thinking in rules

The Telephone Isn’t Dead, It’s a Classic

Heather Hume | 4/21/2017

Remember the days when you were excited about the phone ringing?  When who was calling you was a heart rate-boosting mystery until they said hello?

I remember those days.  When one phone line rang through a family home and you’d enthusiastically yell “I got it!” or “It’s for me…”  Not only was the phone an absolutely necessary instrument of communication, it was also one of the most accurate key indicators of social status.

You could literally calculate your approximate popularity through the simple formula of:

((Number of phone calls received per week) x (Average Call Duration)) x (Caller’s Popularity))                  

Oh, and if you had your own phone in your room…fugetaboutit.  You could just skip the formula and go straight to the cool kids’ table.  However, those days are gone.  To quote the Von Trapp children “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…”

And this isn’t a new revelation.  In 2014, a Gallup poll confirmed a truth that we all suspected: Text messages outrank phone calls as the dominant form of communication, especially among Millennials.

“Adieu, adieu, to you and you and yo-ou!”  (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

Why? Because today the phone is considered borderline intrusive. Even when the call is about something positive it’s often an unplanned social interaction.  In a workday that, for most of us, is carefully planned for efficiency, a phone call is a distraction.

In a 2011 New York Times feature article, many people between the ages of 25 and 40 considered an unwanted phone call rude.  The prevailing theme as to why this was the case was that an unannounced phone call implied that the caller’s time was more important than that of the person receiving the call.  The person being called was somehow being asked to drop everything and respond.

Over the past two decades, the phone has gone from being an excitingly mysterious means of social connection to a mild annoyance that can be made tolerable through caller ID.  It’s a social norm that has made its way from our personal lives to our professional lives. 

Unfortunately, though often perceived as intrusive, the phone call is still one of the most effective methods of mutual interaction; one of the best ways to get to know someone without being in the same room.  From vocal inflections to verbal cadence, a phone call provides an opportunity for humans to glean unspoken information about one another. This type of information has been proven to improve interactions and deepen relationships.

So, what do you do when you genuinely want to speak with someone, but not be perceived as rude?  What’s the best approach when you truly want nothing more than to get to know a person or provide them with a beneficial resource or intellectual nugget?

Miss Manners for the Kansas City Star says: “You can text or email first” or “Simply ask the person you are calling ‘Is now a good time?’”

While that’s good advice, my hope is that in writing a blog post acknowledging the negative perception of the telephone call and explaining why, in my role as director of Customer Success, I continue to use it as a primary form of communication, I can help our customers understand why I continue to reach out to them telephonically. 

Because, truth be told, the best parts of my day are when I talk to our customers.  I find getting to know people exhilarating.  If there’s a problem I can solve or a resource I can provide, all the better - I like fixing things.  A telephone conversation provides a level of interaction that can uncover opportunities, issues, and questions that might never be found with an e-mail or text.   It’s that possibility that makes a phone call as exciting to me as it was back in the 80s when my phone was clear and had a glowing neon tube inside.

That said, if you are busy when I call, please feel free to say so…I’d hate to be rude.


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