Greetings from Tahoe Call Center – Blog 4: The Dying Art Of Telephone Etiquette

Located in Nevada, Tahoe Call Center is a small family-run business with a big heart, ready to help with your communication needs.  Since 2012 we have assisted clients coast to coast in varied economic and emergency climates: wild-fires, blizzards, ice storms and unforeseen events (with affordable, competitive pricing that didn’t add further trauma). Rain or shine, short-staffed or no staff, we help keep your business going: Answering phones / taking messages / providing information / Taking credit card orders / collecting and transmitting confidential information via email, SMS, or API (linking with existing systems).  Our agents are trained to process sensitive information with courtesy, respect and maintain the strictest of confidence.  We also help with those intermittent overflow call surges during business hours and cover your customer inquiries when you are closed.  “Always here so you don’t have to be” – We help keep things running smoothly 24/7, 365 days a year. Tahoecall.com

Blog 4

Part One:

Image and expectation

The Voice

The invention and artistic rise of Silent Film impacted the world. Soon to follow, recorded sound secured film’s place in history. No longer would ‘just a pretty face’ get by for early film actors.  Now, how your voice sounded was even more important. Easy on the eyes and easy on the ears; it was said ‘film didn’t lie’ and the public believed what it heard and saw.  Society was presented with a powerful impressionistic combination of sight and sound that would influence and change the world’s expectations in ways it never anticipated.

Successful manufacturers, familiar with the importance of voice for radio advertisements, now had the ‘complete package’; a visual representation of their product and the voices of popular celebrities to sell it.  

Talking films helped advance other new technologies as well. Audiences were able to ‘see’ the practicality of telephones, household appliances, and were further tempted with luxury items and lifestyles.  The concept of Image and ‘brand’ grew.

The financial savings new technology offered was another powerful tool for many businesses; especially during the depression years. Recorded sound brought music into many homes that would never have had the opportunity or means to hear it performed live. Stories were recorded for the visually impaired, providing another new service and industry. With so much new technology introduced at once, many companies were sold on the financial benefits with little thought to the affects on the ‘big picture’. Company’s ‘bottom line’ benefited, but often at the expense of its workers. If a machine could do it for less, why did manufacturers need humans? The depletion of jobs exasperated an already devastated economy further which in turn, reduced the number of consumers. Joining those voicing concerns over the loss of employment were others voicing discontent at the loss of quality as many technologies focused more on function than form. Referencing the ‘canned music’ that replaced live musicians, who had been performing in motion picture theaters to entertain audiences before a film was viewed, one author commented: 

The soul of the art is lost in mechanization. It cannot be otherwise because the quality of music is dependent on the mood of the artist, upon human contact, without which the essence of intellectual stimulation and emotional rapture is lost”

– Canned Music On Trial, Duke University Libraries 12-9-2009

This same lament might also apply to much of today’s automated voice response technology.  Change and transition are never without their bumps on the road to acceptance.  But I find myself sharing similar concerns:  “The soul of the art [the human touch] is [being] lost in mechanization.”

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

Whether ‘Back in the day’, when ‘Classified Ads’ were the main place to search for jobs, or in our current time ‘first impressions’ matter.  

In the 1980s many companies hired Receptionists based on appearance as much as skill. Where operators were once kept in rooms housing walls of wires and plugs, now the Receptionist was ‘front and center’. They were recognized then as, and are so now, the visual and ‘first voice contact’ for the general public. Like early Hollywood, the voice may have secured the interview, but if the rest of the ‘package’ didn’t fit their requirements, the interview concluded with a quick: “Thank you for your time, but we’re looking for a ‘special someone’ to best relay our company image.”

Traditional Receptionist jobs of the past are not as prevalent now. Instead, that first contact/first impression will come through technology and automation. Classifieds have moved from newspaper to websites with many initial interviews held via skype or over the phone. With more and more companies housed online, it sometimes seems society has regressed from film back to radio, and if that is the case then having a ‘live person’/ live voice’ present for that first impression is even more important. And, if businesses are only working with their customers through email, Customer Service regresses back even further to the time of written correspondence and all the interpretation pitfalls.  

Regardless of physical location, the voice that answers your phone presents your company to the world.  It is the human connection most people seek when they place a call.  Familiar with email or not, people will choose the phone when they need an answer quicker than the average 24-hour email response. In fact, according to a survey by Ring Central, more customers preferred using the phone to obtain answers for ‘after the sale’ service inquiries or problems.  Automated voice response technology as the ‘first response’ may be an efficient way to sort and direct these calls but is limited by a caller’s patience and ability to navigate through them. Yes, the general public is ‘getting used to’ or ‘expecting to reach’ some form of automated response to their initial call, but ‘survey’s say:’ the majority still do not like them and in many cases, hang up and look elsewhere. Why?

Dean Burnett writes, “Choosing to’ wait for something you value is different [from] ‘being made’ to wait for something against your will. He supports this claim with examples of, “waiting in line for a concert or sporting event” [things you choose to do]: “This wait becomes a part of the experience as opposed to being put on hold in a phone queue.” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2014/apr/25/on-hold-hell-why-automated-phone-systems-are-infuriating). He further states: “When someone makes you wait they’re essentially asserting dominance over you.”  Is that the message you want to give your customers?

Another interesting detail Burnett brings up is: “Humans prefer talking to other humans.”  Professor Mehrabian’s communication ‘rule’ explains why this is:   “Communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. The non-verbal component is made up of body language 55%, and tone of voice, 38% (The 7% Rule, Fact, Fiction, Or Misunderstanding, article by Philip Yaffe. https://ubiquity.acm.org/article.cfm?id=2043156#:~:text=Professor%20Mehrabian%20 combined% 20the%20statistical,of%20voice%20(38%20percent).  

“We rely on visual clues such as facial expressions and hand gestures to help with understanding.” Burnett continues his point, “Talking on the phone robs us of this, cutting off much of our usual information, which adds uncertainty. And people really don’t react well to uncertainty.

When Mehrabian’s communication rule is interrupted or components are not present -as is the case with traditional phone calls- [“It’s radio, not TV”] Burnett states: “we rely on Tone of Voice”. 

Interesting that Mahrabian’s study found tone of voice made up 38% of body language.  For phone calls, it is a vital component. So, why would business rely on a monotone machine or, a ‘canned’ recorded human voice droning on and on? It sends the wrong message: “That’s how little they think of us; they think we’re mentally inferior to machines.” –Dean Burnett

Automated phone systems do fill a need and help streamline many situations. The industry is evolving and working to improve the capabilities and application of these systems. New technologies allow them to ‘sound’ more and more ‘human’. But they can only ‘think’ along whatever encoded/programmed instructions they have been given which limits their application. They are efficient, they are cost-effective; they are consistent but, they are not ‘communicators’. Automated phone systems are more akin to vending machines, offering their choice of A,B or C. While technology may bring these systems close they will never equal the abilities, variety and intuitiveness of ‘live’ human voices and minds.