“Directory Assistance . . . . May I Help You?”

lilyt_ernestineI am old enough to remember a time when it was a real challenge to always have the phone number of somebody you needed to call. I had a pretty good memory for numbers and so I memorized the numbers of the twenty or thirty numbers I called the most. Many people relied on a little black book, but this never worked for me since I always seemed to lose or misplace the book when I most needed it. It was not unusual to visit a home and see a list of numbers sitting by each telephone. And every desk in a business had a rolodex.

I also recall the frustration of wresting with a phone book when I lived in the DC metropolitan area. The white pages were huge and it was often really hard to find the number of somebody with an unusually spelled name or somebody with a very common name such as J. Smith. And the Yellow Pages were even worse. I remember how hard it was sometimes to figure out which odd category the evil people at the Yellow Pages used to hide what I was looking for.

You always had the option of calling information. I recall that I got a few free directory calls each month by having a local phone number, but after that each call to 411 was relatively expensive. I remember seeing bills for customers who had spent $100 or more in calls to 411 and it always amazed me. Who needed to talk to that many people that they didn’t know?

Calling 411 was not always successful because sometimes the operator was not able to find the number you wanted, particularly for a business. If you didn’t remember the exact name of the business it was likely that you wouldn’t find them through 411. And the whole experience of calling information got worse after they implemented voice recognition and automated 411. It seems like that the computer could never comprehend what I was saying or else just handed me a wrong result and then hung up on me.

I remember being impressed by an early version of a cell phone, not because it was small and portable, but because it could store a large library of numbers. All of a sudden you could keep your little black book in your phone. Even if you didn’t store a number you could scroll back through calls and hopefully find the number you wanted. But I remember the frustration of not being able to transfer my phone list from an old phone to a new one, which happened to me after laundering my cell phone.

At about the same time as cell phones the web also grew and many companies began having web pages. This gave you the opportunity to not only see their products or services but also get their phone number. But over time the strangest thing happened. I found it harder and harder to find phone numbers on many web sites. Companies often encouraged you to contact them be email or by using a question box on their ‘Contact Us’ page and it often became harder and harder to find phone number to call.

I found that odd because there have been a number of studies done on the effectiveness of web advertising and such studies have always shown that getting a customer to call you is far more productive then having them contact you in any other way. The general marketing metric is that getting customers to click to your web site results in 1 or 2 percent of actual customers in most cases. But getting customers to call you results in getting a customer from 30 to 50 percent of the time.

Last year Google started embedding phone numbers from its search results, meaning that when the search engine recognizes a telephone number it allows a cellphone user to call the number by clicking on it. Google says that in the last year that the embedded numbers have resulted in 70 billion calls to businesses. Twitter and a number of other web sites have also been testing click-to-call and one imagines it will soon be ubiquitous.

So if you have a company web site make sure that your phone number is prominent on the front page. If it is, then when somebody looks at your web site on a cell phone they are likely going to be able to call your using a click from the web site. Google is doing this as yet one more way to make money. They will track and charge large companies for clicks on web sites the same as they sell clicks on advertising. But a small company can go along for the ride by just making sure that your phone number is prominent on the first page of your web site.

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