Healthcare Marketers: Phone Calls Matter. A Lot.

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There are many paths that hospitals offer to facilitate the digital consumer’s transition from lead to patient. Among the most common are:

  • Phone calls
  • Website request forms
  • Self-service, online appointment booking tools

And recently, a growing number of text messaging and live chat options
In fact, of the top conversion paths, only the self-service online booking tool doesn’t require human interaction. Phone calls are the least technically demanding option, and it’s the only one that is supported by every hospital or doctor’s office MedTouch services.

Clients report that call volumes have been on a steady increase. And across our search marketing clients, we find that phone call conversions outnumber form or online scheduling conversions nine to one. Further, since January 2017, the volume of phone calls has increased 70 percent or more for most advertising clients.[1]

Mobile devices have been the force behind much of the call volume growth. Over the last few years we’ve witnessed the explosion of smartphones as a primary computing interface. Along the way, Mobile has disrupted countless processes such as website design, digital marketing, and content optimization for the smaller screen. Further, Mobile also has deeply changed consumer behaviors and expectations as users have evolved from more focused, task-based desktop computing sessions to the always-connected and in-the-moment immediacy of Mobile.

Mobile has been a game-changer across the board, which brings us to our question: Why hasn’t call handling evolved to match real-world consumer behaviors and expectations?

Call centers: Purgatory for leads

Today’s call centers are frequently overloaded and understaffed. And as call volumes increase, the quality of the leads arriving in the center seems to be on the decline. Auditing calls from digital marketing uncovers a high percentage of calls requesting basic information on hours or location assistance, information that could be easily found on the website. By offering click-to-call phone numbers in paid and organic search listings, search engines make it easier for the consumer call and ask rather than click and read. The result is a call center that struggles to keep up and consumers who face long wait times in call queues.

In this same audit of search ad calls MedTouch found three- to five-minute wait times common with some callers staying on hold for up to 10 minutes before abandoning their call. Let’s bear in mind that these are the same consumers that will give your website less than five seconds to load before bouncing to another, faster site. Is it any wonder that 25 percent of ad-generated callers abandon their call in under 30 seconds?[2]

Cost is a factor that should create a sense of urgency in optimizing call handling. Not the cost of employees or overhead, but the cost of the call itself. Consider that an ad-driven phone call comes after an ad click that costs on average $4.47. But that isn’t the real cost of the call. We must account for the cost of the clicks that didn’t generate a call or another conversion, and when we do, we find that the actual cost of a successful call can be more than $120.00.[3]

Understand the challenge

A first step in driving down the cost-per-call acquisition is to reduce the call abandonment rate. Distributing cost across a larger count of successful calls can pay immediate dividends. Follow these steps to get your arms around the source of the issue:

  1. Run a report to determine volume of incoming calls that abandon while on hold.
  2. Segment the report by hour.
  3. Compare this report to a digital marketing performance report also segmented by hour to determine where marketing calls intersect with the most call center abandonments.

Next, measure how many of those who abandoned while on hold try to call again. The percentage of second-call attempts that abandon a second time while on hold can be eye-opening. This suggests that a call center key performance indicator could be “Contact Attempts Before Success.”

Next steps

Most call center managers are probably very aware of these issues. Our goal is to urge marketers to keep call center challenges top of mind, and to encourage them to partner with call center managers in improving the consumer’s experience.

Some ideas that may be conversation starters:

  • The true cost of a call from an ad can be over $100, so consider targeting these calls to the A-team.
  • Train a specific team to handle calls from paid traffic. Expect more from them. Offer a pay differential to be on this team and continually audit their performance.
  • Try a warm answer and transfer of incoming calls from paid sources. Phone trees may be efficient, but too often they contribute to call abandonment. Healthcare is a very personal service; all our clients recognize this and do all they can to enhance the patient’s experience. Shouldn’t the hospital’s initial contact with prospective patients reflect that same value?
  • Coordinate in-ad call extensions with the call center’s hours. Try to reduce calls during peak hours with dayparting of the call extension feature. In platforms like Google’s AdWords, you can have multiple call extensions that run on daily and hourly schedules. As an example, if 2:00 PM is a peak call center time, consider routing calls from walk-in clinic ads directly to the clinic locations, bypassing the call center altogether for an hour a day.

We can expect call volumes to continue to grow, and we should encourage it. Given a choice between a web form and a phone call, nine out of ten consumers choose to make a call, in this way they are making their preference for person to person contact known. Working toward continual improvement in call handling and connecting prospective patients to a real person as quickly as possible can provide a significant competitive advantage.


[1] Source: AdWords call conversions, all clients January to September 2017
[2] Source: MedTouch marketing call tracking logs, all clients, September 2017
[3] Source: Average cost per conversion in a multi-service line account, consumer contact or appointment conversions only. Excludes calls under 30 seconds and behavioral conversions such as “Viewed Physician Profile Page”

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Stu Eddins

Stu brings over 40 years of experience in customer service and management to our client relationships. He and his team of digital marketers and analysts serve in the planning, execution, and measurement of digital marketing strategies for clients. He is Google-certified and an early user with 15+ years of experience with Google AdWords and Google Analytics. In addition to the numerous papers and case studies he has written for Perficient, his creative talent is showcased as a semi-professional photographer, focusing mainly on landscapes, cityscapes, and still life.

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