Note: The term "click-to-call" is sometimes confused with "pay-per-call." "Pay-per-call" is a business model for ad listings in search engines and directories that allows publishers to charge local advertisers on a per-call basis for each lead (call) they generate. "Click-to-call," along with call tracking, is a technology that enables the "pay-per-call" business model. But click-to-call can also be offered as a value-added lead generation and customer service solution.
Click-to-call buttons are popping up everywhere-- on corporate websites, emails, interactive ads and search engine directory ads. Even media buzz has recently focused around click-to-call, 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. Savvy marketers have proved you can drive material benefits from the technology, but many others are wondering how and when one should implement click-to-call.
Let's start with a quick primer on the technology. Click-to-call services let users click a button 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 enable companies to monitor and control when and where online visitors migrate from the web to the phone sales channel.
The reality is that self-service cannot always be achieved online, particularly when making 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, the relative majority of consumers prefer phone contact over any other alternative, including email, self-service tools and text chat.
Companies are getting smarter about who is on their websites and are taking more aggressive steps to optimize their websites to increase customer loyalty and avoid website abandonment. In addition, companies are recognizing that an ordinary telephone number on a website creates a blind spot that prevents them from using CRM (customer relationship management) and business intelligence analytics to improve the online sales experience. An increasing number of organizations are utilizing click-to-call services as a bridge between online and offline channels to address this and are experiencing latent benefits, such as increased sales conversion rates and shortened call handle times, in the process.
Click-to-call technology is driving benefits for companies from Amazon.com to DaimlerChrysler. Using click-to-call services, companies have found, on average:
- A 22 percent to 25 percent reduction in website abandonment from website pages with click-to-call services
- As much as a 100 percent increase in transaction conversions from click-to-call users versus toll-free callers
- 88 percent 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 driven great benefits for many companies, marketers 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 a company build a click-to-call strategy that adds to the customer experience without heavily taxing its call center and existing CRM resources.
Marketers need to think about where they should deploy click-to-call: on customer service websites, via text-ads on search engines or potentially in interactive ads. The technology can be placed nearly anywhere electronically, but marketers should be discerning and:
- Identify where a company website loses the most high-value transactions
- Know how and when to engage high-value customers.
With this information, an enterprise can offer the right kind of customer interaction and increase its online conversion rate without driving up CRM costs. The company can use less costly customer information tools (text chat, FAQs, search, email) to assist with non-transactional customer exchanges, and use services like click-to-call to help close complex sales.
Companies that use click-to-call services are also increasing usage 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 their 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 the retailer via a traditional or conditional click-to-call button, the call center agent will have access to variable data that is collected during the conversation so that they can meet the customer's needs. This alleviates the usual customer anxiety of having to "start all over again" when they decide to leave the web and make a phone call. Plus, the data enables customer service representatives to identify where the caller was having trouble on the web and "push" informative web pages out to customers during a click-to-call session by simply pressing keys on their telephone touch pad. The customer service representative is then able to handle customer inquiries with greater ease by providing the customer with visual references while they talk.
Most enterprises find that if they were to deploy click-to-call services on every page of their websites, 30 percent of the buttons would drive 80 percent 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 80/30 rule.
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. Now it's time to make it work for you.
John Federman is chief executive officer of eStara, the leading provider of multi-channel communications solutions that increase online revenue by linking buyers and sellers. Founded in 1999, eStara now serves over 350 global enterprises across many industries, including directory and online publishing, financial services, travel and hospitality and online retail.
Content is at the core
After speaking with Tom Hoehn, the director of interactive marketing and convergence media at Kodak, I've never wanted to work at a company more. This is a marketing organization that absolutely understands the intrinsic value of content in the business -- and specifically how today's online content is really a conversation.
As Hoehn puts it, "Content is at the core of everything that we do with interactive marketing. We use it in our blogs that have embedded videos, from YouTube, that are linked from tweets, Facebook wall posts, and featured in outbound email messages."
But the key to Kodak's success isn't the quantity of content -- it's that the company has a much larger focus than just using content to drive sales or interest in product. It looks at content as a way to show how people use its product to "tell the stories of their lives." This is critical. The content isn't about Kodak. It's the story of the company's consumers -- brought to you by Kodak.
Just a few examples:
The "A Thousand Words" blog focuses on the stories from the people of Kodak and how they love what they do.
Kodak's Tips & Projects Exchange site is where you can learn about how to use a digital camera or how to do "new wave scrapbooking."
