The Death of the Phone Call

Written by Guy Walsh
11 September 2020

I like to think of myself as a progressive person. I have never been a person that holds on to anything for the sake of tradition, fear of change, or plain laziness. I actively seek out new methods of improving business efficiency, I constantly look for advances in technology, and I get excited by new forms of communication.

For as long as I can remember, whenever I heard of a new technology, my mind immediately started exploring its potential- often in my subconscious, sometimes without me even realising!

I was lucky enough to go to a technology college, so I had my own email address long before many people had access to PCs. I loved the fact that I could put something in writing and it be transferred to another computer almost immediately. I was excited by the fact that I could talk to anyone in any country, almost in real time.

When I got my first mobile phone in 1998, everybody mocked me. It was the size of a brick, and at this point it didn’t even have anything fun like the game “Snake” on it. But the thing that excited me most was the fact that I could send TEXT messages to my friends! Sure, there was a character limited, and sure, each text message cost me 25p, and sure, no-one I knew had a mobile phone for me to send such a message to, but I was excited by the possibilities!

Then came social media, and it became SO MUCH easier to keep in contact with friends. I didn’t even have to bother them to find out what was going on in their lives! A feed of pictures and vague text updates gave me a clear insight into what they were doing, and I no longer had to spend hours on the phone to get the full picture.

Messaging apps like Messenger, Telegram and WhatsApp, and team management apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams have made communication quick and easy. They’ve also added some useful verification functions, meaning that you can see when someone has read your message, helping manage expectations for responses.

Business communication has also progressed – with platforms like LinkedIn bringing together business networks, messaging platforms, and social media.

All these advances have helped us become more efficient in our communication and increase our productivity.

Unfortunately, as with any technology, used incorrectly they can have the adverse effect.

Put simply – most of the time, a five-minute phone call can provide more clarification than a chain of one hundred emails.

So why are so many people suddenly so averse to picking up the phone?

Me, waiting for a phone call

Don’t get me wrong, there is many an occasion when the thought of picking up the phone terrifies me – for example when I’m in a state of heightened anxiety, and/or waiting for an update on a worrying personal situation. But as someone who has learned to live with anxiety on a daily basis, I can say conclusively and without a shred of doubt that answering the phone is far less anxiety-inducing than missing a call, or receiving an written message that I don’t understand.

So what about business to business communication? I recently obtained some quotes for a rebranding exercise. I received eight emails from freelancers – and only three of them included their phone number in their email signature. Even more shockingly – the same people didn’t include their phone numbers on their websites, asking clients to make contact by email instead.

Now I understand that some people may use this as a way to manage workflow, and if you’re working in the creative industries there is a strong argument for not wanting to be disturbed while you’re mid-flow. I get that, I really do. But that’s why your phone has a silent mode and a power button.

Maybe it’s a creative industries thing, but I read a story recently whereby an event organiser was publicly accused of harassment for asking for a performer’s phone number, and that particularly disturbed me. When I’ve organised any kind of event, I want to know that I can get hold of a participant quickly and easily by phone, for safety purposes. If the venue sets on fire, or the street is closed off, or there are serious delays to the event, I want to let the performer know immediately. Conversely, if the performer has not arrived at the agreed time, I want to be able to contact them immediately to get an update so that plans can be changed accordingly. None of this is because of a lack of trust or a pessimistic outlook – it’s because life happens! There is also most likely an implication for insurance/risk-assessment purposes too.

I have friends who will downright refuse to answer the phone and it drives me crazy. It turns simple situations in stressful nightmares. I’ve had people give me directions over text message that make no sense. If they had picked up the phone and guided me based on what I could see, a whole lot of stress could have been saved. Plus of course, there is the impact of mis-spellings and the fun of autocorrect.

“What the hecking heck does that mean?”

So what has happened? Have we raised a generation of people who are unable to communicate? I doubt that, as it appears that people are more in touch with their emotions now than ever. Is it an industry thing? I very much doubt this would happen in the corporate world, even though from my experience communication is arguably a lot worse.

What happened to the adage of making a phone call and confirming the content with a brief email? Why do people want to spend hours writing out long-winded emails that can be easily misinterpreted instead of making a five-minute phone call and confirming in bullet-points?

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

What I can say is that I have amended all references on my website to include written ways of contacting me. I’m more than happy to communicate in whatever form the client feels most comfortable with, but there inevitably comes a point where a five-minute phone call provides greater clarity than a hundred emails.

If a client has questions about my services, I’m more than happy to answer via text message, email, WhatsApp, Facebook messages, Instagram DMs- in response to the way the initial contact is made. I know some people think that taking a phone call means that they’ll get the hard sell, but I’ve always been an advocate of letting people go away and think about things. Sales people tell me that I’m missing out, but building a trusting relationship with a client is far more important to me than “closing a sale”, and in my experience, not only are those clients more likely to return my calls, but they’re more likely want to work with me again in the future.

How do you feel about phone calls? What’s your preferred method of communication? Is it an industry/creative thing? Am I just out of touch? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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