Why robocalls are bad for business—and what to do about it

When I was a ten-year-old, I daydreamed about Dr. Emmet Brown appearing at my front door just as he might visit Marty McFly in the biggest movie of my day, Back To The Future.

“Great Scott, Future Boy,” he’d proclaim. Then he’d deliver some mind-blowing factoid about the future. Usually, his stunning temporal revelation involved flying, invisibility, or some other creative way to shirk choir practice.

But if the esteemed Dr. Brown had told me that one day, I’d receive a telephone call from an actual robot? That a synthetic being would one day choose me … me! … to learn about a cool futuristic product or service? Well, I’m not sure I could have handled it. I’d have a long, painful wait to adulthood for such a wondrous moment to finally arrive.

And *sigh* here we are.

Robocalls have arrived. They’re real. And … well … they’re not great.

If you’re a small business owner, you know just how much of an electro-pestilence, a robo-scourge, a techno-travesty, robocalls can be. The pharaoh had his locusts. Pompeiians had their volcano. We have relentless recorded messages about extended car warranties and debt consolidation.

Robocalls—or uninvited recorded spam messages delivered by phone — are disruptive on many levels. Of course, they’re distracting. You can probably think of at least a few times in both your personal and professional lives when a robocall at exactly the wrong moment dragged you away from a great idea or a productive conversation.

But they’re also anxiety-inducing. We live in a time where we’re surrounded by information, conversation, time limits, and multitasking. One extra persistent uninvited voice can be the temporal straw that broke the productivity camel’s back—especially on a stressful day.

Here’s a disconcerting statistic for you: Over 4 billion robocalls are placed each month, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and despite the Commission’s best efforts to curb those over-talkative robots, that catastrophic onslaught of distraction doesn’t look set to abate any time soon.

Okay, so what can we do about it?

Which leads us to the obvious question: What can we do to escape this dystopia of endless robocalls? We’ll tackle exactly that conundrum in this blog.

Here’s how we’ll do it.

  • First, we’ll get more granular with what the threat actually looks like, especially to small businesses and those trying to be productive within them.
  • Then we’ll give you some tools to accurately quantify their impact.
  • And finally, we’ll offer you some practical suggestions on how to at least lessen the number of robocalls you and your team receive.

We can’t promise you a complete reprieve from the robotic telephonic uprising, but we can at least offer a stalwart bastion of humanity from which to launch your heroic counter-offensive.

Are you ready to strike back at the robots?

Let’s do this.

Table of Contents

What does the robocall threat look like?

Now to be clear, we aren’t suggesting all those annoying phone calls come from actual evil robots. That’d be ludicrous. However, if a definable adversary would help you focus your determination to find a better way, here’s an artist’s rendering of what such a robot — let’s call it the Interruptatron 6000 — might hypothetically look like.

Chilling.

The Federal Communications Commission is a bit more scientific and defines a robocall as any unsolicited recorded message you receive by phone. While the delivery methods and messaging may vary, robocalls are usually delivered to a mass audience (in other words, they’re spam.) Robocalls are unwelcome, uninvited, and repetitive. Moreover, unlike other recorded messages, there’s no easy way to simply “opt out” or unsubscribe from a robocall.

That squares away what these pesky calls are as an isolated phenomenon.
The problem is, thinking about robocalls in isolation is a bit like describing a locust as an unusually persistent grasshopper with a bigger-than-normal appetite. Like locusts, to understand the real damage of robocalls, you have to see their collective impact.

So we’ll dive into that next

Impact 1: Time and money

Let’s start with the obvious cost of robocalls and talk about time and money.

In Ruby’s 2022 call trends report, we found that just one robocall each day results in 400 hours per year of lost productivity. Just scan your eye over that figure again for a moment. That seems hard to fathom at first glance, doesn’t it?

Sleep is a useful analogy.

Imagine a loud noise awakened you last night. Maybe (and I’m just spitballing here and not speaking remotely from painful recent personal experience) a hyperactive pet feline suddenly decided to open the snack cupboard and drag out at least half a dozen tins of cat food. The sleep I … *ahem, I mean you* … lost wasn’t just the brief moment you were concerned that an axe murderer was roaming about your kitchen searching for a can opener. It was also the 40 minutes subsequently spent lying in bed staring at the ceiling, questioning one’s life decisions.

Robocalls, like rampant nocturnal felines, impose an opportunity cost.

