In the late 1890s, a newspaper mistakenly printed an obituary for the very alive, very healthy Mark Twain. When word of his death reached Twain himself, he responded to a reporter in the most Twain way possible by saying, “the report of my death was an exaggeration”.
This quote by Twain is one of his most notable and my guess is that if the telephone could actually talk, it would say the very same thing about reports of its death. In 2010, a TechCrunch article reported that indeed the telephone is dead and has been replaced with texting and other means of communication.
Lest you are inclined to believe these proclamations, let me make a case for the telephone being alive and well. Even though more costly than chat or other communication methods in your contact centre, it should still be considered a viable medium.
Our need for instant gratification in today’s society has undoubtedly been one thing that people point to as justification for retiring the telephone and replacing it with chat or SMS support. While these certainly can provide a lower-cost means of service, it still lacks in delivering the ability to build a human connection with your customers.
Building human connection
This topic reminds me of the software company I worked for in 2003. We recognised that we had done a poor job at engaging with our customers, and as a result, we saw our retention rate begin to dip. In response, we changed our inside sales team’s role and assigned them several customers to manage. The first order of business was to call and thank each customer for their business. There was no sales pitch, no attempt to upsell, just a simple word of thanks and showing them we appreciated them.
The response was overwhelmingly positive from our customers, who let us know how much they valued being recognised and thanked. We did create a significant amount of revenue from the customer base that year, but if it were not for the telephone, we would not have had the same impact of a thank you email or even direct mail piece. The human connection we made via the telephone started this program on such a high note.
Sometimes you just need to talk to someone
I was recently on a chat line with a customer service agent. While I am here making a case for the use of the telephone, I do, when possible, like to resolve simple issues with chat. However, in this case, this was not a simple issue. After going back and forth with the chat agent trying to explain my problem, I finally asked, “Is there someone I can talk to?” I was given a number and was finally connected to a human being. Within minutes they solved my problem, and they had a satisfied customer.
While there is a place for the use of lower-cost communications, sometimes your customers just need to speak to someone. They need to hear an empathetic voice, be reassured, and be able to explain an issue in greater detail than an email, SMS or chat can support. This was one of those instances – I was glad that the vendor understood that and provided a means to resolve my issues.
I just want options
Regardless of the cost of using the phone in your contact centre and putting all of the call deflection stats aside, you may serve a segment of your customers who prefer using the phone over another communication method.
Simply giving them the option is another way to exhibit dedication to customer experience and meet your customer needs. If your customers want options, give them options and know that whatever cost of support you have will pay itself back and then some in delighting your customers.
As new technologies enter the scene and enable advanced communication methods, the one thing new tech will never replace is the desire to engage at a human level. In the contact centre, the best way to do this is using the telephone. Long live the phone!
Originally published Apr 13, 2021, updated Jul 13, 2021