Is anyone on the line?

Author: Steven Zolman

Is this the beginning of the end of the phone call? Is voice communications a dying breed? Perhaps not on its last breath, but certainly less relevant than it once was. Case in point: My phone hardly ever rings. OK, so maybe no one wants to talk to me, which is entirely possible, and I certainly attend plenty of conference calls, but seriously, most of my communication is via email and texting. I admit to preferring to communicate with my colleagues and clients and suppliers via email because it is self documenting and asynchronous. I would even argue that voice mail is becoming increasing obsolete. And, frankly, I don’t really want to talk to people all the time because conversations tend to get off track and I’m guilty of not having the attention span to focus on one task for one conversation at a time. And I don’t think I’m alone.
I realize this is not a new phenomenon, but there other trends in the industry that support my point. For instance, mobile wireless carriers are reporting data usage is exceeding voice usage, particularly with the growing adoptance of Smartphones like the Blackberry and iPhone with email, video, music, texting and web browsing capabilities. The CTIA, an international association for wireless communications, reports that when people do talk on their mobile phones, their conversations are shorter; the average length of a local call was 1.81 minutes in 2009, compared with 2.27 minutes in 2008. I suspect this trend can be found with fixed lines as well. It is also no secret that American teenagers or Asian consumers for that matter are masters at texting, with voice communications only used when necessary or not at all. Consumers are replacing fixed line phones with their mobile phones. But, then again voice quality has not improved much since the emergence of the cell phone, with mobile operators having little financial incentive to do so, so there is no consequent incentive for a consumer to place a call because it sounds so great.
What do I say to the businesses I work with that are preparing to invest millions of dollars in a new phone system for their company? Communications has evolved to more than just voice. There are now so many more channels and manners in which to communicate, all with varying degrees of effectiveness. Certainly there are many business out there where voice communications is a vital channel to their customers and suppliers, but not so much like it once was and I would caution any business preparing to make a substantial new investment in a phone system, mindful that “phone” systems are much more than voice communications with the emergence of more sophisticated integration of multimedia and unified communications applications, that you should take a hard look at your use of voice communications to ensure you are not over engineering for a communications solution that is used increasingly less frequently. Perhaps the issue is not voice communications so much as the need for a phone on your desk on the job. A softphone through your desk or laptop is now a reasonable and effective means to interface for voice communications and blends nicely with applications like Skype. Or why a wireline phone and a wireless phone, which is the case for most of us. Fixed to mobile convergence is growing in maturity to help solve this. Think before you buy. Hello? Is anybody there?

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