What would Alexander Graham Bell say if he were to see how his invention has morphed from the simple, first ever telephone in 1876? And what would he think after learning that every man, woman and child now has a phone in the palm of their hands 24-7.
Life looks a lot different since the first telephone line was constructed, the first switchboard was created and the first telephone exchange was in operation. Three years after these events, which all happened between 1877 and 1878, almost 49,000 telephones were in use.
But the telephone has never undergone a more profound transformation than in the 21st century. And we haven’t even hit the two-decade mark! More than ever, we are glued to our mobile devices, yet traditional phone usage is in rapid decline .
In January 2016, Pew Research Center announced they would increase the percentage of survey respondents interviewed on cell phones from 65 to 75 percent to sufficiently represent the nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults who have ditched their landlines. With our primary mode of communication quite literally in hand at all times , we’ve never been more reachable.
Why, then, are we so hard to reach?
POOR PHONE QUALITY AND DESIGN
Quite in the same way a poorly designed mobile site may lead a prospect to postpone—or abandon—a purchase until reaching a desktop computer, the call quality on today’s mobile devices may have those who relinquished their landlines making a run for the nearest Radio Shack. With a signal that is transmitted by radio waves to the nearest cell tower—wherever that may be—and design emphasis on handheld compatibility for text, email, web, and apps, talking on a mobile phone is neither clear nor comfortable.
The problem has persisted for years. And though recent legislation sought to make cell phone carrier companies responsible for this problem, a recent verdict just gave them permission to shrug their proverbial shoulders at the matter.
After raging for eight long months, the call-drops issue was finally resolved by a Supreme Court verdict last month. Much to the disdain of many cell phone users, the apex court termed the telecom regulator’s directive to penalize telcos for call drops, as “unconstitutional and arbitrary.”
THINKING OF LEAVING A MESSAGE AFTER THE BEEP? DON’T.
In an effort to simplify work and boost productivity, Coca Cola recently opted to eliminate voicemail from the phones of its employees—and only 6 percent kept it when given the choice. With companies like JPMorgan following suit , voicemail is quickly joining the ranks of the rotary, pay phone, and beeper before it, lending to the notion that the telephone itself may not be far behind.
It may come as no surprise that the voicemail effect is becoming increasingly prevalent in an age where millennials—for whom instant messaging, texting and social media were staples of their childhood and young adulthood—are estimated to comprise nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population . But certain social anxieties may be a contributing factor. According to Business Insider , millennials tend to avoid making calls for fear of coming off as presumptuous and distracting to the receiver. Written communication, with the inherent ability to craft a carefully planned, comprehensive message, is becoming ever more the preferred method of contact.
EVOLUTION OF A SOLUTION
So, what does this all mean for companies and how they interact with their customers?
The reality is that the landline continues to be in sharp decline. At the same time, the simultaneous rise of the mobile phone continues to increase. This is no surprise.
According to a recent Pew Research study, 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011, and tablet computer ownership has edged up to 45% among adults. Smartphone ownership is nearing the saturation point with some groups: 86% of those ages 18-29 have a smartphone, as do 83% of those ages 30-49 and 87% of those living in households earning $75,000 and up annually.
As human nature shifts and digital channels continue to emerge into preferred methods of communication, businesses must follow suit. Customers have made a mobile mind shift and expect companies to serve them on their mobile devices in their time of need. It’s no longer just about providing a 1-800 number for “service” calls, a reactive approach to resolving customer issues and concerns. It’s now about the proactive management of the full customer experience.
An increasing number of businesses are using technologies – other than voice – to connect with customers on online and mobile platforms. With the increase in touch points where brands and customers connect, companies must focus on the full customer engagement that exceeds far beyond just one interaction. This means anticipating and addressing a customer’s needs as they use their mobile phone to browse an online business without being intrusive is crucial to engaging today’s mobile savvy consumer. For example, interrupting the customer with random, pop-up windows asking if he or she needs any help is almost as bad as making an unsolicited telemarketing call to the mobile customer’s cell phone.
Reaching today’s mobile customer is less about directly reaching them via a direct phone call and more about paying attention to the customer journey, where he or she is within that journey and what channel the customer prefers to use – be it live chat, email or social media messaging.