Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

This Telephone Has Too Many Shortcomings

Don’t make the same mistake about new technology Western Union once did.

Some readers might remember a “boxing match” we did a couple of years ago in Las Vegas. It was part educational, part entertainment, but underneath there was an important question: Are modern technologies like social media and texting valid tools for salespeople to grow their business?  In the blue robes, I fought for modern technology; in the red robes was the defender of traditional tools, like the phone. For thirty minutes, we exchanged jabs over things like telemarketing, door knocking, Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, it was Las Vegas: The score was staged to a “tie.” The point: A little of everything is a good strategy for any smart salesperson.

About a year later, however, the real verdict was released, when Traditional Fighter’s organization finally created a Facebook page. As we’ve often said: Even the Pope uses Twitter to take his message to the people, because nobody’s going to his Sunday Open House’s either. In this case, another analogy, involving the freezing of a traditionally hot place came to mind. No matter. It was simply gratifying to see another Traditionalist come in from the cold.

Or so we thought. Old habits are hard to break, which is why we weren’t all that surprised when a friend passed us an e-newsletter from Traditional Fighter last week. It was making fun of the how young people use technology to communicate (No irony was mentioned of the fact that this disdain was being sent by email). 

Leveraging a quote of Albert Einstein who once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots,” the email showed a series of pictures of young people staring at their smartphones at coffee shops, the beach, museums, and so on, rather than interacting with each other. The message: Here’s our generation of idiots. This stuff is a waste of time. Don’t become an idiot yourself.

Now, in all honesty, we’ve noted that these trends exist: Many of the examples we share have noted how Generation X and Y have formed new and different communications habits. Gen X prefers texting over face-to-face meetings 44% of the time, says Pew Research. It’s widely noted that Gen Y sends 3000 or more texts each month, “talking” by phone less than half as much as Baby Boomers did. None of this is disputed. Some of it even seems a little silly – such as young people staring at their smartphones at a baseball game. But at the same time we might “lament” the change, we must recognize that we cannot change it.

Like it or not, always-on-mobile-communications is here to stay.

The world has moved on from 1950.

What we can do is control how we react to it. That’s the problem we have with the idea that Albert Einstein’s prediction has come true. First, and perhaps not out of character for Traditional Fighter, it’s insulting. Even if taken lightly, to accept this quote is to put in the back of your head a certain dislike, a peering-down-the-nose at the next generation of customers. What you think about your customers matters, and it comes out in subtle ways (and gross ones, as the email proves). The last thing a salesperson needs is even a hint of the my-customers-are-idiots thinking: Haven’t we learned that from the you’re customers *aren’t* always right crowd.

Yes, your customers are always right; and no, they’re not idiots.

More worrisome, however, is the thinking that says, If you succumb to these changes, you’re an idiot, too! Regardless of a decade of data showing how technology drives today’s best sales organizations, this is pure fear mongering to a group of people who are worried about their ability to incorporate these changes into their lives. After 22 years of helping people do this, we can attest that it’s possible for everyone; if they can get over their fear. And no salesperson we know of has really adopted an “either/or” mentality: They know that they must adapt their approach to suit the customer, not the other way around, if they want to get paid.

That’s what makes this thinking so dangerous: It’s not just insulting: It’s encouraging people not to even try.

The irony of such neo-Luddite thinking is that we’ve been through this many times before. History is full of examples of people resisting changes in technology, science, medicine and social organization: You can Google it, or even find it in your local library. Even if you dismiss history, your own thinking should be challenging you: If there’s exists a generation of young people who prefer to text each other than speak in-person or on the phone, what makes you think they’re going to take your call when you’re trying to earn their business? No answer is ever given: Just blank out.

All of which takes us back to the business of predictions and prescriptions. Using Einstein’s quote to claim that today’s youth are incapable of interacting with each other is unfortunate. We’re fairly certain Facebook has been able to bring a billion people together into a giant customer market without placing a single phone call. We’ve personally just completed a complex refinance of our mortgage without ever speaking to our mortgage professional: Email and text worked just fine. Yet examples have little effect if you don’t want to see the world as it is: Quotes from the past are much better dire warnings about the future.

