Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of a telephone call. I live in a region where many people still believe that the only way to get action on anything is to call someone, which leads to many, mostly in the younger generation, having extremely awkward phone etiquette. Both Karey & I often talk about how the majority of our phone calls are from people who want us to give them information, which is nearly always better communicated over email. And a good majority of them don’t actually know what information they want. Case in point: I’ve answered a dozen phone calls this summer asking “Is your psychology program online?” when none of the online information about our program mentions an online class option.
Anyway, a different phenomenon is what I think is related, yet worse. If the sage advice of the Southern Grandmother is “You gotta call those people and ask…” it’s related rejoinder is “If it’s important, they’ll call”. And here is why the latter is absolutely false.
Today, in 2023, plenty of important things are communicated in methods other than phone. For example, recently a friend’s utility service was disconnected for delinquency. They hadn’t noticed that their auto-pay had somehow been disabled, and after 3 months of non-payment, service was cut with no telephone call notice. I subscribe to the same utility – I get an emailed statement every month that prominently shows me my bill amount. I’d be willing to bet that these statements noted that last month’s bill hadn’t been paid. It was important, they didn’t call.
And it’s not just delinquent utilities, here are some more great examples:
- First contact on job interviews is normally in email. According to recruiters, 42% of candidates don’t respond.
- Despite the numbers of them, generally the best sales and coupons come from email and mail. My grocery store, for example, regularly sends me a $10 off a $100 purchase, 3-4 times per year. But it’s through postal mail. Off the top of my head, I’ve saved at least $100 this year thanks to email and mailed coupons.
- In the era of Caller-ID being everywhere, 67% claim to never answer an unknown caller.
- Even better, 14% don’t even listen to a voicemail if it’s left. Of course that’s assuming you have voicemail set up.
Given the undocumented nature of phone communication, the fact that the legal system still utilizes physical mail or electronic records, and that most people aren’t even answering calls they don’t recognize, in short, even if it is important, they aren’t going to bother calling.
So the next time someone tells you “Don’t worry, if it’s important, they’ll call”, ask them why they believe that. I suspect it’s something related to how the telephone was one of the few communication mechanisms in human history that was intrusive – you couldn’t control when it would ring and interrupt your life. You had no idea who was at the other end of the line – it could be a salesman or it could be the police. You couldn’t read it at your leisure. It was the only way to push messages in near real-time, and it was utilized as a central plot device in so many medias over the last century. But times are changing – and we can’t let memories of “40 years ago, they’d call you and ask if you wanted to come in for an interview” excuse our lack of checking our job search email’s spam filter!