What is inbound calling? (Different types explained)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Inbound calling is a type of interaction that businesses have with customers or potential customers. Sales and customer services departments frequently receive inbound calls and they often use them to generate sales. If you work for an organisation that sells to customers, it's useful to understand the definition of inbound calling and understand how it fits into the wider sales efforts of an organisation. In this article, we explain what inbound calling is, discuss how it differs from outbound calling, explore how businesses use it to generate sales and describe what other methods there are to receive inbound communications.

What is inbound calling?

Inbound calling is a customer or potential customer initiating contact with a business via telephone to place an order or make an enquiry about a product or service. Some businesses handle inbound phone calls themselves and others outsource inbound call handling to call centres. Sales or customer service agents tend to receive inbound calls and depending on the nature and structure of their employer, these agents may handle solely inbound calls or a combination of inbound and outbound calls.

Customers who make inbound calls are inbound leads in situations where their enquiry could evolve into sales. Inbound leads already have some information about the company or its products due to the organisation's marketing efforts. For example, they may have seen an advertisement, have been researching a relevant business online or have previously received a cold call from an outbound sales agent in the past.

Related: What does a call centre agent do? (A guide of skills)

How does inbound calling differ from outbound calling?

Outbound calling is a business employee, such as a customer service or sales agent, calling customers or potential customers. Outbound calls gauge a customer's interest in a product or service or attempt to make a sale. They can also take place following a successful sale to check on customer satisfaction and upsell additional extras. Sometimes outbound calling occurs to gather customer feedback or collect information for market research purposes.

Compared to outbound calling, inbound customer leads tend to empower the customer to make decisions since they initiate contact with the business. When customers call, they're aiming to gain further information about the company and its products or services so they can decide if they want to do business. Outbound calling gives the company greater control over sales leads, but when leads receive cold calls, they might have disinterest in the product or service. This can result in more time for a sales agent to nurture the cold call into a sale.

Related: Inbound vs. outbound sales: when and how to use them

What are the different types of inbound calls?

Here are some common types of inbound calls:

Sales enquiries

Sales enquiries, also often known as warm calls, are customers calling for more information about a product. Sometimes the customer is ready to place an order over the phone. They may also be considering a purchase but have queries or need advice.

Related: What is a sales call? (With benefits and process steps)

Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting calls, or technical support calls, are customers who have a problem with a product or service they've already bought. The call agent strives to understand the issue and gives technical advice to rectify the problem Where necessary, they arrange for a repair or replacement of a product or schedule an appointment with an engineer for further investigation into the issue.

Related: What does the IT department do and what are IT roles?

Contract renewals

When customers have a contract with a business and the contract is nearing the end of its term, they may call to discuss a renewal. This often involves negotiation which is why sales agents often handle contract renewal calls. Customers receive renewal quotes via email or post and often respond to this renewal request via phone or email. Sales agents might increase the likelihood of a consumer renewing the contract by offering sales incentives or providing discounts.

Related: What is contract management? Definition and strategies

Feedback

Feedback calls are customers calling to discuss their experience of the business's products or services. Customers providing feedback can help a company better understand how to improve their products or services, or they can help an organisation better understand how well consumers enjoy their products or services. The goal for agents is to correct problems where possible and retain the customer, sometimes by offering complimentary products or services.

Related: What does good customer service look like? (With examples)

How do businesses use inbound calls to generate sales?

When customers want more information, businesses use inbound calls to promote products or services. The caller is already interested in the product or service, and it's the sales agent's responsibility to encourage them to make a sale by discussing key features and benefits. The agent asks questions to better understand the caller's most important needs and then explains how the product or service fits their requirements or recommends specific products that align with their needs.

Agents also often upsell additional accessories or complimentary services. This can help them enhance customer satisfaction and increase the likelihood of the customer returning to make purchases in future.

Related: 10 common sales channels for improving your business revenue

What are some alternative methods of receiving inbound leads?

Inbound calls are one way to receive inbound communications. Businesses may also receive inbound leads via the following methods:

Email

Customers tend not to expect an immediate reply when making contact via email, but many businesses set up automatic replies to give an estimated response time from customer services. It's common for businesses to have email enquiry forms on their websites instead of email addresses. This allows them to create custom forms to collect the enquirer's telephone number so sales agents can respond to them in a more direct way.

Related: How to write customer service emails (with examples)

Webchat

Webchat allows enquiries to have a live conversation with a sales or customer services agent via text on the business website. It's a good alternative to phone calls since customer relationship management (CRM) software can easily save chat transcripts for future reference when customers provide their account information. Many customers prefer webchat over telephone calls because they can multitask and don't risk waiting on hold to get answers to their queries.

Social media

It's common for businesses to offer customer services and sales advice via social media channels. When they receive enquiries from customers via direct messages or comments, these are inbound interactions. Although sales usually do not take place within these platforms, successful interactions can lead to future sales and can foster customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Related: How to use social media for business in 11 practical steps

How do businesses optimise their inbound call strategy?

Inbound calls can offer many opportunities for businesses to boost sales and foster positive customer relationships. The following tactics can help businesses provide the best experience to inbound callers and get the most out of each inbound communication:

Enhance rapid response capabilities

Customers might become frustrated if they're on hold, so businesses constantly assess demand and aim to increase their number of call handlers during busy periods. It's helpful to implement call routing systems so customers can select the appropriate department when there are multiple customer services departments to handle different aspects of customer relations. Interactive voice response technology is useful for routing calls to appropriate departments or handling basic tasks such as receiving customer information to help agents access their account history as soon as they connect with the caller.

Extend support hours

Many people work standard office hours and can't make calls during that time. It's increasingly common for businesses to provide customer service or sales support late into the evening. Weekend opening of phone lines is also common. 24-hour support is useful when businesses operate on an international level and have customers in different time zones.

Related: What are sales strategies? Their importance and a template

Offer employee incentives

Call handlers who are enthusiastic about supporting customers are more likely to foster a positive impression of the business. It's useful for businesses or call centres to monitor customer satisfaction levels and reward staff who are performing well. A common way to gauge customer satisfaction is by asking customers to complete a quick survey at the end of the call via interactive voice response technology.

Improve first-time solution rates

Making calls to customer service lines can be inconvenient for customers, so many consumers might have higher satisfaction levels with fewer customer service calls. Businesses aim to find a solution for the customer the first time they call where possible. If it isn't possible to resolve the issue right away, they aim to call the customer promptly with a solution or send a follow-up email to inform the consumer of the solution.

Explore more articles