So we’ll offer one of our own, in the same spirit, just in case it might change your mind:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union memo, 1876”

Ask yourself, have you ever heard of anyone today paying their “Western Union” phone bill each month?

Be strong. Be brave. Be bold. But most of all, live in the future, not the past. It’s where all the action is going to be.

  • Communications is my favorite subject, and as the mother of two boys, 24 & 17, I can tell you THANK GOODNESS for text or I would never hear from them! Arguably texting is here to stay. How the consumer prefers to communicate must be an option if you wish to maintain relevancy.

    HOWEVER… I do feel as though the deeper, more meaningful connections and the time spent to truly understand someone seems to be a dying art. The lost nuances of facial expressions and gestures and tone and the skill of listening to HEAR is (in my opinion) something to be concerned about looking at the bigger communication picture. What skills are lost and how will that affect relationships, business and society long term?

  • Ah, so true. I always remind people that it is not our clients job to have something in common with us. It’s also not required that we have something in common with them but if we can identify common ground or similarities, it might make our transaction proceed smoothly and increase our chances for earning repeat and referral business.

    How your clients want to be communicated with is paramount to delivering a memeroable experience. It all starts with asking early in the relationship, “How would you prefer we communicate troughout the transaction?” certainly helps.

    I’m probably just as guilty of keeping my face buried in my phone or tablet at times when I should be looking up and joining in face-to-face conversations. Luckily for me, many times my head is down, it’s because I am building a relationship with someone else who’s head is down looking at their screen and we’re have a conversation – text, social media or maybe even through Skype or something similar.

    Traditional Fighter would be proud to know that many of today’s “idiots” still get “face-to-face.” They just call it “Facetime-to-Facetime.”

    Thanks for the post. Hope to see you soon IRL or via a URL. Either way, it’ll be nice to connect.

  • Sean – thanks for your great comments. As always you remind us that one of the most important skills in sales is “agility” – the ability to modify our style and methods to “fit” the customer’s preferred way to work with us. Whether it’s how we market, keep them up to date, or close the deal, the smart salesperson will always have a whole range of tools and techniques at their disposal to make the sale. Which is why it continues to amaze me that some people simply won’t admit that social/mobile tools are just “one more item” on the tool-belt that helps salespeople succeed.

    In a moment of irony, I just went to the local diner for lunch. As I sat at the counter reading the WSJ on my smartphone, three kids about 20 years younger than me came in and sat down. Not a single one looked at their smartphone the entire time – they were having a fun discussion and knew quite well how to converse “face to face”. I’m plenty confident tomorrow’s kids will have MULTIPLE avenues to express themselves; and I am hoping my readers cn build those multiple channels for themselves, too.

    Thanks again for your comment. Hope to catch up soon!

  • Teri: Yes, indeed, you point out an important aspect of the process: Different technologies open – or close – different levels of understanding. Face to face lets us read body language; phone calls help us interpret voice signals; other tools open different kinds of information; but every tool has it’s pros/cons. The challenge for modernity is to make sure we’re using the *right tool for the right job*.

    That’s why I’m so surprised at Mr Traditional’s post: He “assumed” they were using “low quality” text communications. But he never allowed for the possibility that they were doing something like VIDEO CHAT – which would have been EVEN better than any “classic phone call” because of the visual element. That would mean those “interpersonal” skills which you rightly remind us are so important will CONTINUE to be important. We might all look back on the texting craze as just a “learning phase” – like learning the alphabet before writing a poem – that suddenly released a massive wave of interpersonal communications.

    If it’s one thing we can learn from history, it’s that people will continue to invent and use more ways to express themselves. I just get worried by the people who discourage others from even trying new tools. I love a good painting, but I don’t want to go back to scrawling on cave walls any time soon… !

    Thanks for your reply!!

  • Technology, or not, you should never consider those who will be paying your bills as idiots. It blows my mind that anyone would infer that about a demographic of people.

    It’s a shame that they are steering agents away from one of the largest groups of home buyers. Over the next 10-15 years technology is only going to continue to grow, not decrease. Also, those that who hate technology, and don’t want to use it is going to decrease in size dramatically.

