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I recently worked with a client who runs a relatively small e-commerce operation as a second business.

He lamented the fact that when he provided a phone number on his website, his sales more than doubled but the time required to run the business also more than doubled because of all the phone calls, which was not viable for him.

This situation reflects an interesting reality - even though e-commerce offers customers the convenience of buying something without ever having to interact with another human being, oftentimes customers don't feel comfortable making a purchase if they can't pick up the phone to ask a sales question or to place an order with a real person.

As a best practice, I advise all of my clients to provide a phone number on their website if at all possible. Depending on the type of business a client runs, I often advise the client to post the phone number prominently on every page.

But what to do when providing a phone number in that fashion just isn't possible?

In the case of my recent e-commerce client, here are some of the possible solutions that I recommended:

  • Provide limited phone hours. While being able to answer the phone during normal business hours is ideal, if you can only manage to pick up the phone 2 hours a day or 3 days a week, it is probably better than nothing.
  • Offer a callback request form. If you're concerned about receiving calls that are wasteful or not serious, consider allowing visitors to request a callback. This enables you to "filter" out inquiries that clearly aren't worthwhile. Be careful, however, because if you make a habit of not calling people back, you may build a poor reputation.
  • List your phone number in a limited fashion. For instance, if you run an ecommerce website, displaying your phone number only when a visitor has added something to the shopping cart can serve as another "filter."
  • Hire an answering service. There are many answering service companies and thanks to globalization, the price of such a service may be lower than you think. Of course, a key consideration is - do I trust my customers in the hands of a third party "representative"? You never get a second chance to make a first impression and thus the use of an answering service is something to think carefully about.
  • Give your phone number to pre-qualified parties only. If you're available to take calls but are worried about volume, providing your phone number to a select few may be the solution. For instance, try listing your phone number in order confirmation emails, making it easier for people you already know are valuable to your business to get in touch with you.

In the end, my ecommerce client decided to list his phone number only on specific pages and to give his phone number to people who placed an order.

While his sales did not increase to the level that they had been when he provided his phone number freely, they did increase by nearly 50%, proving that for many people, all you need to close a sale is to "reach out and touch someone."

If you run an online business and you're not offering phone contact, give some thought to what phone contact you can provide because it may just boost the bottom line quite significantly.


Published 16 July, 2008 by Patrick Oak

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