Seventy-five percent of Americans will never answer calls from unknown numbers. It’s not just a data point for retailers who need to reach and engage with customers. It’s a problem. A trust issue.
Before we dig into why Americans have lost trust in voice calls, it’s important to understand how we got here. The answer? Unsolicited robocalls. And many of them. Americans received 79 billion robocalls in 2021 — unwanted calls from scammers trying to trick them out of money and personal information; spammers trying to sell them services and products they don’t want or need; and bad actors spreading misinformation about everything from US elections to PPE loans and vaccines.
Brands in “high touch” industries such as retail that rely on voice communications to reach consumers have seen a decline in trust. A 2022 PwC survey shows that 87% of business leaders believe that consumers have a high level of trust in their business. But only 3 in 10 consumers say they do. The stakes for brands are huge: the same survey shows that 71% of consumers who don’t trust a company are unlikely to buy from them.
With this perspective on how we got here, retailers recognize the need to work with other stakeholders such as operators and federal/state regulators to create a path forward to restore consumer confidence in voice — and ultimately, their brands. There are several strategies for stakeholders to consider.
Increase call transparency
Although not always visible to consumers, significant progress has been made to combat robocalls – particularly by Tier-1 carriers who have implemented STIR/SHAKEN. The FCC describes the STIR/SHAKEN protocols as the way to digitally validate “… the handoff of telephone calls passing through the complex web of networks, enabling the telephone company to the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is actually coming from the number displayed on Caller ID.” While 75% of inter-carrier traffic comes from the top US carriers, more than 95% of high-risk robocall volume comes from non-Tier-1 phone resources.
But when it comes to restoring trust, protecting subscribers from dirty robocalls isn’t enough. Consumers need more visibility into who is calling and why. Greater visibility into inbound calls is starting to be delivered through branded calls.
Branded calls allow organizations to leverage mobile networks to deliver key information on an inbound call screen in a way that improves the user experience through better interaction and engagement. The case for transparency is, pun intended, clear: 78% of consumers are more willing to answer the phone if the caller ID displays the logo and name of a brand they recognize.
How much does transparency in conversation play in terms of trust? In some “high touch” industries mentioned earlier, our survey data suggests that it matters a lot. Sixty-five percent of consumers are more willing to share personal information with a healthcare provider if the incoming call is labeled with the organization’s logo and name. Fifty-seven percent would do the same with their bank—two types of institutions that often ask their customers to share highly sensitive information.
Recognize consumer expectations
Consumers are creatures of habit. We have routines and expectations and when something happens that falls outside the norm, alarm bells ring. This may be true when it comes to how and when we expect brands to contact us. If you get an email from the principal at your child’s school, would you open it and respond to it? Probably. What if that message came via text, even though you never gave the principal your number? What if the message came at 10pm on a Saturday instead of 2pm on a Tuesday? Now play out that scenario with a phone call or text from a retailer or delivery service.
The point is that we have expectations about how and when brands communicate, expectations that brands must take into account when conducting legitimate conversational campaigns. For example, our survey found that 57% of consumers trust calls from brands that come in during normal business hours (9am-5pm) more than calls that come in after hours. And more than half (54%) of consumers trust brand conversations that come in during the work week compared to those that come in on the weekend. A call receiver may be more wary of an incoming call from a bank late at night than a call from an airline regarding an upcoming flight at the same time.
Recognize consumer demographic differences
Retailers have no shortage of data they leverage to reach and market to every segment of the consumer market by age, geography, income, gender, etc. When it comes to restoring trust in voice calls, there are significant differences in how each generation communicates.
Older generations are more hesitant to share personal information over the phone, or even answer the call in the first place. 81 percent of Americans we surveyed between the ages of 56 and 64 said they would never answer a call from an unknown number. And while 57% would be more willing to share personal information with their bank if the incoming call is branded with their logo and name, that number drops to 41% for those aged 55 to 64.
At the other end of the spectrum, greater transparency brings more confidence to younger generations; Two-thirds of adults aged 18 to 24 are more willing to share personal information with their bank/financial service provider if the incoming call is branded with the company’s logo and name.
Retailers who rely heavily on the voice channel to deliver a superior customer experience and grow their business are suffering greatly due to the onslaught of robocalls. Harnessing the psychology of the consumer and the factors that build and undermine this trust is the key to restoring it.