    So, let’s summarize their thoughts. Young people who like social media, texting, and smart phones are idiots. Too bad, those idiots are the ones you are going to need to work with over the next several years if you want to stay in the real estate business.

    BTW, the person who thinks SM is only what idiots do, surely does it themself. Their YT channel gets updated weekly. Their FB page gets updated almost daily, and they are all over the other social networks as well. Does that mean they are idiots too?

  • Jeremy: Thanks for your comment – and you’ve put your finger on something far “beyond” the issue of the technology to the “attitude” that was expressed in Mr. Traditionalist’s email. At some point, even a “cute” quote can go overboard; and the last thing I think anyone wants to cultivate is a sense of disdain for your customers.

    It must make for very interesting conversations between the social media manager and Mr. Traditional during office meetings. Imagine working for a boss who think what you do is “idiotic”….. Sad.

  • It’s a brave new world, indeed Matt. And fantastic points – especially that complaining about it and avoiding new technology is only going to prohibit the old school from getting business. I still remember my first talk at Leading RE (then relo) about a decade ago. It was on time management, and I took out my blackberry (the old one that kind of looked like a 50s caddy with giant fins and a tiny screen), and people looked at me like I had brought fire down from the mountain. “What is it?” “You get your EMAIL on THAT?” “I’m not going to carry THAT around. My laptop is in my room.” Yup, the future is here baby. Although I’m still afraid of pintrest.

  • Oh what I’d do to be a fly on the wall during those meetings 🙂

    The attitude he places on technology has such severe consequences for those who trust him as a mentor. Hopefully things change soon, or their business could be in danger of extinction as the older “non-techy” generation continues to go to more funerals and be replaced by a younger generation that grew up with an iPod in their hand.

  • John: Thanks for your comment. It’s funny how that process keeps repeating itself – whether it’s the “telephone” or a Blackberry or an iPad or whatever else is coming down the line, it’s almost a given that people will start with “immediate resistance” only to one-day find they can’t get along without it! Of course, there are a few who never adopt certain things, which might be fine for themselves. But to advocate for others to remain “bound” by the past is scary to me!

    As for Pinterest, well, don’t worry about it! Don’t you know it will “go away” soon? :>:>

  • Have to say ~ LOVE skype! (AND art!) We should schedule a date 😉 You always keep me thinking! 🙂

  • Hey Chris:
    Thanks for your email. Glad you enjoyed the post, and the boxing match. Sounds like you’re a perfect example of what I’d say is the best strategy: A little of everything!
    As for Mr Traditional being lovable, well, maybe…. in a “monster-under-the-bed” kind of way! :>
    — Matthew

  • This is a REPOST from someone who contacted us by email with their reply and asked that we add it to the stream. Hope everyone enjoys it!

    “Traditional Fighter and others like him in other arenas will always look for and sometimes find evidence to support their beliefs. Unfortunately for them the highways of life are strewn with the wreckages of traditional fighters. Some of us who are old enough to remember the story of John Henry look at Traditional Fighter and wonder what it is that he doesn’t get. Look at any industry and see the current players and technologies. How about the current Best Buy debacle. That chain has by many reports becoming nothing more than “The showroom for Amazon.” Even after Target and I believe, Wal-Mart, changed their policies to match Amazon prices Best Buy resisted. Anybody checked Best Buys financials recently? I don’t think their future is too bright.

    An old friend once remarked that the only thing that likes change is a wet baby. Like it or not change is inevitable. The failure to adapt also leads to inevitable and predictable results.

    Sorry to cut this short but I have to go and play Pong on my Atari.”

  • Matthew.

    Communications has been and will always be two-way. There are so many ways to communicate and I agree that we must know how to use them all. Texting, Skyping, Face time and yes video are all ways to communicate. Knowing your audience and more so, your clients and the methods that they use to communicate is critical! The one thing that I do not like about texting is that occasionally, the recipient has a short memory and deletes the text. The best method for important communication is email. This can be printed or saved in a file.
    The bottom line is that we must use accessible resources to communicate. The internet, telephone, Ipad, and yes even printed magazines and the newspaper. Believe it or not, people still do read the newspaper and you’d be surprised at the age group. So, it is important to know and use all forms of communication.