Since Alexander Graham Bell’s first successful phone call to his assistant in 1876, the telephone has been a vital part of business operations.

Prospects today still want to talk to you directly, and using the phone is one of the easiest ways to earn their trust. Email will work for established customers who have a quick question, but turning prospects into paying customers often requires a more personal touch.

Here are three ways the humble telephone can help you make it happen:

Allowing quick, convenient access to another human. The first step to providing over the top customer service is actually giving customers live people to speak to — they just hate voicemail. In fact, in an interview for DestinationCRM, LiveAnswer CEO Adam Boalt revealed that 50 to 75 percent of customers will hang up and never call back if they get a recorded message first. “Everyone is looking for instant gratification, and if you can’t provide that… a lot of times they’ll simply hang up. Companies are losing a lot of business opportunities because people are not leaving them messages.”

If your company isn’t able to dedicate the manpower to answering the phone, you can increase your human touch factor by hiring an answering service. For a small fee per call, you’ll find you’ll build trust faster and convert more callers into customers when a person is just a phone call away.

Letting you return calls on the go. Whether you use a live answering service or an in-house employee to take messages while you’re away, you can gain customer loyalty by returning those calls swiftly. With the widespread use of cell phones, it’s easy to get your messages via text message and return them while you’re out doing other things. Quick customer service is key to a long-term relationship.

Returning calls quickly gives you an added benefit: you get to the caller before they call someone else. Although callers will often wait for a call back if they reach a human operator, they’ll only wait so long — and then they’ll start telephoning the competition. By calling these prospects back quickly, you or your sales team can convert them into paying customers.

Turning you into an emergency contact. Even a prospect that has been cruising your website or visiting your store without buying anything can become a lifelong customer if you’re there for them during an emergency. When they’re in a pinch, you’ll be the first person they call to check inventory or get an appointment right away.

Keeping your phone on you all the time or having an after-hours answering service means you’ll be able to catch these people when they need you most. For many customers, the way you handle emergencies (perceived or real) speaks volumes about your business practices. Once you’ve proven that you’re available, you’ll be the only number on their speed dial.

You can do plenty of business via the Internet, but there’s still something to be said about telephone service. You can provide a lot of service in a little bit of time with a telephone answering service, in-house receptionist or by being on call for your customers and prospects. Before you know it, the personal touch will convert those prospects into loyal lifetime customers.