On the use of Telephones and alternatives

Whilst I am happy to talk to people on the phone, I generally find the telephone to be a nuisance and irritating device. The telephone is also highly unreliable as a means of making contact: a telephone requires two people to be available at the same time, email does not have this limitation and neither does traditional post.

Rude Interruptions and Time Wasters

To put it bluntly, a telephone call is a rude, disruptive interruption. It is no different than a person going up to a group of people who are having a discussion, and then for that person to push into the discussion and direct the conversation on to another topic, with a specific person, and otherwise driving everyone else away. If that person turned up ringing a large brass bell to attract attention, then their arrival would be considered even more annoying.

Whether a landline phone is at home or business, they both receive a large number of uninvited calls, requests for surveys, requests for donations, requests to buy some stuff you do not want. Most of the paper used by our business fax machine was by advertisers, typically, cheap holidays in Phuket or office coffee machines. Somewhere buried in all this scrap paper were job details from clients. Such junk was supposed to have been blocked. We have a private home phone number, but still get cold callers advertising their junk.

Finding the Right Goods and Services

If we want something we will contact the sellers, and the first thing we will want to know is the price range. Once we have the price range we can then immediately stop looking once we know we don’t have the money. When I was a kid, in England, the easiest way to find the price, was to look through a mail order catalogue. With increase in variety of retail outlets, can wander around the stores, these stores may be responsible for junk mail in the household letter box. This junk mail is not entirely junk, and can often be useful. Further paper based brochures are probably no more wasteful than the generation and transmission of electricity for the modern telephone. {Traditional telephones did not need mains electricity to power the phone, nor to recharge phone batteries. As I understand the phone network was powered by large banks of lead acid batteries.}

The problem with information from retailers is that it is effectively censored. Modern retailers only supply products which make the most profit. It seems that modern business is about maximising profits rather than satisfying needs. As a consequence of the censorship or discrimination on the part of retailers some producers cannot get their product on the shelves. Hence buying direct from producers is still an important part of distribution. However, finding manufacturers or producers is not as easy as finding retailers. Or if can find a producer, making contact is not easy, as the facilities maybe gated off and guarded. Hence not every business or organisation has a public face.

Receptionist or Answering Machine

As another example it is not acceptable to interrupt an heart surgeon in the middle of surgery. Likewise it is not acceptable to interrupt architects, engineers or writers when they are in the middle their work. For that matter interrupting a trades person or assembly line worker when they are doing their work is also unacceptable.

Doctors typically have receptionists or office administrators to answer phones and otherwise organise appointments. Not every business can afford a receptionist, nor an office for them to work from. One solution to this is shared and serviced office space. No business actually operates from the space, the space is managed by an office administrator who talks to potential clients over the phone, and manages the booking of appointments for meetings held in the office space: which is used by several businesses. The need for office space for meetings can be eliminated if meetings are held in local restaurants or coffee shops.

Similarly phone calls can be redirected to an answering service. An answering service can be replaced by an answering machine. Few people leave messages on answering machines, and if they do they typically do not leave adequate information, or they fail to speak clearly enough. Secondly a lot of time can then be wasted leaving messages on answering machines with the two parties involved, experiencing difficulty being available at the same time. There is no real feedback, as there is with a retail store, where can see that a queue is too long. But even then still have the problem of:  what time to return, such that the queue is acceptable to join and wait.

A receptionist is better than an answering machine. However, a receptionist may expend most of their time waiting for phone calls, if they are given something else to do, then the phone call is equally disruptive to them as it is to others. Hence a receptionist to be economically viable needs to be fully occupied answering the phone.

Telephone Help line and Help Desk

However, people generally don’t want to talk to receptionists they want to talk to people with the knowledge. Though they are not generally willing to pay for that knowledge. Some businesses do monitor phone calls and charge for consultancy given over the phone.

In the first instance however people are generally just trying to find the appropriate service, and it is this for which they are not willing to pay. The problem for the service provider is trying not to give too much information away. In any case the people with the knowledge are typically involved producing written reports, and phone calls are an interruption to their train of thought.

So having a separate telephone helpline or helpdesk, where the personnel are fully occupied answering the telephone is preferable. That however represents a potentially separate and independent business enterprise. It is important to understand however what information is suitable to be passed on via the phone, and that which really needs to be in writing. Architects, engineers, and other designers work with drawings, written specifications and written calculations: phone calls are likely to provide little information and limited to simple verbal instructions. Lawyers work with the spoken and written word: a telephone conversation with a lawyer is likely to be expensive.

