The phone is dead, long live the phone

Posted by Ross Coundon on December 2, 2015

Is this the death of the mobile phone call?

Recently at Leadent we’ve been struggling with the apparent deterioration of service with our mobile network provider. Dropped calls, patchy coverage and poor audio quality have driven us to consider changing to a new provider. While trialling the new network my colleague, Laura Mattin, said how she was actually enjoying making phone calls again and that with the old provider she’d actively avoid speaking on the phone because it was such a frustrating experience.

The quality of the experience (or lack of it) had changed how Laura chose to communicate, and this made me think.

In the modern day, so often we use our smartphones to send text based messages – whether that be “old” fashioned SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, BBM(remember that?), social media or email.  Even making a phone call to most major companies with call centres results in an IVR process (“Press 1 for sales. Press 2 for Customer Service.  Your call has been placed in a queue but is important to us…” –  in effect a textual conversation.

This is so prevalent that the manufacturers of smartphones appear to de-prioritise the componentry involved in making an actual phone call in favour of better screens and data transmission.

Recently we teased our founder and CEO, Alastair, when his iPhone broke and he resorted to the use of an old Nokia 6310 (with requisite ringtone invoking memories of Trigger Happy TV).  However, call quality of that phone was excellent and the battery will last until the next ice age.

This put into perspective how much, in the world of mobile technology, verbal, human-to-human conversation is being de-emphasised in favour of text based media.  From the providers, there are many good reasons for this.

  • Text data is easy to mine for information that can be sold to marketers
  • Maintaining phone networks that support quality audio conversations that, by their very nature, must be real-time is expensive
  • Text data can be sent unobtrusively, that is, the receiver does not necessarily need to respond immediately so conversations can be asynchronous.
  • Users enjoy using these mediums of communication
  • Mobile phone calls are no longer hugely profitable for the mobile networks compared to data tariffs

Digital, textual data (and indeed graphical, video or other asynchronous forms of communication) are highly valuable.  They can reduce costs and still provide rich experiences.  In an enterprise setting they can support auditability, governance and employee autonomy.

In a business-to-consumer world they can provide your customers with ways to communicate that they prefer to use, are non-interruptive and allow you to ensure nothing and no-one is forgotten.

Sometimes though, a person-to-person conversation on the phone is still the best way to achieve a positive outcome from the interaction.  Earlier I mentioned about how the experience of poor quality when trying to make calls had changed Laura’s behaviour.  So too, an experience whereby your customers or employees cannot engage with you on a human level will change their behaviour.  And not in a way that’s positive.

In field service, making a phone call to your customer to let them know there’s someone on the way isn’t a new or radical idea but so few organisations do this.  Yes, a text message can work well too but think about how relationships are built, not by computers but by people.

There is a right time for digital, text-based communication and there is a right time for direct person-to-person interaction, I recommend you take the time to improve your customer and employee interactions by understanding the importance of each.