RateTea now lists phone numbers on the pages for each brand of tea, for brands which had a phone number openly listed. Use it as a convenient reference, and contact me if your company's phone number is not listed (or is listed incorrectly--hopefully we did not make any mistakes though). This post grew out of what I saw on different tea company websites when looking for phone numbers. The post is not comprehensive: there are a whole other series of issues to consider when dealing with international phone numbers, and it focuses on US-based numbers.
The importance of phone numbers for tea companies varies widely. Many companies rely on old-fashioned mail-order business with orders placed by phone for a substantial volume of their sales, whereas other companies do not even list a phone number. Although some tea companies do not list a phone number because they are run as side-projects of a person who has another full-time job, there are also major companies with multiple employees, like Adagio Teas, which do not list a phone number.
Telephones may not look like this 1896 model any more, but they have not been made obsolete by the internet--people still use them frequently.
I personally believe that the best practices are to have a phone number, to answer the phones during business hours, and to prominently display the phone number on your website. However, it is not possible for all companies to do this, and indeed, many of my favorite tea companies do not list phone numbers, so I won't say that it is at all bad not to do these things, just that it is good to do them.
Having a phone number and prominently displaying it has three major benefits as I see it:
- A phone number conveys instant legitimacy. Even in today's day and age, a large number of people are skeptical of buying anything online. A phone number offers reassurance that your company exists and has some degree of stability and financial solvency, which can make people more likely to buy tea from you, as well as making people more likely to trust your website as authoritative.
- Phone conversations offer human connection and a personal touch. The web can be a bit cold and faceless, and if someone talks to one of your employees on the phone, your company becomes real to them in a way that it never can if they only interact through blocks of text sent electronically.
- Having a phone number which you answer regularly can enable people to get instant answers to questions. In some cases, this can result in you making a sale rather than losing the sale to another company, if another company is quicker to respond to an inquiry. In other cases, it may not affect your sales directly, but it still makes a customer or potential customer feel good by having their question instantly addressed.
- Phone numbers give frustrated or angry customers a way to quickly and thoroughly have their grievances addressed. If a customer of yours ever gets frustrated for any reason, you want them to call you ASAP so that you can resolve their question. I know it does not sound pleasant to talk on the phone with a customer who is stressed or upset, but having the customer call rather than email and wait for a response opens up the possibility of listening to them, treating them respectfully and kindly, and addressing their problem immediately and thoroughly. As a case in point, I have had two people post negative comments about Adagio on one of my Squidoo pages. As I personally have found Adagio Teas to be a wonderful company to deal with, and know many people who have ordered from them without complaint, I suspect that a contributing factor for the person's negative experience is the fact that Adagio does not have a phone number to offer instant solutions to costumer complaints. Tea companies will always make some mistakes, and some customers will always get angry; a phone number can lessen the chance that the person decides to publish a negative review before the problem gets fully addressed.
How to list phone numbers?
- If you have a special phone number that spells something in letters (like TEA, which translates to 832 on a phone dial-pad), translate the number on your website. These code-names may be cute, and may make your number easier to remember, but they also make it harder to dial. Translating letters to numbers is a non-trivial task, slowing down a customer, and introducing errors. Some phones, including old cell phones with worn-off letters, do not have letters visible on the keypad, and thus listing only your "Phone Letters" can prevent someone from easily knowing what your phone number is.
- Don't list a phone number unless you actually answer it or check the messages on it regularly. While listing a phone number may be a best practice, if you just have voice mail or an answering service that you do not regularly check, it is better to not list it.
- Make numbers into clickable links using the <a href="tel:xxxxxxxxxx"></a> tag. This will enable one-click dialing for mobile users as well as browsers on a computer who have software available for dialing out (like Skype or Google Voice). While this is great for listing land lines, a caveat is that making cell phone numbers readable as text can allow robots to scrape the numbers from the web, sending you spam texts, an uncommon, but annoying problem. When listing cell phone numbers online, storing the number in an image file rather than as text can prevent scraping and spam.
- Do not include your number as a long string of 10 digits without spacing. Use standard formatting, separating your phone number into area code, followed by 3 numbers, then 4 numbers. People find it hard to remember long strings of numbers--giving the number structure will make it easier for people to remember it, both long-term, and in their immediate short-term memory (thus making it more likely that they copy it correctly if they write it down). I personally prefer the (xxx) xxx-xxxx format instead of xxx.xxx.xxxx, although both formats are fine. I prefer the first because it more clearly identifies the area code.
- If you want people to call your number (such as to place orders), place it prominently on all pages of your website, ideally at the top, in the header. Such placement is less important if you have only a phone number for informational purposes. You can also place a phone number in the footer of each page.
- If you have a phone number that you do not place in the header or footer of your site, make it accessible from both the "Contact Us" page on your site, and the "About" page, or whatever equivalents exist on your site. Because there is no agreed-upon standard on the web of where to list a phone number, people looking for your phone number may go to any of these pages. I am surprised at how many companies, both large and small, have a phone number for customer service, yet do not list it on the "contact us" page, showing only a web form.
- Identify your hours of operation, either on all pages of your site, next to your phone number, or at a minimum, on the "contact us" page or whatever pages on your site have your number.
Here is an example of a phone number that is placed prominently at the top of the website at Simpson and Vail, with the hours of business listed directly underneath:
Seeing this number makes a good impression on me, even if I never call the number. By clearly denoting hours of service, it makes clear that this company keeps regular business hours, thus increasing its legitimacy in my eyes.
Listing Mailing Addresses:
Like phone numbers, mailing addresses are also important in establishing legitimacy. This is true even if your mailing address is no more than a warehouse, and you do not have any retail storefront. Displaying an address identifies where your business is located, which can help people to like you, if they like or are familiar with the geographic region in which you are located. Most businesses receive a lot of junk mail already, so you're unlikely to open yourself up to a lot more junk mail by having an address listed online.
Like phone numbers, addresses can be listed on all pages of your website (more commonly, in this case, in the footer), but this is less important than for phone numbers. It is good to list your address both on the "Contact Us" and "About" pages of your site, as well as anywhere else you think it relevant.
Even if you do not choose to list a whole address, I think it is still a good idea to mention where your company is physically located (such as a city and state, or at least a metro area), at the minimum, on your about page.
What do you think?
Do you think having a phone number is a good idea? Do you buy into the advice I offer here? I'm curious to hear the responses to this post in particular, because I know that some of the regular readers of this blog run tea companies that do not list phone numbers on their websites.