Information or Conversation

As the information passed on by telephone increases, it becomes increasingly necessary for someone to write the conversation down so as to remember it, or draw a sketch based on a verbal description. An audio recording of a conversation may take the place of writing, but it takes longer to scan an audio recording to find a specific instruction than it does to visually scan a written page. However an audio recording does not produce a graphical sketch from a verbal description.

A video blog, may give an indication that it is 5 minutes duration, but that doesn’t indicate the time to transmit to your computer. A few years back youtube must have changed its way of presenting videos: as previously a 5 minute video may have taken 10 minutes to play with lots of pauses. As a consequence, typically had to replay the video to watch it properly, so a 5 minute video actually took 15 minutes to watch. But what is it that going to watch? With the written word, it may take 30 minutes to read, but can visually scan that writing in a few seconds and decide whether it is worth reading: cannot do that with audio recordings and video recordings still take a long time to scan at high speed (and without sound track).

So the written word and drawings are still the most effective means of recording information. So whilst telephone calls may seem more sociable, being sociable is not the first requirement of business. The first requirement is to provide such information as necessary so that a potential client/customer can determine whether or not they have found the correct business.

Websites and Email

Today the lowest cost of providing the necessary information is via the internet and the operation of a website, with communication via email.

Personally if I visit a website and it says to phone for a price or further information, then I move on. As mentioned above the first task is to determine the price range, to decide if it is worth pursuing further. If no price is quoted on a site then I assume I cannot afford such supplier. The other issue is the use of my time: how much of my time do I need to contribute to getting the goods and services I require. A supermarket is largely built around the concept that the goods are available sat on a shelf just waiting for you. If the goods you need are not on the shelf then the supermarket is not much use.

A supermarket does not however provide instant satisfaction, as the buyer has to travel to the supermarket and then travel home from the supermarket before they can put the typical product to use. Digital products however change the situation, as the time is reduced to the time taken to transmit or download the product.  This time can be as short as a few minutes. Digital products are built around knowledge and information.

So what benefit is a webstore to a retailer and the buyer. A buyer can go to the shop today and typically get what they want today. Having the right goods at the right time is the service the retailer provides. If the retailer does not have the goods but can order the goods in, then that is also a useful service for the retailer to provide. However the buyer doesn’t and should not need to go to the store to make such order. Further if need to wait 2 days to several weeks for the goods to be available, then the goods should be delivered to the buyers premises rather than available for pick-up at the retailers premises. The benefit to the retailer is that they can expand their product range without need for larger premises, and they can supply to order rather than hold stock which people don’t necessarily want. The big problem is the wait. However, the retailer can  use orders and wishlists to gauge demand. From the demand they can determine which goods to have in store and which goods to supply to order. Likewise manufacturers and other producers can determine which goods to produce for stock and which to produce to order.

Now, to a significant extent goods and services are interchangeable. Goods embody function which can otherwise be provided by a service. In other situations services complement the supply of goods. For example a lawn mower may be expensive to buy, and even if not, it occupies space and is a little used device. A lawn mower service eliminates the cost of buying a lawn mower and also eliminates the need to use the lawn mower yourself. Furthermore the service can provide extra benefits: such a using different lawn mowers to suit the type of grass and the state of the lawn. That is weed ridden lawns are mowed with the one mower and manicured lawns with another, to prevent contamination. Another example is the use of a taxi service rather than ownership of a car.

Information Services or Just Information

However the main concern here is the replacement of consultancy services with goods. Consultants primarily apply knowledge, their primary skill is determining the correct knowledge to apply to a given situation. People may be able to visit a local library and find the required information in a book and apply it themselves. However a lot of the information provided by consultants is not available in local libraries, it is only available in university libraries and few such libraries are open to the public. Even then a library may not have the most current information, and the local book store is also unlikely to sell the needed books. Whilst speciality book suppliers are not local and the needed books also unlikely unknown.

This is where the internet and Amazom.com have made a big difference. Now members of the public can find a book on just about any subject. The problem is the preliminary knowledge required to understand, comprehend and apply the knowledge in any given book. Several books may be required, and it will take time to study all the needed information. For certain it is unlikely to take the 2 to 5 years for formal university degrees, which is the response many consultants give when asked a simple question.

