The ABCs of “Click to Call”

Recently e-commerce media buzz has focused around click-to-call technology, with Internet search giants Google and Yahoo! testing ways to enable immediate Web-to-phone connections between buyers and sellers through their local search ads. But what exactly is click-to-call, and what does it mean to you?

Let’s start with a quick primer on the technology. Click-to-call services let users click a button embedded on a Website, an e-mail, an ad banner, a search engine, or an online directory listing and immediately speak with a customer service representative. Customers can either place a call over the computer using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology or request an immediate call back from the advertiser by entering their phone number. Unlike a toll-free phone number, click-to-call services allow companies to monitor and control who, what, when, and where online visitors can migrate from the Web to the phone sales channel.

The reality is that self-service cannot always be achieved online, particularly regarding complex purchasing decisions. For high-value transactions, there’s nothing like the power of voice for closing the deal. Jupiter Research has found that when it comes to questions about billing and delivery, product support or service, and general order inquiries, most consumers prefer phone contact over any other alternative, including e-mail, self-service tools, and text chat.

Companies are getting smarter about who are on their Websites and are taking more aggressive steps to optimize their Websites to increase customer loyalty and avoid site abandonment. In addition, companies are recognizing that an ordinary telephone number on a Website creates a blind spot that prevents them from using customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence analytics to improve the online sales experience. An increasing number of organizations are using click-to-call services as a bridge between online and offline channels to address this and are experiencing such benefits as increased sales conversion rates and shortened call handle times.

The need for better cross-channel communication practices was first highlighted in another Jupiter Research consumer survey, which showed that two of the most common reasons online consumers contact customer service are pricing issues and technical support. Failing to quickly answer these questions leads to lost sales and may create a negative customer experience. Jupiter also found that by employing a click-to-call feature, companies could increase online revenue by as much as 45%.

Click-to-call technology is driving material benefits for companies ranging from and Dell Financial Services to and Using click-to-call services, companies have found on average

* a 22%-25% reduction in Website abandonment from pages with click-to-call services

* as much as a 100% increase in transaction conversions from click-to-call users compared with toll-free callers

* 88% of click-to-call users say they are more likely to contact a company that offers a click-to-call service than one that does not.

While click-to-call technology has generated great benefits for many companies, multichannel merchants in particular need to think about their business needs and how they can make a click-to-call deployment effective. Not all customer contact is cost-effective. For this reason, it’s important that you build a click-to-call strategy that adds to the customer experience without heavily taxing your contact center and existing CRM resources.

A click-to-call service provider should provide you with the right customer contact tool at the right time to minimize costs and maximize online sales opportunities. This means you should select a click-to-call service provider that will be able to identify where your Website loses the most high-value transactions and know how and when to engage high value customers.

With this information, you can offer the right kind of customer interaction and increase your online conversion rate without driving up CRM costs. You can use less costly customer information tools (text chat, FAQs, search, e-mail) to assist with nontransactional customer exchanges and reserve click-to-call to help close complex sales.

Companies that use click-to-call services are also increasing their use of conditional link deployments. These dynamic deployments allow a company to collect data on a Website visitor and broadcast a click-to-call button based on his profile and behavior while visiting the site.

Through cross-channel data passing, the context of the customer’s Web session is preserved. Should the customer decide to contact you via a traditional or conditional click-to-call button, the contact center agent will have access to variable data that is collected during the conversation so that he can meet the customer’s needs. This alleviates the usual anxiety on the part of a customer of having to “start all over again” when he decides to leave the Web and make a phone call. What’s more, the data enable CSRs to identify where the caller was having trouble on the Web and “push” pertinent Web pages out to the customer during a click-to-call session by simply pressing keys on their telephone touch pad. The CSR is then able to handle customer inquiries with greater ease by providing the customer with visual references while they talk.

Most companies find that if they were to deploy click-to-call services on every page of their Website, 30% of the buttons would drive 80% of the transaction-critical calls. Following the initial launch with a click-to-call service, companies are able to scale up or scale back the deployment of click-to-call buttons to benefit from this rule.

Click-to-call services are improving online sales conversion rates, reducing Website abandonment, and delivering higher customer satisfaction for hundreds of businesses around the globe. Click-to-call has arrived, and savvy marketers across all industries are making it work for them to improve online sales conversions and customer satisfaction.

John Federman is chief executive officer of eStara, a multichannel communications solutions provider.