I got a call last week from my incumbent Canadian telecom services provider eager to justify its existence to me.
We all get these calls from time to time. One of those “how can we serve you better” calls. This shouldn’t have been surprising, considering how my service provider’s top rival had been crawling all over my neighbourhood the past couple of weeks installing new fibre services.
I don’t mind taking a call in the middle of a workday if the intent truly is to find a better way to serve me, and for less money, to boot.
But my patience had worn thin after 20 minutes on the phone while this less-than-nimble customer service rep fumbled around; it was all for the sake of a mere $7 a month, after all. Then I got lost in some on-hold void waiting to seal the deal with the verifier.
I finally hung up at the 30-minute mark. There was no profusely apologetic followup call through the remainder of that day. In fact, the service rep didn’t call back until the very same time the next day, when I had less time to spare. I didn’t take the call. She never left a message. Maybe I’ll call them back later this week. Or maybe I’ll call those other guys about their fibre service.
If she had never called me in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be thinking right now about jumping ship for one of those limited time honeymoon offers from the other guys.
If you can’t make a good impression, don’t try to leave one.
Proper phone etiquette
This isn’t even an issue of customer service, at least, not entirely. It’s about knowing how to use the damn phone. Sure, I can go hands free and work away while I’m stuck on hold, but I am still stuck. A phone call is a form of captivity, but that doesn’t mean I should be left feeling like a captive. Don’t dial my number until you already know why you’re calling and what it is you have to offer. I don’t want to be stuck while you shuffle through my file, trying to figure out in real time what it is you can do for me.
That is where the telephone stands distinct and apart from email and any social media channel you care to name. It is interactive and real-time. You can wait to answer email, or elect not to, as the case may be, with none of the awkwardness that comes of trying to extricate yourself from an unwanted phone call. Even social media is an “answer when I am damned well ready to” proposition.
It’s why PR types, like all good salespeople, know they have about 30 seconds to make a good impression when they dare ring up an editor or a journalist. They need to have nailed down their pitch before they pick up the phone and have taken the time to get some idea of what will pique the interest of the person on the other end of the line.
The phone may be under siege, but it’s not dead
But it’s becoming all too easy to lose those telephone skills. Media outlets, bombarded as they are with pitches and media releases, are erecting gates to manage the deluge.
Many are hiding their phone numbers and their staff email directories behind online forms with those lovely CAPTCHA brainteasers you have to squint at and decipher to prove you’re human. Others insist they now ignore email and rely exclusively on social media; if you want to get their attention and figure out what they are looking for, then follow them.
I will, of course, oblige if a particular journalist expresses a preference for a social media channel. But I don’t really believe it’s any more efficient a communication channel than email. Many journalists have followings so vast that you have better luck standing out in their email inbox with a well-crafted pitch than with a 140-character tweet.
But if email and social media are inevitable successors to the phone, so be it — whatever gets the job done. The challenge however, is to not allow those unique phone skills to atrophy. The phone may be under siege, but it’s far from defeated. You never know when you will have to pick one up to catch someone’s attention or guide them through a complex topic to ensure coverage of your story is accurate. A quick phone call really can get things done faster.
So, next time you have the choice between sending an email or making a phone call, try the latter. Put in a little practice to keep that silver tongue polished and sharp.
Image: Tire Review