Leave Me A Message, Maybe I’ll Call

10 09 2012

Remember when answering machines were in vogue? I do. You had to be someone pretty important to have an answering machine (which is what those machines were called long before someone thought of the word “voicemail”). Before answering machines, people just let calls ring and ring, in hopes of someone either walking in the door, or giving up to your tenacity.

Answering machines changed everything, because suddenly you could tag someone, and then there was an implicit social contract to return the call. Unless the power went out and deleted everything (or, as in the really old days, your tape filled up), there was simply no excuse for not calling back.

But things are different now. Where as we once anxiously looked forward to hearing whom we had missed while out and about, today checking voicemail is an ugly task.

Taking my cues from my 14-year-old daughter, I have observed that talking in general is loathsome. If you cannot text or Facebook someone, then forget it.

And businesses need to step up to the plate to figure out how to respond to this new development.

Three years ago I started inviting students to reach me via text or FB (having shared my cell number with them a couple years prior). Lucky for me, I am surrounded by young people, so I already had a sense that talking was going south. Maybe not as much as it is for teens, but still not the preferred means of communication.

In spite of what critics say about social media destroying our social skills, my take on it is that people really do not want to interact with one another, or at least the way we once did it. The preferred methods of communication are now short blurbs, often filled with emoticons and text-speak. At the risk of opening another can of worms, let me also say that we are graduating entire classes of students without the ability to write to, much less speak with, other people in a meaningful, grammatically-correct way.

But that’s another problem for another day. Right now, businesses need to embrace the notion that we consumers do not want to navigate through a voice menu from Hell, or speak to someone who really should be asleep in their time zone.

If anything, this presents opportunities for businesses, because we live on our phones. We are logged into FB 24/7. And the apps on our phones are like screwdrivers and wrenches in our toolbox. Companies that can redirect their communication…two-way communication…through these avenues are poised to gain customers, not turn them off.

While social analysts wring their hands over our inability (nor desire) to actually deal with spoken conversation, folks on the leading edge are figuring out ways to cope. And survive. For example, if I really need to give a detailed voice message (or am driving and can’t text), I will record a voice memo and then text it to the recipient as an attachment (just like an image). Others are using voice recognition software to capture messages and then embed them in emails.

But the really savvy ones are figuring out how to do it with just basic keystrokes on a mobile device.

Just as the primitive answering machine once separated the crowd, the ability to communicate in new ways will do likewise today. Now if I could just figure out how to embed my blogs into a mobile message, and allow you to respond from that device. Yeah, we’ll have it made then.

Type your response at the tone.

Dr “TTYL” Gerlich


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