutions could be satisfied by reviewing messages for urgency and conducting proactive phone follow-up to those with the highest priority. Imagine the customer acquisition potential when inbound email prospecting is matched with outbound, telephonic followup!

It is also important to consider that there are inevitably times where email – and the delays it represents – simply will not match customer needs.


Social is the burgeoning service and engagement tool of our time. It came up at ANA Masters dozens of times, and its maturity is accelerating in the marketplace. Brand managers have been able to accomplish a lot through social, including timely response to inquiries. Nevertheless, similar to email, there are limitations. For example, Internet and mobile adoption rates among seniors are dramatically lower than the population at large, and certainly not every customer demographic is on Twitter or Facebook. But you can bet that with all generations, phone service is considered a ubiquitous option that is often a preferred channel.

So for all of these reasons, a contact center option should be included in the customer service mix. It can be a powerful tool to build a brand. From lead generation services to basic service interaction, the channel still holds terrific potential – and it is not going anywhere any more than radio did after TV.

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