On average, it takes 23 minutes to refocus concentration after a robocall. Check out our analysis of time lost to robocalls for a detailed breakdown.

So what does that mean in terms of money? Of course, it’s difficult to generalize here. Every business is different, but based on these figures, even a comparatively small business could hit five digits per year in robocall costs. Like the beady-eyed locust, the true time and resource-sucking toll of the robocall can only be understood if you consider the whole swarm.

Impact 2: Brain drain

It’s worth remembering that not all time is of equal value. There’s downtime. Then there’s busy time. Then there are moments in the day when an unnecessary interruption can drag you away from something critically important — careful negotiations, perhaps. Or closing the deal on a sale, or even just a moment of deep strategic thought.

A completely valueless distraction in such a concentrated moment is a big problem.

One University of London study found that distracted people experienced a temporary IQ score decline of roughly 15 points — the equivalent of trying to work after staying awake all night. A Stanford University cognitive experiment found that short-term memory plummets the moment we’re distracted by an additional basic calculating task.

Robocalls make people in your company—how to put this delicately?—Well, dumber. The cognitive drain of a robocall is temporary, of course. However, multiply that impairment across 400 hours of unnecessary distraction, and a ton of people will be off chasing an imaginary …

Squirrel!

Umm, where was I?

Oh yes. Consider also the fact that a hifalutin word like “Company” or “Organization” or “Business” might sound like this magical collective uber-entity that plows on being devastatingly clever no matter what, but a collective brain (which really is all that a company is) can only be as smart, agile and adaptable as the human brains within it.

Robocalls have the potential to rob a company of that brain power.

Do you see how insidious these robotic infiltrators are?

Impact 3: The cultural damage of robocalls

In our article, Stop robocalls for good, we quoted the FCC as offering the following advice to reduce the impact of robocalls:

“Don’t give in to fear or curiosity. A scammer’s first goal is to engage you, then they go to work on stealing your money or your valuable personal information.”

And to be clear, this is good advice from a safety standpoint; but think about what that means in terms of trust. We’re all now living in a world where it’s smart to be suspicious when your phone rings. Robocalls are isolating. People have stopped picking up the phone. Eight in ten people don’t answer their phone when an unknown number calls, according to 2020 findings by the Pew Research Center.

This sad, gray, stale cheese sandwich of a truth is affecting us all. Someone missed out on an important life-changing conversation because of a robocall. Someone else didn’t get that crazy meet cute where they might have met the love of their life thanks to a robocall. Yet another person missed the key conversation that led to a dream job or a year’s supply of tinned sausages, or even free tickets to the circus—again, all thanks to the distrust caused by robocalls.

And we shouldn’t for a moment think this is just a broad “out there” non-business cultural phenomenon.

Chronic, repetitive phone-based spam is draining your business of productive conversations. First, your customers pick up the phone less, and if you do manage to get someone on the phone, they’re apt to hear any words that come next as an unwelcome intrusion. Secondly, even if your team has a policy of always picking up the phone on a business number, there’s less trust, more tiredness, and a lot more irritation.

Pah. These robots. They must be stopped.

Measuring the impact of robocalls on your business

We’ve talked about the impacts generally, but how about your business specifically? Up next, we’ll describe some ways to measure the impact of robocalls across your business.

Quantify the problem.

The first step is to quantify the problem, and that can be as simple as having your team keep a log of robocalls for two to four weeks. This raw data on call volume is useful because it gives you a starting point from which to quantify cost and weigh that against solutions. Raw numbers also allow you to roughly benchmark your experience against the national average. If you’re receiving well above the norm, it might be time to think carefully about what practices are prompting that. Knowing that may also equip you to finetune your training and make smart decisions about when to invest in more rigorous screening services.

There’s a caveat here, however. Isn’t there always?

It’s hard to benchmark. Most surveys and research have focused on the impact of robocalls at a consumer level. Surprisingly, a national average of robocalls received on business numbers is a rather difficult statistic to nail down, especially by discrete business sectors.

Here’s what we do know:

  • As a general rule, business numbers receive significantly more unwanted spam calls than private numbers.
  • Almost 85% of business numbers receive at least one robocall per day, GlobeNewswire reports.
  • Close to 55% of those numbers receive five or more spam messages.

That last little info-nugget is interesting and a good point of comparison for your figures. It’s revealing that robocalls aren’t evenly concentrated. Some numbers (and, by extension, people) within your company may be receiving a crippling onslaught of spam calls, while others may be experiencing something more manageable.

