January 15, 2019 General

The rise of Artificial Intelligence in the marketing world has created some remarkable opportunities for businesses to revolutionize how they communicate with their consumers. Better automation and AI means personalization at scale. Connected devices and intelligent agents let your consumers interact with brands faster and more often.

Brands can deploy content on digital assistants that let them participate in meaningful micro-moments throughout the day. Brands also rely on things like personalized search results, highly targeted programmatic advertising, and social media to take on tasks that historically require more human interaction (i.e., answering questions such as what colors does it come in? What sizes are available? How do other people like it? How do I get to your store? Which model is better?).

This is a daunting time because this omnichannel world requires more complex and precise strategies. The good news about these advancements is that we’re able to measure the impact this omnichannel communication environment is having on industries at scale. Some industries will require fundamental shifts in how brands convey their value. Take the auto industry in the US. According to Bloomberg, 60% of consumers enter the buying market undecided but only need to visit two dealerships (down from four a decade prior) to make a decision. In that industry, nearly all of the decisioning, price comparisons, and overall model research has migrated online. A 2015 TNS Media Consumption Report found that nearly 70% of people who have used YouTube while buying a car are more influenced by it than TV, newspapers, or magazines.

The convergence of in-dealer and online activity is readily apparent as well. According to Google, 60% of affluent consumers use mobile devices to research features and cross-compare prices while they’re in a physical car dealer location — effectively minimizing the sales associates’ ability to influence the purchase decision. The online experience isn’t just about getting the buyer into the dealer anymore. Now SEO and SEM strategies for auto brands (and their subsequent supply chain) need to account for the consumer in the store! We see this online decision-making play out across many verticals, including CPG, travel, healthcare, financial services, and more.

Despite more of the purchase journey taking place online, data shows us that more people are calling businesses than ever. In fact, calls play an even more pivotal role in the purchase decision process because today’s consumers are likely to be more informed about your business and your products by the time they call. “Closing the sale,” so to speak, is more reliant on making the actual purchase and the post-purchase phase as comfortable as possible.

We saw this play out over Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past year. At DialogTech, we examined call behavior changes over Black Friday 2018 compared to years prior alongside our colleagues at 4C Insights. We examined millions of phone calls placed to retailers across a range of industries to learn more about why and how often people are calling. We found that consumers were calling stores 27% more over the holiday weekend in 2018 than they did in any year prior. We also found that the reasons they’re calling are shifting. For example, we found that there were 17% more calls related to financing options, a 74% increase in calls related to delivery dates, and a whopping 344% lift in calls related to specific Black Friday specials and store hours during the holiday. Across the board, we saw the length of calls increase by 22% this year, implying more discussion and intricate questions being raised.

Consumer calls to retailers increased from Black Friday 2017 to 2018 and from Cyber Monday 2017 to 2018

So, What Should You Do About It?

As more of the purchase cycle moves online, do not assume that this means calls will diminish in value. You can expect calls to become more about the how-to-buy questions as opposed to what-to-buy. As the consumer continues to self-educate on products, businesses should treat the call as an opportunity to bundle better purchases, be more strategic in the offers/promotions the customer takes advantage of, and use facets of the purchase — such as delivery — as a way to provide strong customer service and better value. Key areas for brands to plan for in this omnichannel discovery environment include:

Creativity Help consumers find creative solutions to things like delivery, financing, and elements they otherwise may not have thought of. The consultative element of a human interaction on a call cannot easily be replaced by AI and, as the data shows, this is where consumers value the call. Our data showed that over half of the calls made over Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year were from a paid search ad. Brands that employ call analytics can mine both the keywords and the search behavior producing calls to extract insights for what kinds of creative solutions would be ideal for various scenarios related to financing and delivery (both on the call and in ad copy).

Personalization — The data showed that people spent 22% longer on calls to businesses this year than in years prior. The data also tells us that calls related to the purchase itself are on the rise. Plan to use the call to build a deeper relationship with the consumer. Encourage associates to refer to the caller by name, offer to follow up (if possible), and ask them about their day. Using a dynamic call routing system that can route a call automatically based on conditions such as the time, location, and nature of the call can help streamline this personalization process.

Attribution — Along with 4C, we found that online and offline commerce has converged in a very real way this year. A record 90 million people shopped through a combination of online and offline activity — up 40% from last year. It is absolutely essential for businesses to understand where the lines between online and offline blur and how to build content, media, and even inventory strategies accordingly. As the role of the call in the purchase journey shifts more towards the consultative elements of a sale, call tracking platforms are key inputs to building winning strategies in an omnichannel environment.

Ultimately, we can expect the consumer path to purchase to be refined with technological advancements but the data shows that calls will continue to play a pivotal role in the purchase cycle. Businesses that adapt their communications strategies to how consumers are using phone calls vs. online resources will be the winners. We’re excited to measure and report on how omnichannel environments continue to impact consumers and how businesses adapt to this converging landscape. Here’s to a great 2019!

To learn more call channel best practices, download our eBook — 4 Strategies CMOs Can Use to Drive Growth in 2019.

To learn more call channel best practices, download our eBook — 4 Strategies CMOs Can Use to Drive Growth in 2019.

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About the author:

Dave McAnally

Vice President of Marketing, DialogTech

Dave McAnally is an Iowa native. He attended the University of Northern Iowa and began his career as a server administrator for a shared web hosting company where his roots and digital media began. He's spent the last 15 years working with agencies both boutique and for the last decade with Omnicom at Resolution Media. He's built SEO practices and audience profiling services for large clients including Glaxo Smith Kline, State Farm and McDonalds. Outside of work he loves hanging with his family and in his spare time he's an amateur guitar luthier (emphasis on "amateur").

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