Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Watson, Tweet here!

Sure today’s kids like to text, and they like to tweet, and otherwise non-verbally communicate. But are you really ready for a generation of customers that has little interest in talking to each other, never mind you, on the phone?

First, we lamented the loss of the handwritten note: email was going to make everything high tech, at the expense of high touch. Some salespeople rebelled, and joined the last enclaves of dedicated note-senders: We’ll have to pry their stamps from their cold, dead hands.

Then, we complained that auto-attendants, and voice mail, pushed customers away. Advances in telephone technology were “too ATM,” too self-serve. Or too confusing: Somehow people otherwise capable of driving cars and running blenders became paralyzed when confronted with auto-attendant choices. Besides, we’d miss the friendly voice of the receptionist, we were told. As if was ever friendly.

Try as we might to stop it, the consumer marched forward. Slowly, the party line gave way to the #hashtag. Teenagers no longer wanted a phone in their room, but a in their lunchbox. Soon school textbooks might replace Alexander Graham Bell with Biz Stone.

Perhaps just so, considering how young people have been treating the 20th century inventor’s famous device. According to recent data by Edison Research, 12-24 year olds nationwide have put down the receiver: Telephone calls by America’s youngest talkers have declined more than 38% since 2000.

It turns out the future looks like one in which nobody wants to talk to you on the phone. Baby Boomers invented the Do Not Call list, a verbal version of their hatred of email spam. Poor customer service is associated with notoriously bad call centers, replete with language barriers, script-style problem solving and long wait times. Leaving a voice mail, say young people, is so “last gen.”

Today’s consumer finds the phone so useless that the new story-line for great customer service is the text, tweet and chat. Recently, I resolved a cable-modem problem with our service provider entirely by chat room and tweet – more than an hour of diagnostics and changes that eventually solved the problem – without the preliminary experience of “extremely high call volume” waiting. Not too long ago, when the Newport Hyatt gave away my specifically-reserved balcony room overlooking the ocean, and the automaton behind the counter could “do nothing” because the hotel was sold out, it only took a single tweet with photo of my garden-level room overlooking the dumpster for a @hyatt_concierge to find me a room on an even higher floor with an even better room.

Hanging up the phone isn’t just a different way for customer to engage brands: it’s clearly better. Companies that insist their customers are funneled through the auto-attendant to be served by script-reading robots are going to lose those customers. Period. And teams that insist that you can’t build relationship, analyze needs and demonstrate your unique selling proposition without a verbal (and eventually in-person) interaction will find themselves disconnected from the mobile commerce world.

I suspect that if Bell were working in his lab today, he’d be the first to encourage us to hang up the receiver. We can only imagine him tapping into his iPhone: Watson, tweet here!

  • They don’t want to talk on the phone until THEY want something !  ….then they call/pester several times per day.   It’s kind of funny and ironic to hear those same people complain that agents don’t answer thier phones or return calls within 20 minutes !   Gen X will come to realize that business gets done via PHONE and IN PERSON meetings….or they’ll be left on the sidelines.   I’m not saying it will ALWAYS be that way, but texting and tweeting just isn’t enough to get stuff done.   My two cents.   Joe Montenigro, REMAX Home Team,

  • Joe:

    Thanks for your comments. I guess all I can say is: They are the customer, right? So if they want you to answer fast, that’s the standard they’re willing to pay for – and not less. As for texting and tweeting not getting stuff done, I would just remind you that it’s only a few years old and ALREADY generating billions in sales, not to mention solving customer service problems. I bet even you like it when an Airline texts you of a gate change – without the need to stand in line or see a person face to face – and go on your way! Just a thought…

    – Matthew

  • Yes, and imagine how it will skyrocket when you can Text, Status Update and everything else you want to say, just by touching a button, walkie-talkie style, and saying it.  The Speech recognition software will do the typing and the sending.  Through the stratosphere. . .