The image of a phone-shy, conversation-adverse millennial has become something of a cultural trope. But do millenials really hate phone calls or do they just hate being torn away from their smartphones to interact with that strange machine on their desk?
Meanwhile, burdened by the inefficiencies of email, many companies are insisting that employees use the phone to resolve problems efficiently. Sales and customer success often require a personal conversation. And so more people are picking up the phone, but they are using their smartphone to do it.. Deloitte’s 2017 global mobile consumer survey reported that phone calls are up by 9 percent from 2016, reversing a four-year downward trend. Better voice quality and mobile features are part of it, along with a realization that phone calls are just more effective for some kinds of communications.
Phone anxiety or generational differences?
Some business leaders insist it's just a matter of facing fears and picking up the phone, while others see a generational shift in how workers use their communication channels. Both sides might have a good point. Everyone has been frustrated by a pointless or unwanted phone call, while most of us have also witnessed the problem-solving power of a voice conversation. Can both sides be right?
On the other hand, while a phone call can simplify things, phone systems are notoriously difficult to install, manage and use. Some companies install phone systems that they never really utilize because they don’t have the IT resources to configure them properly. This can cost a company twice, first for a system you don’t use, and secondly for the lost ROI.
The rules of a digital world
The simplicity of smartphones and the app ecosystem have created new expectations for customers and employees, who expect technology to obey the new rules of a mobile-first digital world: intuitive, easy to use and fun.
That's the exact opposite of many office phone systems, with their wiring requirements, complex settings and endlessly nested configuration menus.
The rising popularity of click-to-call functionality across the digital world points the way to a better voice UX. Yet, reaching some companies by phone is sometimes so difficult that consumers just give up—and go elsewhere.
It’s a problem internally, too, especially for remote teams who rely on the information to succeed. When employees or team members can’t reach someone on the phone to clarify an important detail, they might act on incomplete data or invalid assumptions. This can happen because of a reluctance to use the phone, or because the phone system is too hard to use.
The public space and the private world
Conversely, it often happens because we don’t want to call someone on their private number, but we don’t have any other way to reach them. While most of us are away from our desk phone or don’t even have one, using our private number for business isn’t a satisfactory solution--even if we prefer using our own smartphone.
In part, this is because when you call someone on their private number, you are reaching deeply into their personal world. They might be anywhere, doing anything, and yet a phone call demands their immediate attention.
Because of the constant influx of information, and the demands of an always-on digital experience, a phone call has become an incredibly intimate and privileged space. We don't want to bother people for a trivial reason. An unwanted, unexpected or intrusive phone call is the opposite of productive.
A combination of intimacy and anonymity is the source of the internet’s social power, but it seems to break down when it comes to a phone call. A anonymous phone call isn’t effective, but disruptive.
This is how text and email have become a surrogate for a phone call. However, they aren’t an adequate substitute for a conversation—although they can serve as a great opening to one. A voice call can be very effective, when the recipient is prepared for the call and feels empowered. In reality, voice isn't that different from other channels, where mutual respect and consent play a big role in the effectiveness of your message. Millennials instinctively understand that the rules of the game have changed.
The internet has completely changed how and why we talk on the phone, and our expectations of the experience. Voice is becoming a popular medium again, but the bar is higher.
Voice UX as a new digital channel
Software is reinventing voice as another digital channel, contained within an application that users can control and manage, just like any other application. Virtual phone systems can run on your smartphone, masking your private number and allowing you to filter and manage incoming calls, even sharing the information with a team while maintaining your personal anonymity.
Visibility options allow users to choose availability and to maintain privacy and work/life balance, and an integrated messaging function allows users send a pre-call request or other information.
These developments are just in time. Millennials are picking up the phone more for the first time in years, and some of them for the first time. Voice can cut through the noise of digital chatter, and communicate directly and effectively.
In 2017, 86 percent of respondents said they made at least one voice-based phone call (as opposed to a video call) every week. More people are using calling features and voice to communicate, and as voice UX gets more attention from developers and designers in the coming year, it's use is sure to increase.
The availability of in-application business phone features like call transfer, voice-to-text transcription, and smart routing will make it easier for users to handle voice calls without frustration or difficulty.
Talking on the phone again can even relieve some of the cognitive load and confusion that come with texting and email. Tools to search and save voice conversations can help voice be even more effective, and can help us listen and retain more.
How listening really works
While text and email are incredibly useful within specific parameters, they aren’t substitutes for conversations. Think about these facts:
- We think at approx. 1,000-3,000 words per minute
- People speak at a rate of 125-250 words per minute
- Effective speech is about 125 words per minute
- The average speed of texting is about 25 words per minute
- Texting isn’t an effective way to collaborate, brainstorm or listen.
Listening has always been a challenging skill to master, in part because we can think so much faster than we can listen or speak. Consequently, we are partly listening and partly formulating our response. With text, that gap is even bigger, giving us more time to think about our response, and less emotional and social context in which to locate the meaning of the message.
Texting vs. conversations
Text becomes more of a broadcast medium than a conversation, with each party focusing on their message, and not really listening.
Text, messaging and email seem convenient—they allow us to respond in attention bites rather than the focused attention a phone call or face-to-face meeting demands. We can think about our response, edit it, and censor our first reaction. While this can be useful, we lose something genuine and real when we only communicate in this format.
The more we email or text, the more opportunities there are for a misunderstanding. The uncertainty that follows creates the kind of tension that we wanted to avoid in the first place.
Picking up the phone might be the very antidote to the kind of uncertainty that we're trying to avoid.
A conversation helps us put it all into context, and to listen for nuance. A conversation is the ultimate social platform for exchanging ideas, challenging our conceptions, and building the kind of consensus that drives projects and innovation forward.
However, while conversations can be incredibly useful, the cultural significance of a telephone call has changed. Gone are the days that you could pick up the phone and just smile and dial--or expect the stranger on the other side to patiently hear you out.
A phone call is strategic, intentional, and collaborative
Spoke Phone has developed a secure application that can be deployed across your mobile phone infrastructure. It is a completely digital, mobile solution to the communication challenges of an on-demand, remote workforce who aren’t sitting at their desks but still have a need for the efficiency of voice communication. It answers the needs of a new generation of users, who might love the simplicity of voice but need more control.
To learn more about Spoke, including how our AI is powering the next generation voice UX, sign up for an interactive demo and learn how to transform your mobile phone or business phone line into a smart office phone system that everyone will love to use.