While more brands now turn to text and chatbot experiences powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to reach and support customers, phone calls still play an important role in today’s SMB marketing environment.

By Madelyn Wing

Calls to businesses are expected to reach 169 billion per year by 2020, almost doubling the 89 billion business calls made in 2017.

For the prepared SMB, an uptick in phone calls is great news. Phone calls are 10 to 12 times more likely to convert than web lead forms, offering companies a powerful, yet familiar engagement option.

There’s more good news: AI presents many opportunities to further optimize phone experiences. Rather than seeing phone calls and AI as opposite ends of the same marketing spectrum, treat them as allies. Incorporating AI can help you boost the volume and quality of phone leads, inspire more productive and satisfactory call experiences and help your team extract actionable insights from phone calls as a marketing channel.

3 AI-phone misconceptions SMBs should revisit

Most SMBs recognize the powerful connection between AI and phone calls, but fewer understand how to bridge the AI-phone gap.

Often, the lack of a clear path forward stems from outdated ideas of what AI can help SMBs achieve. But thanks to the democratization of AI solutions, the technology is readily available and primed to make a huge impact on your business with minimal effort required.

Perhaps the biggest undertaking is challenging what you think you know about AI. Let’s break down three common AI misconceptions and explore how the technology can actually enhance phone interactions.

Misconception 1. AI ruins customer experiences

Frequently, SMBs believe that AI + calls = robocalls or interactive voice response (IVR) experiences, which can spoil customer interactions and provide inaccurate information. But when done correctly, the application of AI to phone calls powers genuine customer experiences and more productive, engaging calls.

Rather than staffers furiously taking notes and trying to find resources in the middle of calls, AI handles these responsibilities and allows employees to focus on leading enjoyable, sales-driving interactions. Employees can rest assured that when they hang up they’ll receive a transcript of the entire conversation, as well as a lead score assigned to the prospect.

When it comes to automating tasks like call transcription, a common objection to AI is that the technology lacks 100% accuracy. You’re not wrong if you feel this way. AI isn’t 100% accurate, but the technology offers extremely valuable trade-offs.

In most cases, AI is at least 80% accurate and provides access to information in just seconds. For example, automated call transcription frees up your time, which you can then spend figuring out the final 20%, doing better work and focusing on high-priority tasks. With AI, you can feel confident that you’re making decisions based on well-informed data and algorithms that have proven successful for other customers. Likewise, if you’re not currently scoring or transcribing calls at all, 80% is a huge jump up from 0%.

Misconception 2AI applications are too futuristic

SMBs struggle to think of phone calls — a legacy channel — as a marketing effort that can benefit from a technology as futuristic as AI. Although the majority of AI press centers around massive datasets and expensive machine learning solutions, the technology is highly accessible and applicable to SMBs with fewer resources or limited tech-savviness.

To feel like AI is in reach, use the technology to drive efficiencies for processes and tasks you already accomplish. This approach helps you visualize outcomes and move beyond initial adoption reservations.

For example, you likely already have dedicated in-house call analysts who listen to individual phone calls, score them and record call data. Bring in AI to automate these tasks. Not only does AI simplify the entire call scoring process, but the technology also identifies high-value leads faster. AI-powered call scoring qualifies leads based on keywords customers mention, indicating which callers to follow-up with first. This approach helps team members use their time efficiently and profitably, while also allowing employees to execute on actionable insights instead of feeling bogged down by manual data collection.

Misconception 3. AI can’t teach us new things

Among SMB decision makers there’s a general consensus that AI can’t provide fresh, relevant business ideas. Who could know your company better than you?

But from the start of a customer engagement to a closed sale, AI surfaces all sorts of valuable insights. Consider a potential customer who searches “plumber Atlanta” on Google. The ad she clicks on takes her to your website. There, she finds your contact information, calls and says, “my toilet is clogged, I need a plumber today.” After talking to a service representative, she’s quoted a price, makes an appointment and hangs up.

From first touchpoint, AI can identify the ad the customer clicked on and the keywords she searched for before calling. This information provides valuable marketing attribution insights that help you refine future content and campaigns, and better allocate budget to these endeavors. You can also leverage these customer insights to improve sales, product development and more.

Next, using automated transcription, AI can link the phone call to the product/service the customer was actually searching for, giving you a better idea of search intent outside of just keywords. You can use this information to optimize your website content and answer frequently asked questions before customers pick up the phone. Doing so ensures when customers call, routine formalities are out of the way and employees spend time having meaningful conversations with people who are primed to buy.

AI can even link sentiment to customer calls. For example, if an above average number of unhappy customers trend toward a certain page on your website and then place calls, you can invest resources in improving that page with targeted, educational information. You can also better train your sales team on topics related to that page. Learning more about your current customers’ pain points improves experiences for future customers.

Just like call tracking was difficult for SMBs to afford and harness in 2010, the same could be said about AI for small businesses just a few years ago.

But that’s no longer the case in 2019, and perhaps the only thing standing in the way of your company benefiting from AI is you.

Consider phone calls the perfect entry point for AI to improve your business. AI-powered call tracking solutions blend the best of both worlds — a classic communication channel that customers know and love, and the latest digital marketing strategies that offer your company a new level of sophistication and innovation.

Madelyn Wing is the director of product and customer marketing at CallRail.

Calls stock photo by REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock