The Psychology of a Phone Call (And Why It Matters More Than Ever)

When is the last time you spoke to a customer? Not by e-mail or instant message, but truly spoke to someone on the phone or in-person?

Depending on your industry, the answer could range from "just a few minutes ago" to weeks - perhaps even months - since your last significant phone conversation.

Some modern companies simply don't pick up the phone as much as traditional businesses, and it's a habit that could come back to haunt them.

girl miming phone call hand signalNever Forget the Value of a Phone Call

Entrepreneur columnist Ross McCammon cuts to the core of the problem in his recent article:

Getting on the phone with someone means a decision needs to be made. But this is why it works. This is why it matters. This is why I’m here to endorse the telephone as the most valuable form of communication in business.

Earlier this year we covered why phone calls still matter. Even with all the new media platforms and online communication channels, getting a customer on the phone represents a much better business opportunity than anything other than speaking to them face-to-face.

At a time when there are more ways to connect with customers than ever before, hearing someone's voice in these interactions is less common. There are times when the type of query doesn't require that depth, such as confirmation of existing details (flight times, order status) or providing company details (contact name, address). Most of the time, however, complexity demands a call or multiple messages. Trying to explain the ins and outs of an insurance policy while addressing unique personal circumstances, for example, would be tough to do in one or two e-mails.

Most of the time, however, complexity demands a call or multiple messages. Trying to explain the ins and outs of an insurance policy while addressing unique personal circumstances, for example, would be tough to do in one or two e-mails.

What really matters is the level of service and satisfaction that your customer gets from the communication channels you offer them.

As we'll see in the next section, there are some crucial psychological factors that determine why a call works best in many circumstances.

The Psychology of Calling

There are two important factors that make calls more effective than most other forms of communication.

The first is that phone calls give you the ability to make a deeper connection in a shorter amount of time.

Nuance is lost online. E-mails and instant messaging are easier to track and record, but the meaning of the moment is tougher to get across.

When two people talk to each other, all kinds of subconscious signals are relayed. The way we speak and the sounds we make influence the outcome of the call as much as the things we say. For service, this means more opportunities to make a customer feel valued and address their concerns. In terms of sales, it means more ways to influence the customer's decision to buy.

If a customer feels heard, they feel closer to the company that's hearing them. Whether that equates to winning a new customer or winning back an existing one, it's good for your business.

Business HandshakeImage Credit: Flazingo

The second quality that a phone call provides is improved understanding.

Hearing is the fastest sense we have. It takes less than 10 milliseconds for sound to get to the brain, whereas what we see can vary greatly -- somewhere between 13-80 milliseconds, according to research by MIT. We process a lot when we speak to another person and, in some ways, a phone call is the most efficient way to get on the same page. Without the visual clutter, both customer rep and caller are able to focus on resolving the reason for the call.

Once again, how something is said is as important to achieving a common understanding as the information being relayed. Emotions and intonation are impossible to fully replicate in written communication. A verbal conversation cuts out the ambiguity and allows customers to ask for clarification immediately when they don't understand something.

The back and forth of e-mail and messaging isn't immediate. Often, this means that several extra messages are required for clarification and confirmation, all of which add barriers to purchase for a potential sale. Even worse, they will inevitably increase customer frustration if the call is about a service issue. When a string of e-mails or an instant message conversation seems to be going off the rails, you'll be surprised how quickly an offer to call your customer will get things back on track!

Both of these advantages mean that any business trying to improve customer service or increase sales must focus on phone calls as a primary channel to communicate with customers.

Offering a wide range of ways to contact you is wise, but always make sure that you emphasize how easy it is to call your primary number.

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