Americans received nearly 48 billion robocalls in 2018, according to robocall blocking service YouMail. That number is likely to increase unless the government follows through on significant regulatory changes such as a promised caller ID authentication network
Recent survey reports found:
- More than half of people (52%) receive at least one robocall per day (Clutch, 2018).
- People are unlikely to pick up a phone call from a phone number they do not recognize (Clutch, 2019).
Clutch surveyed 687 people who have received robocalls to understand their comfort with phone communication and their preference for being contacted by businesses.
We found that robocalls can negatively impact if people trust phone communication overall, which can affect businesses that rely on the phone to communicate with customers.
To stand out from the deluge of robocalls and ensure customers feel comfortable communicating on the phone, businesses should emphasize creating a personalized, authentic connection with customers by alerting them to incoming calls, emphasizing friendliness and active listening, and offering alternate communication channels.
Businesses can use this report to learn how robocalls impact communication with customers and what they can do to mitigate that impact.
- Nearly 8 in 10 people (79%) say they are uncomfortable with providing personal information over the phone to any number, not just a robocall. Businesses that prioritize building a personal connection with customers over the phone can minimize discomfort.
- Robocallers are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to scam people: More than 1 in 4 people (26%) are not confident they can distinguish a robocall from a real human from the very beginning of a call. Businesses must think creatively to work against robocallers’ influence, such as sending a text before calling or offering alternate communication channels.
- Forty percent (40%) of people prefer when a business contacts them via email, while 24% prefer phone calls. Businesses should reach out to customers via their preferred communication channel to ensure meaningful conversation.
- More than one-third of people (37%) who prefer to communicate with businesses via physical mail say it’s because it’s more trustworthy, while only 22% say the same about a phone call. Businesses should honor what customers perceive to be the most trustworthy communication channel, even if those channels have obstacles of their own.
People Are Uncomfortable With Providing Personal Information Over the Phone
People don’t like to share personal information over the phone. This should prompt businesses to go out of their way to restore trust in phone communication by building a connection with customers.
Nearly 80% of people say they are uncomfortable providing private personal information such as a credit card or social security number over the phone to any phone number, not just a robocall.
More than half (60%) say they are very uncomfortable providing this information over the phone.
For customers who are uncomfortable on the phone, businesses may want to consider collecting private information from online channels.
James Gireco, content marketing manager at MightyCall, a virtual phone system provider, believes that businesses shouldn’t collect information like credit card numbers over the phone at all.
“Any small business that is worth its weight should have a website where customers can make purchases with Paypal, Venmo, or another verified service,” Grieco said.
If a business must collect private information over the phone, they need to prioritize building an authentic connection with customers first.
Businesses Should Prioritize Building a Rapport, Friendliness, and Active Listening on the Phone
Robocalls can instill a sense of unease among people, which makes it challenging for businesses to connect with customers over the phone.
“What’s unfortunately happened is that this robocall epidemic is putting the phone call into a death spiral,” said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a visual voicemail and robocall blocking software. “You’ll pick up your call from a friend. You might pick up a call from something that’s got a caller name, but that’s it … It really negatively impacts legitimate business.”
“What’s unfortunately happened is that this robocall epidemic is putting the phone call into a death spiral."
Robocalls cause people to distrust an incoming phone call from any number they do not recognize.
Businesses can work against robocalls’ influence by approaching their phone-based communication thoughtfully.
Chris Kontes, founder and COO of Balto, an AI-powered software that improves sales calls, said businesses need to prioritize 3 behaviors when talking to customers on the phone:
- Building a Bond: Businesses should build a bond – or a rapport – with customers from the beginning of a call. This intangible but important connection instills trust in callers, which may make them more willing to share personal information.
- Conveying Friendliness: To come across as friendly, employees should match callers’ talking speed, speak clearly, and rarely interrupt, allowing the conversation to flow naturally.
