T-Mobile’s new ‘killer app’ is as old-school as they come

The telecom industry is a ruthless battleground for consumer dollars, and complexity is the strategy of choice for the competing parties. Unintelligible contracts and fluctuating plans serve to thicken the fog of war, and choices are more often made from consumer fatigue than true understanding.

“The marketplace has been trained by the carriers to believe that wireless is very complex,” said Bart Ons, director of eCommerce and web strategy at T-Mobile. “It’s intimidating for consumers.”

In response, T-Mobile reinvigorated an old touchpoint to cut through the confusion during its “Un-carrier” campaign: the phone call. By including a click-to-call feature in much of their display and search advertising, it allowed consumers to speak directly to a sales rep at a touch of their screens. In a marketplace in which 80 percent of consumers are forced to do hours of research to make a decision, this kind of immediacy is invaluable.

We spoke to Ons about how the phone call injects an essential human element to the process, how click-to-call is changing the game for telesales by closing the loop, and more.

So… phone calls. Not exactly on the bleeding edge of innovation.
When we started this a year ago, we didn’t know if this was going to work. We always knew that we were sending a bunch of organic traffic to 1-800-TMOBILE because of the TV advertising. But people responded to [the click-to-call feature] in droves. We literally sent tens of thousands of calls a week to our call centers driven by these ads, and when that started happening, we really felt we were onto something.

Why do you think it’s working so well?
What’s in your pocket? A smartphone, a powerful computer. But it’s still also a phone, and one of the most killer apps is the ability to talk to another human. We often lose sight of that, because we live in this world of social media and text. It makes phone calls feel archaic. But consumers still want to talk to someone.

Because a person is better at dealing with consumers’ unique problems, or is there an emotional component?
Both. If you had a connection with another human being, there’s trust. It takes some fear away. Consumers still might not feel comfortable making a decision, but having a person answer questions takes away the doubt, makes them say, “All right, I’ve made all the right decisions. Now let’s go do this.”

And the digital ad they’re clicking affects what service rep they’re connected to?
We really started to optimize it, linking specific consumer segments to our products. Want to talk about post-paid service? Let’s talk about it. Pre-paid service? We can do that, too. There are specific segments that we’ve identified that we’re now sending to dedicated reps to specifically handle those leads.

And now we also know what ads are working. It’s been so informative from a reporting and attribution perspective.

So it’s being able to trace the customer journey from digital to those offline conversions.
The customer journey is circular. People start off in retail and end up in telesales, or vice versa, or they start on the web and convert in telesales. Being able to track all three things and have them work together even better allows customers to interact with you in the way they want.

How much of your sales revenue is coming in through telesales channels now?
It’s relatively small from a percentage perspective, but it’s still a billion-dollar business. And quite honestly, it’s one that we plan on growing. Click-to-call is a huge driver for quality calls. These are consumers that are in the market looking to convert.

Is focusing more on click-to-call something all marketers should be doing?
It’s really industry-specific. For some industries, it might not make sense at all. For others, it makes perfect sense. When you have a sales process that requires you to make more than two or three complex decisions, it makes sense for an expert to help you through that, especially in a very competitive marketplace.

Any plans to incorporate more “human” web technologies like Skype into your sales and marketing model?
We truly believe in taking the digital experience to the next level by including things like video chat, Skype-type solutions, screen sharing with an expert on the other end. We believe there’s a lot of horsepower behind those solutions, but we haven’t gotten there yet.

Interested in learning more about measuring phone calls from mobile advertising? Download Marchex’s new paper on paid search – The $4 Billion Blind Spot.

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