Do we still need the telephone?

From our history lessons, we all know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Looking back in time, it’s really amusing to think that when Bell first showed off his telephone, many people argued that we didn’t actually need such a device. Why would you want to hear someone’s voice when you could just send them a telegram instead?

The telephone made business big. Telephones made business democratic – a man on the factory floor could talk directly with the boss without having to go through all the levels in between. As one AT&T engineer put it in 1900: “Suppose there was no telephone and every message had to be carried by a personal messenger.” In the US they couldn’t get enough of the phone.

By the end of the 1920s, 40% of households had them. “It is so essentially the instrument of all the people, in fact, that we might almost point to it as a national emblem, as the trademark of democracy and the American spirit.” wrote Herbert Casson in his 1910 book The History of the Telephone. The enthusiasm wasn’t shared in the UK.

William Preece, chief engineer of the General Post Office, declared that the new gizmo was merely “a substitute for servants”. “There are conditions in America which necessitate the use of such instruments more than here,” he told a House of Commons committee. “Here we have a super-abundance of messengers, errand boys and things of that kind.

The absence of servants has compelled America to adopt communications systems for domestic purposes. Few have worked at the telephone much more than I have, I have one in my office but more for show. If I want to send a message – I employ a boy to take it.” Regardless of this comment, the telephone took over the world and was the most essential means of communication for over a century.

Are we going back to a time where people don’t feel it necessary or important to talk to each other via the telephone? “In 2017 there are so many different ways to contact someone that it’s easy to forget how important phone calls used to be (and actually still are). Now all you do is to grab your smartphone and open up any app: Whatsapp, Skype, Viber, Facebook, Email, FaceTime and Snapchat to communicate.” states Gail Holt, MD of Hardware Distribution.

“Picking up the phone and actually speaking to someone is still my first choice; but for many people this action is no longer as obvious as it once was. However, while many customers and consumers like to make contact over social media, by email, or via live chat, nothing beats speaking to another human being over the phone when you have a problem.” There is much talk about the death of the landline[1] and the rise of the wireless/Smart phone.

But is this true for the enterprise? I don’t think so. Would you expect all the customer agents in a contact center to be answering cell phones rather than wired phones?

A survey done recently concluded that the most useful online tools are email first and the Internet second. Surprisingly, landline phones are more important than cell or smartphones! The landline received a 35% validation while the cell/smartphone came in at 24%. “I believe this is due to the inconsistent quality of cellular reception.” continues Holt.

Social networking sites are a distant fifth. If you count the T1/PRI and SIP trunking access in the landline category, then you can see that landlines remain an important network connection asset for the enterprise. Any communications connection will have two or more participants.

When the two members are in the office, it is more likely that the landline or IP phone will be used. If the other end is an out-of-office person, the cell phone becomes the more likely connection. The analysts who predict the total disappearance of the landline in the next few years are probably optimistic…

The enterprise locations may drop their copper wire connections, but they will not drop their T1/PRI or SIP trunk connections. The copper wired landline will take some time to disappear, so the wired connections over T1/PRI SIP trunk connections will have a long life. These wired connections will probably never disappear altogether.

So the wireless phone will become more common for the out-of-office worker, while the wired connection will remain constant for the enterprise end of the conversation. Call me old-fashioned, but having a landline/SIP phone number makes your company more credible. A Google survey recently showed that 47% of people searching on their site will look for another company if they don’t see a phone number in a company’s ad[2].

Just like having a professionally designed website, or an office in a good location, a phone number indicates legitimacy. It says ‘I can reach them directly and talk to a real person if I ever have a problem.’ Having a human voice on the end of the line is another reason the phone is important to your business.

With a “live person” answering a customer’s question quickly over the phone, you establish a positive image of your company in that person’s mind. By speaking to them you are interacting on a personal level that no other communication can reach (other than face to face), and when your customers think of your company, they will remember your voice on the phone, not a bland email exchange with [email protected][3] If your customer has a complex problem, or one of a personal or sensitive nature, speaking over the phone is often the best option.

Also, when dealing with issues like scheduling appointments or deliveries, speaking to a person while they have their diary open can save hours of email tennis and frustration. A single five minute phone call could sort out a problem that might take five or more emails and hours or days to resolve otherwise. While it might seem like the world revolves around social media platforms and ecommerce websites, it’s worth remembering that not everyone is online all the time.

In my research I discovered that there are many people that do not use the internet as their primary means of communication. These people still make purchases, and by moving everything online, you risk totally missing these potential customers who may prefer to pick up the phone over sending a Facebook message. Your phone is still relevant and important to running a successful business.

While its importance may have diminished over the last decade, the phone still remains a way of solving problems with an immediacy that other mediums often cannot compete with

“Thank God, for the time being, people still want to talk to people.” concludes Holt.

Gail Holt

This article was published in partnership with Hardware Distribution.

References

  1. ^ death of the landline (tracker.mybroadband.co.za)
  2. ^ 47% of people searching on their site will look for another company if they don’t see a phone number in a company’s ad (tracker.mybroadband.co.za)
  3. ^ [email protected] (mybroadband.co.za)

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