- Listening: Businesses may think they should be doing all the talking on the phone, but ideally they should speak only about 40% of the time. This allows customers to feel heard and comfortable sharing their thoughts.
These steps help a business stand out from the wave of automated, impersonal robocalls flooding people’s phones.
People Can’t Distinguish Between Robocalls and Real Calls
Robocallers are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to trick callers, which makes it difficult for people to distinguish between legitimate calls and scams quickly. Businesses can use creative tactics to ensure customers pick up the phone and engage in meaningful communication.
More than 1 in 4 people (26%) say they are not confident they can distinguish a robocall from a human voice at the beginning of a call.
Older age groups are more likely to be tricked: One-third of respondents 55 or older (33%) say they are not confident they can identify a robocaller from the beginning of a call, compared to 22% of respondents 18 to 34 years old.
For example, one common robocall tactic that can easily trick people begins by asking, “Can you hear me?” The question comes across as more lifelike than a robotic statement, and the robocallers can then use the recording of someone answering, “Yes,” to the question to authorize fraudulent charges.
One common robocall tactic that can easily trick people begins by asking, “Can you hear me?”
Robocallers may even use emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the success rates of their calls.
“Some of the savvier companies that have a lot more funding behind them use AI and machine learning programs that can actually dynamically change the scripting and their interaction with you based on your response and tone,” said Rick Dionisio, senior vice president of operations at RingBoost, a custom phone number retailer.
AI-powered tools can successfully trick people into believing they are speaking to a legitimate caller as opposed to a scammer.
Businesses Should Verify Their Caller ID and Announce Their Call Beforehand to Combat Discomfort
Businesses can combat deceptive robocaller tactics and assure customers that they are not a scam by verifying their identify before and during phone calls.
1. Ensure Your Business's Identity is Clear
Jonjie Sena, senior director at Neustar, an identity resolution company, said the first step is to allow “more personalized, contextual, and secure customer engagement.”
“[Ensure] that an outbound call is correctly represented on the landline or mobile caller ID (e.g., Chase Fraud Department or CVS Pharmacy) and that the call isn’t incorrectly labeled as spam,” Sena said in an email. “When the consumer can trust that the call is legitimate, they are much more likely to trust it enough to pick up the phone.”
Businesses can update their caller ID settings through a voice over IP or cloud phone system.
If a customer picks up a call, businesses should be prompt in explaining who they are and why they are calling to allow customers to decide if they want to engage in the conversation.
2. Send a Text Before Calling to Alert the Customer
Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer at BeenVerified.com, a background check company, recommends sending automated texts to customers alerting them to a call to increase the chance of them picking up.
“[Texts] can be sent right before a call so that your customers know your call is coming and do not ignore it,” Lavelle said. “Many people simply won’t answer a number they do not know due to receiving so many robocalls.”
Sending a text to customers before calling may increase the likelihood they will pick up the phone. Businesses can even include a security code that is unique to each customer in the text.
3. Avoid Automated Communication Whenever Possible
Ron Humes, vice president of operations, southeast region for Post Modern Marketing, a marketing company, advises businesses to avoid using any automated communication, given how robocalls have generated such distrust among customers.
“In this day of overflowing spam emails and waves of telemarketing phone calls, a real human being with a personal approach may produce better results,” Humes said.
Businesses should avoid automated communication and be sure the customer knows who is calling to combat robocalls’ negative influence on phone communication.
People Prefer Businesses Contact Them By Email, but Phone Calls Remain an Important Communication Channel
The outreach channel businesses use to communicate with customers should change depending on the both customer preferences and the type of information presented.
The largest percentage of customers (40%) prefer to be contacted via email, while 1 in 4 (24%) prefer to be contacted via the phone.
Businesses should consider how customers prefer to communicate when engaging with them. Lavelle recommends businesses allow customers the flexibility to choose how they would like to communicate.
For example, businesses can allow customers to set up face-to-face appointments instead of a phone call.
“[Face-to-face interaction] will make a lot of people feel much safer and confident in your legitimacy,” Lavelle said.
