If you’re thinking about buying a business opportunity and starting your own small business and under the age of 35 in particular—or even if you’re older than that but have adapted to the latest technology all too well—you may have challenges when it comes to actually picking up the phone to connect with a customer or close a sale. According to a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, that could be a problem.
Millennials in particular (born 1981 until the 2000s), who grew up with gadgets like smartphones attached to their hip, now use texting, email and online chatting as a first resort when communicating with prospective customers, many of whom still prefer to be approached and dealt with the old-fashioned way—voice to voice. Unfortunately and as the story points out, “In the workplace, some managers say avoiding the phone in favor of email can hurt business, hinder creativity and delay projects,” all of which can have a very real and negative impact on the bottom line.
So why are so many people uncomfortable with the whole idea of picking up the phone and actually talking to someone else in person?
First of all and because so much of the way we communicate today is now relegated to the written word (and acronyms at that), conversation is quickly becoming a lost art. Consequently, far too many of us have developed what phone-use consultant Mary Jane Copps refers to as “phone phobia.” “For many people,” she tells the WSJ, "it’s a lack of confidence that they’ll be able to say the right words in the right order in the right amount of time.” As a result, avoidance becomes altogether preferable.
For others, not using the phone is a conscious decision because they feel it slows them down too much. Unwanted calls, in particular, these folks say, are intrusive and lessen their productivity. They opt for instant messaging and planned video conferencing instead.
But desktop phones aren’t exactly headed for the dust heap just yet. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, the number of them shipped to businesses grew by 4.5%, according to International Data Corp analyst Richard Costello, who was also cited in the article. Obviously then there remains some tangible benefit to having the ability to speak with another person as opposed to only typing words incessantly back and forth.
Chief among them? There’s a much less chance of there being a misunderstanding.
“As email has become more prevalent, the opportunities for misunderstanding have increased,” according to Dr. Nicholas Epley at the University of Chicago, whose 2006 research findings on this subject in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 5) yields much-needed insight on just what makes text-based communication so risky.
Picking up the phone, according to his study’s findings, is still a very good idea, and here’s why:
- People are much more adept at communicating and interpreting tone in vocal messages than they are in written ones, and
- Those who are sending written messages greatly overestimate their ability to convey the tone they are aiming for, as well as their ability to interpret the tone of messages that others send to them.
Translation? Epley’s colleague on the study, Dr. Justin Kruger of New York University, sums it up simply. Text-based communication leaves too much room for error. “Email is fine if you just want to communicate content, but not any emotional material,” he says.
But isn’t emotion even more important than ever in today’s increasingly hyper-competitive marketplace? Aren’t there now thousands of books that talk about the emotional triggers it takes to make a sale? The emotions that perpetuate brand loyalty? The fact that sometimes it’s a visceral emotional response that makes all the difference in whether or not a customer makes a purchase? In fact, isn’t emotion and your ability or inability to connect with your customer on that level oftentimes the one and only thing that stands between your success as a small business owner and failure?
The truth is that fostering an emotional connection to the consumer is probably now just as if not more important than ever before. So perhaps it’s time to take a good hard look at refining your voice-to-voice phone skills and especially those of your employees, to encourage phone use over purely text-based communications for a change and to recognize its true value.
Take some time to evaluate your approach and overall process for communicating when it comes to sales and customer relations. How is it really working for or against you? Get phone training or provide it where necessary so that everyone that represents you and your business opportunity or other small business is completely phone literate and comfortable. Create a framework for managing the way you and your customers relate to each other, one that reflects both your need to be efficient and their preferred means of interacting with you.
And finally, hold fast to the knowledge that sometimes the “old way” of doing things—despite the so-called newest conventional wisdom—is still the best.