As you quantify the problem and think about solutions, it’s worth remembering that your folks are likely unevenly affected.

Grab all that squishy quantitative data too!

As we’ve already discussed, it’s a bit simplistic to measure the impact of robocalls purely in terms of money and time. Robocalls may be relentless, but humans are every bit as weird and interestingly complicated.

One person may find five calls a day mildly annoying. Another might find one call deeply intrusive. Some roles are likely to be more impacted by interruption than others too. All of this is valuable qualitative data to factor into the kinds of solutions you eventually employ.

Finding your way to a fix

Whew! We feel for you, fellow human. It’s been a roller coaster of robotic revelations so far but hang in there because we’re about to hit the tempestuous third act. It’s time for humans to fight back. In this section, we’ll look at how you can safeguard your productivity.

Do your tech due diligence.

If you use a personal phone for work, make sure you list it on the National Do Not Call Registry. Bear in mind that signing up won’t end your problem outright. Many of these services operate outside of the FTC’s jurisdiction or use sophisticated methods to mask the originating number. But it’s a start.

You can also activate a call filtering solution.

Ruby’s robocall filtering combines live network data with AI to generate a sophisticated robocall-blocking algorithm that becomes more efficient the more you use it. The system sends those calls straight to the intended recipient’s voicemail.

Grab your company some team training.

There’s no silver bullet technological fix for robocalls. Not yet, anyway. One of the best things you can do to limit the impact of robocalls is to build smarter people.

That came out wrong.

To reassure you, we aren’t talking about cloning or some strange telephonic equivalent of the Six Million Dollar Man.

But you know what’s almost as good as biologically enhanced limbs and red velour tracksuits? Training! Targeted, regular training can equip your crew to recognize robocalls quickly and then react accordingly. The FCC has some great content to guide upskilling your workforce. Some key proficiencies include:

  • When to hang up (hint: as soon as possible)
  • What to say if you encounter a spam message (as little as possible, preferably nothing)
  • How to report robocalls and other suspicious messaging (here’s a great place to start)
  • How to block calls internally on your phone system (for inspiration, have a look at this solution).

Are ninja-like robocall deflection skills going to stop those calls coming in? Sadly, no. Our enemy robot infiltrators are far too numerous. But training is a great way to minimize the fallout. Remember that statistic truth bomb we laid down before: Just one robocall per day can leech 400 hours per year from a company’s productivity.

Rigorous, regular training will help you lower that number.

Invite some experts into your corner.

If parts of your operation are being battered by time-consuming robocalls, consider passing that problem along to a team of highly trained US-based professionals. Ruby’s elite squad of virtual receptionists knows exactly how to deal with spam callers, and can swiftly eliminate the distracting, brain-draining influence of robocalls from your daily conversations.

The best part of this solution? It’s powered by human judgment.

A robocaller can spoof phone numbers endlessly. Technological solutions can only be so accurate—and implementing a blanket policy places you at risk of screening out calls you want to take. A virtual receptionist occupies a Goldilocks zone, offering the highest level of screening accuracy tempered by human judgment and intuition.

Optimize those channels.

And finally, let’s be pragmatic about phone conversations. Consumers are changing. A typical customer today will also seek alternative channels to reach your business, from online research to live chat solutions.

Making your website as informative and engaging as possible is a powerful way to strengthen your connection with customers. To create more open doors, also think of incorporating a live chat solution.

Want to confuse a robot? Zig when they zag.

So how do we get rid of these pesky robots?

Let’s step back from facts, figures, and potential solutions for a moment. Ultimately, this whole robocall situation is a battle over an idea we reference a lot here at Ruby: Authenticity.

Robocalls are inauthentic.

They happened because someone realized they could spume out a relentless barrage of meaningless marketing material to millions of innocent victims, whether they like it or not. More than being just a nuisance, robocalls make the world a stupider, more isolated, less interesting place.

The best way to clap back at the robots?

Leverage smart, well-coordinated, and creative solutions built by real, actual, squishy humans. Gather quantitative and qualitative data about how robocalls are impacting your biz. Train your team so they know what to do. Get the tech working for you and work with passionate people who can help you zero in on the real conversations that matter.

Visit Ruby’s small business hub to join forces against the robocall invasion.

Related articles

Did you enjoy reading this post? Then you will probably enjoy these too!

Small Business
Business growth
Customer engagement