Matt Schmidt is the founder of DiabetesLifeSolutions.com, a life insurance agency. His customers sometimes are nervous on the phone, so he experimented with communicating in ways that calm customers and demonstrate that DiabetesLifeSolutions.com is a real business.
This has included holding online video conferences and even accepting potential customers as Facebook friends.
“It's a scary world out there, and I do not blame consumers for wanting to verify businesses,” Schmidt said.
“It's a scary world out there, and I do not blame consumers for wanting to verify businesses."
Businesses should also adjust their outreach channels depending on the type of information they are communicating.
For example, Nick Jiwa, the founder and president of CustomerServ, a call center outsourcing consultancy, recommends that if a promotional message requires a phone call, the business should ensure they have an existing business relationship with the customer before calling
“The way to get a customer to fall under the EBR [existing business relationship] acronym is to get the customer to opt in to receive communication from you as a corporation so that when they do hear from you, they’re not caught off guard,” Jiwa said.
Otherwise, businesses should primarily communicate any promotional or sales messages via non-voice channels, such as email.
Businesses should adapt their communications based on both customer preferences and the type of information they are presenting.
People See Physical Mail as More Trustworthy For Business Communication, Despite Its Challenges
Phone calls are seen as a more trustworthy communication method than email or text message, but people trust physical mail the most.
More than one-third of people (36%) who prefer to communicate with businesses via physical mail say it’s because it’s more trustworthy, while only 22% say the same about a phone call.
People who prefer phone calls are most likely to do so because phone calls are more convenient (38%).
Physical mail may not necessarily be more secure than other channels, but if a business wants to instill trust, it should consider adjusting to its customers’ preferred communication channel, even if the channel has obstacles.
A recent survey found that 28% of small businesses use direct mail to communicate with customers, and 5% use it exclusively.
Jiwa believes that direct mail isn’t necessarily more secure or effective most of the time, though.
“In our household, we could receive mail, and it could be sitting in the mailbox for a week,” Jiwa said. “Once it gets to your kitchen counter, it’s under a pile of junk mail … Mail has its own issues.”
For example, consider how many people go on vacation and forget to put their mail on hold. This means that letters with private information may sit in mailboxes for days.
Often, direct mail isn’t necessarily more or less secure than email, phone calls, or texts. However, some customers believe it’s more secure – and therefore may be more likely to engage with a business via that channel since the communication feels safer.
If a business can only engage in meaningful conversation with a customer through direct mail, it should consider doing so to maximize engagement, even if it’s slower or requires more resources. If another customer prefers text messages over email, businesses should honor that preference.
The best way to know what information a customer prefers to receive via particular channels is to ask them via surveys or questions. This will make the customer feel like their preferences are being honored and will encourage them to pick up the phone, read a text, or open a letter next time you communicate with them.
Customer preferences don’t necessarily correlate with the realities of a particular communication channel, but businesses should defer to those preferences to ensure the most meaningful conversation.
Robocalls Can Negatively Impact Legitimate Business Communication
Robocalls have harmed people’s perception of phone communication, according to experts. The scam calls make it increasingly difficult for businesses to establish meaningful connections with customers over the phone.
Nearly 8 in 10 people (79%) say they are uncomfortable sharing private information over the phone. Businesses should set up alternate channels to collect private information, such as online payment portals.
Robocallers are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to trick people out of their private information or money. More than one-quarter of people (26%) say they are not confident in their ability to distinguish between a robocall and a real human quickly. Businesses should go out of their way to assure customers their phone calls are legitimate.
The largest percentage of people prefer businesses contact them by email (40%), while phone calls are the second-most popular channel (24%). People who prefer direct mail see it as more trustworthy than other channels, while those who prefer phone calls see them as more convenient than other channels.
Businesses need to adapt to customers’ preferred communication channels to maximize engagement, even if the customer’s preferred channel may not be as trustworthy or convenient as they believe it to be.