So the reason for seeking the services of a consultant isn’t because they are more intelligent or more knowledgeable, but because they are expected to have specific knowledge right now. If they don’t have the knowledge right now then there is an expectation that they can acquire the knowledge in less time than it would take yourself, else you most likely would do it yourself.

However, the person seeking information, knows what they are seeking, the consultant doesn’t know what the seeker wants unless they can explain so thoroughly. It is said that 2/3rds of the answer lies in putting the question clearly. Therefore if you cannot put a question clearly and you employ a consultant, then you are expending most of your money on clarifying your requirements not on getting the answer.

Therefore if you do not have time to provide your required input to the services, there is little point in employing the services: as failing to get what you require is not the suppliers fault but your own.

… to be continued


After writing the above did some internet searching and found the following articles.

  1. Emails Only, Please: 10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste of Time
  2. Why Email is Better Than the Telephone
  3. Why a Phone Call Is Better Than an Email (Usually)
  4. Don’t Send That Email. Pick up the Phone!
  5. Emails vs. Phone Calls: The Fight That Shouldn’t Be
  6. Email Vs. Phone Vs. In-Person: What’S Best For Workplace Communication?
  7. Talking to Customers: Phone vs. Email
  8. E-mail vs. Phone: When to Use Them in Sales
  9. Phone Versus Email: Courtesy, Crass Interruption, Or Dying Art?
  10. 5 Reasons Why A Call Is Better Than An Email
  11. Communication Laws – When to Use Email or Pick Up the Phone
  12. When you should pick up the phone, and why
  13. Phone vs. Text vs. Email
  14. Tips on When to Use Email, Phone, or Video

Whilst some support my bias against the use of phones, others are biased towards using phones, whilst some suggest using the right tool for the job.  My basic view is that the vast majority of business does not require a telephone, and that its popularity is largely because its an old technology which satisfied a need and is difficult to change habits, and the businesses have not yet implemented the required infrastructure to deploy the most appropriate information technology for the real task at hand. That is they still use telephone answering services using pick a number games: most of which are actually designed to make you give up and not bother with your complaint or enquiry.

{I realise that most people on the internet believe that technology comprises solely of the internet and the electronic junk used to access it. However, technology comprises of tools and techniques and has been around for several thousand years. It is therefore unhelpful to refer to whether to use technology or a telephone, as a telephone is technology. For that matter so is the spoken word and the written word. The question concerns the appropriate technology to use, not whether to use technology or not.}

It should also be noted that managers and salespeople tend to have a bias towards telephones: these people however tend to spend most of their time talking and not doing anything else. Others who spend their time in front of computers all day, will generally tend towards email, as it fits in better with their activities. Others may have jobs involving verbal instructions, but those instructions are likely aided by drawings, or involve access to the physical equipment being used by those instructions: hence their spoken communication is dependent on visual aids or the use of all five human senses.

The vast majority of the situations in which a telephone was used and continues to be used is in getting information, and that task is best provided by a website providing access to the appropriate information technology. For example here are some examples of getting calculations online:

  1. Beam Calculator
  2. Steel Beam Calculator

As for the problems of using writing versus speech, here is Australia’s literacy rate. Since I expect written instructions to go ahead with work, and I produce written reports, I typically expect the people I work for, to be able to read and write. Admittedly most people cannot follow the numbers and do not understand what I am writing about, however it will be even more difficult to understand if spoken.

Also whilst looking for some word lists to help with sorting files, I came across the following article: How do I overcome my fear of speaking with an accent when communicating with a native English speaker? I was born in Lancashire, raised in Cheshire, my teachers seemed to come from London teaching college and taught us to to pronounce words different than our parents. From there we moved to Yorkshire, and from there to Zambia. At the Lusaka international school my teachers were either Zambian, American or Canadian. From there went to Australia, then back to England, Lancashire, and then returned to Australia. As a consequence could say I have a mongrel accent and dialect.

Given that people are typically not taught to be good orators, the spoken word is not the clearest means of communication. At least when face to face, people can point at objects, they can write, and they can draw sketches, and a lot more of the five senses can be brought to play, to achieve communication.


  1. [15/01/2017] : Original
  2. [20/01/2017] : Added Postscript and links to similar articles.
  3. [31/01/2017] : Minor Edits