Kodak's "lessons learned" social media guide (PDF) is an incredible publication the company puts out about what Kodak has learned during this entire process. Kodak shares its company social media policies and its "best practices" for how to develop your own social media strategy.
Hoehn summed it up this way: "Our content is integrated and leveraged to maximum effect. But that being said, it's not just copied. It is tailored for the channel for which it is most appropriate. It is not just about your company's website anymore. You need to be in more places, the places where your customers, fans, and advocates are!"
Content is as important as code
HubSpot has become one of the favorite case studies for technology companies utilizing content to drive engagement and sales. But content is also a key part of the company's DNA. As the company even says on its website, its vision is to "provide a (killer) marketing application and provide great advice to small businesses enabling them to... get found."
Notice how the company's vision is both to sell product and produce content. It has not only integrated its own advice into its marketing strategy, but it has also infused it directly into its vision. Quality content and free tools are a big piece of what HubSpot focuses on. The company has written books and provides a blog, podcasts, and email newsletters to offer advice to small businesses on how to use "inbound marketing" (or content) to get found, convert leads, and analyze results.
Maybe most interesting has been the company's focus on providing free tools for small businesses to leverage the HubSpot brand. They offer free online "grader" tools for businesses to use to get more value out of content. Starting with its Website Grader, Blog Grader, and Twitter Grader -- and then moving into a Facebook Grader, Foursquare Grader, and even a Press Release Grader -- the company continues to illustrate that its focus is making you a better marketer.
The company even offers badges that you can use to feature your grade on your blog or website, thus spreading the message even further. As Dharmesh Shah, CTO of HubSpot, responded when I asked about the company's focus, "Even as a software company, we began writing content as soon as we started writing code. HubSpot is a passionate advocate of the importance of remarkable content for one simple reason -- it works. It has been instrumental to both our own success, and the success of thousands of our customers."
Content is now the focus
For more than 50 years, The East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) has been giving kids the opportunities they would have if they were born 20 blocks south of Harlem. The program teaches reading and math, provides one-to-one tutoring, prepares kids for college, helps them get accepted, and builds the social skills they'll need to succeed. It also gets kids through college and ready for the real world. The small nonprofit is a living testament to the fact that you don't have to be big in order to get real value out of content. (Quick disclosure: I worked on this project with EHTP with its web agency, imagistic -- but it was a pro bono effort.)
The main lesson in content for EHTP really came in January 2010, when the organization was named one of the top 100 in the Chase Community Giving program. This contest was a two-round program in which, out of more than 500,000 charities, EHTP earned a top 100 spot. The first round award earned $25,000 for EHTP and qualifying it for Round 2, in which the nonprofit stood to win up to $1 million.
With only two weeks to get votes -- and no national brand recognition, no marketing budget, and an extraordinarily small staff -- the nonprofit had no misconception that it could win what was ostensibly a popularity contest on Facebook. It knew that it would be near impossible for it to win the $1 million. However, the organization decided to use the idea of the contest to generate a content strategy that would build support and a growing community of people to engage. So, instead of focusing on the result of the contest, it focused purely on engaging people around the idea of the contest -- and thus, what EHTP cared about more deeply: its mission.
This turned out to be wonderful strategy for EHTP, as it produced video content, blog content, and social media content (Twitter and Facebook) to share. As expected, the organization didn't win the $1 million prize -- but its efforts paid off in a big way. The nonprofit exponentially increased its online community engagement, leading to thousands of new fans and followers who the organization can now engage for volunteers and donations. The blogging content strategy was such a success that the organization replaced its static website with this new conversation-based platform. And, maybe most importantly, through its grassroots effort, EHTP was recognized by the Chase Advisory Board. And out of the top 100, EHTP was picked as one of 17 organizations to receive additional recognition -- as well as an additional $37,000 for the organization. Content is now the single focus of the organization's online strategy.
As the social graph and sharing of content start to become more important than just SEO, quality over quantity will, no doubt, become a more critical part of the content marketing handbook. It won't be enough to just produce blog post after blog post or article after article; success will be about providing thought-provoking, entertaining, informative, and valuable content that merits sharing.
And, maybe even more importantly, is the recognition that content marketing isn't just a marketing tactic. It's not just another column for the marketer to budget in the same way that a media spend is budgeted. Rather, it's a strategy that lies over the top of our entire business. It involves our marketing and our brand to be sure -- but also our sales, our CRM, and even our product and service development strategies.
In short -- per the lesson learned from William Goldman -- with content marketing, the easiest thing to do is to not write. But as these three brands clearly illustrate, writing can actually be incredibly rewarding.
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