How to stop robocalls and start reaching customers

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This post first appeared on the Future of Customer Engagement and Experience on May 28, 2019.

We’re all sick and tired of robocalls – on our mobile devices and our landlines. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t immediately recognize a phone number on either my mobile, my landline, or even my work IP phone, I will NOT answer it. If someone really needs to get in touch with me, then they’ll leave a message. Of course, many times they do not.

As the rash of spam calls on my mobile device became nearly unbearable, I took to the internet searching, “how to stop robocalls.” I downloaded an app called RoboKiller, and have been pleased with the results. While there are certainly many others, this is my favorite.

You used to call me on my cell phone (but it seems like only spammers do that now)

Blocking unrecognized numbers forces an important question for both people and businesses – what about legitimate calls from people or businesses that I might want to hear from? Do I have to make sure that everyone that I might possibly want to hear from is in my contact list?

What if I call a business and leave a message for them to call me back? Will I recognize the incoming number when they call back? And if they do call back, will they leave me a message?

You can see the dilemma and negative effect on legitimate business calls: None of us want to be the victim of scam calls and in fact, just the act of answering a call could lead to even more spam calls, so as a collective society, we’re quite reluctant to answer our phones at all when we don’t recognize the number.

Overcoming the robocall effect: Businesses are suffering because of robocalls

I came across a wonderful article on robocalls from Consumer Reports. The gist is that businesses are suffering damage to their bottom line as a result of people not wanting to answer their phones. In fact, a survey echoed my own sentiments: 70% stopped answering phone calls if they did not recognize the number of if the caller’s number is anonymous.

In the United States, the FCC is rolling out a new program called SHAKEN/STIR that will do a great deal to combat spoofed number robocalling. While it won’t stop robocalls completely, it’s a strong start.

The bottom line is that legitimate businesses and organizations are being materially harmed by the epidemic of robocalls and spam/scam calls. This can be called the Robocall Effect.

How to stop robocalls from destroying customer engagement

Most businesses don’t realize that they have an underutilized tool in today’s toxic, voice call environment: Text messaging or SMS.

And guess what? SMS has an open rate of 98%. That makes SMS a highly effective channel to reach consumers, regardless of whether the consumer recognizes the phone number.

Let’s look at some specific examples of robocalls ruining the customer experience that were cited in the Consumer’s Report article:

Customer service, installation, and repair appointments: 
“Cable and utility companies that send installation or repair crews out in a truck to people’s homes for an appointment. Normally they will call to confirm. But if the customer doesn’t answer the phone for the appointment reminder and the truck shows up when they’re not there, by one estimate, that’s a $150 cost.”

This is a use-case for leveraging text messaging if I ever saw one! First, the utility or service company could send a morning reminder text – from an established short code – to remind the consumer of the pending appointment. Then either the business or the service personnel themselves could send a text, indicating the imminent arrival.

In a more sophisticated example, the consumer could even text back if they’re going to be late, or to advise of some other issue.

Healthcare field:
“In the healthcare context, missed appointments from ignored reminder calls can cause significant treatment delays… Adherence reminders have been shown to improve patient outcomes, so it’s potentially life-threatening when those phone calls are missed.”

This is another strong use-case for SMS messaging. Appointment reminders and other notifications can easily be sent as text messages from the health provider – without violating any HIPAA regulations.

Charities and non-profits:
“Charities can’t say for sure whether any decline in donations is because of the consumer backlash against robocalls, but Gail Perry, a North Carolina-based philanthropy consultant who has advised hospital, university, sports, and social service organizations across the country, says, ‘Across the board, people say it is having a huge impact on donations.’”

People still want to donate. When they do, non-profits should take advantage to ask people to opt-in for reasonable alerts and campaigns. Many will do so. If the non-profit doesn’t overuse their privilege, they should start to see a positive effect for using text messaging vs. direct phone calls.

“…responses to telephone surveys have ‘declined a good 15 percent compared to what we used to achieve as recently as last year…the lower response rate makes surveying more expensive and difficult.”

The ability to leverage audience responses is a key benefit of the mobile device, and SMS is the perfect channel to achieve that. Today, in virtually all countries, people have mobile devices and presented correctly, a substantial sampling of consumers may be done through texting. A survey indicated that 31% of consumers will respond to a survey via smartphone with an average response time of less than 6 minutes.

If a voice call or follow-up is needed, it can be requested and arranged via text.

Text me, maybe? Once you learn how to stop robocalls, you can start engaging customers

No organization should suffer because people won’t answer their phone. There are too many good options available to reach people in a reasonable manner. SMS is the leading channel, and can be a lead-in to a voice call, if necessary.

Robocalls have become the scourge of modern communication mediums today. Sure, there are also spam SMS messages, but these are becoming quite rare, with in-network and cross-network spam control solutions from both mobile operators and inter-operator service providers in place.

As long as businesses and organizations follow best practices and local regulations, the SMS channel will remain a trusted tool and the perfect way to overcome the dreaded Robocall Effect!