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Are Evolving Modes of Communication Helping or Hurting Us?

November 17, 2010 |  by  |  Communication

Whatever you want to call those handheld devices that once upon a time were referred to exclusively as telephones, there is no doubt that they are changing the way we communicate.  When we go to buy one now, we not only want to know about receptivity, but we also want to know the all the specs concerning memory, resolution, megapixels, and what generation of mobile technology it is using.  It is not just the camera, calendars, games, web access and apps that are diminishing our vocal use of the phone, it is written electronic communications as well.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a survey taken by Nielsen found that people in their 50’s and early 60’s tend to talk on the phone as much as they ever did.  On the other hand, young adults, specifically 18 to 34 year olds, are talking on the phone substantially less, a fall from an average of 1200 to 900 minutes per month over the past two years.  During that same time period, there was an increase in the average number of text messages from 600 to more than 1400 per month in that same age group.  The reason given for this is that they feel the more personal nature of a phone call gives them less control over the communication than the more impersonal text message or email.  They also feel that phone calls are more interruptive to the other party than an incoming text message.

While the progress we have made technologically is fantastic, it appears that live, person-to-person voice communication is on a steep downslope.  The question is does this help us or hurt us in our profession?

As with every debate, there are clearly two sides to the issue.  On the one hand, text messaging and emails do have their place.  First, they provide a record of the communication that can be invaluable.  For example, if you have given instructions to your team by email, you have that documentation to refer back to if a conflict arises.  Furthermore, emails can save a lot of time when you need to get clarification on an issue from a client that is not too complicated and has a short answer.

Where emails are not appropriate is when they are used as a substitute for calling in order to avoid speaking directly with a client.  That would not be the best approach for someone wanting to maintain or even improve client relations.  There may be times that it is unpleasant to call clients, especially if you are bringing them some bad news.  However, by not talking directly with them, you may miss certain opportunities with your clients such as:

  • solving problems that arise in the fastest and most efficient way possible — one phone call may save you a lot of time spent receiving and answering multiple emails,
  • learning more about your client’s business, thereby gaining more rapport with your client — the client may say things in person that he/she would not necessarily elaborate on in an email, and
  • adding timely value through your conversation and leaving the door open for additional work from your client.

I hear many times that newer staff are just too quick in sending email requests for information from clients as opposed to picking up the phone and having a real-time conversation with them.  Frankly, I think that we are all guilty of taking the easy, least-effective way sometimes when it comes to communications with other people.

I would be interested in what you think of this subject.  How would you handle it if it was to go the other way in that a client preferred emailing you, and he/she never returned your telephone calls?

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