The End of the Phone?

The way we communicate and interact is changing. This has big ramifications for business…Recruitment may never be the same again!

Let’s spin back nearly 50 years to a famous moment in music history:

“guitar groups are on the way out, the Beatles have no future in show business” (Dick Rowe, January 1962)

Mr Rowe (allegedly it was he) had just watched an hour’s audition from a new pop group and was clearly sure that although this new fangled beat music may be popular, it wouldn’t outsell the more traditional forms of popular music. It was all a fad. And he knew, because he was a successful A&R man who usually got things right.

Not this time!

How wrong could he have been?? 50 years later the group that had no future still cast a long shadow over popular music.

Of course he underestimated the power of the 16 – 25 age group to influence popular culture from the bottom up. **

What about phones I hear you ask?

Well, the great and the good of recruitment are lining up to get us back on the phone. All this new fangled Social Media may be popular but it won’t replace traditional forms of communication.

Well I think it will.

If Dick Rowe were a recruitment trainer today he would probably say: Social Media is on the way out, it has no future as a business communication tool.

He’d be wrong again.

The people we are now bringing into the workforce are from the first generation NOT to have had a landline phone as their primary communication tool. They are used to communicating through short messages…whether by text, IM, Facebook, Twitter or short mobile chats. When they organise to do something they create an event. They love social interaction but face to face is way more important than ear to ear.

Teens invariably start by using mobile Pay As You Go…not an arrangement that rewards long conversations.

Relationships are built in a very different way now.

Anyone who thinks they can bring a 21 year old trainee into the workplace and expect them to use the phone in the way we have always done for cold calling and relationship building are in for a shock. You may have been able to teach telesales…but not how to use a basic communication tool.

Ask any 18 – 21 year old how they interact with their mates and organize parties, evenings out or cinema trips and I think you’ll be surprised. But then you’ll understand why they may accept an invitation for an assessment day but not actually turn up. It’s not rudeness; it’s not a lack of interest in your opportunity…it’s just that commitment and communication happen in different ways now.

You can send a text, but then they’ve probably signed up for so many text alerts and updates that yours may not stand out.

You can send an e-mail, but then they probably won’t read it.

You can invite them through Facebook, but then they get invited to lots of things through Facebook.

You can ring, but you’ll probably be leaving a voicemail.

And even if you do get a message through, they won’t have a calendar or diary to put it in…only their mobile phone. Your assessment day will probably end up being the day after a mate’s birthday drinks and will gently slide from memory.

The times they are a-changing…the recruiter of tomorrow will not have the communication skills to build meaningful relationships over the phone, let alone make a cold call.

You can’t teach communication.

Business relationships of the future will be defined by the way people interact and communicate.

Like The Beatles social media and mobile technology offer platforms that will probably cast a giant shadow over how business communicates for the next 50 years.

It’s changing already. Those of you in the London area may have seen me on BBC London news a couple of weeks ago talking about how what you can say on Twitter could affect your job. One of their reporters read this blog and contacted me, asking if they could interview me. They didn’t call me and they didn’t e-mail me…they sent me a message through Facebook. And I don’t even have a link to my Facebook page on my blogsite.

I’ve written before how my favourite quote of recent weeks was the one from a Clay Shirky interview:

no medium ever survived the indifference of 25 year olds’

25 year olds are very indifferent towards the landline phone, e-mail, letters and long conversations..

The future workforce will dictate the way business ultimately communicates…and I’m fairly sure that it won’t be on the landline phone.

Let me know what you think.

** (To set the record straight, Mr Rowe eventually must have seen the error of his ways and signed a number of bands who would go on to dominate the music industry including The Rolling Stones, Them – including Van Morrison – The Animals and Tom Jones…will our industry thought leaders be similarly as visionary?)

33 thoughts on “The End of the Phone?

  1. Its not even the elephant in the room! So many just don’t see it. I totally understand the drive to get back on the phone – recruitment has become a lazy occupation – whack up a job ad and wait for the response. When you get a response, email them the job spec!

    Its madness. So im not against good old fashioned sourcing and bringing it back and encouraging increased use of the phone is no bad thing, especially as a large number of the current professional workforce are not 18 to 25 and still actually use a phone!

    But strategically, ignoring social media and the changes in the way we people are communicating is pure stupidity. If you are not blending it into your current strategy now, you will be dead in 5 years.

    Nice post Mervyn.

    1. Straight to the point as usual Gareth! From the fax machine to facebook, our industry has this innate fear of anything which doesn’t fit in with the basic transactional sales model and it’s easily measurable KPIs and ROIs. I think the big difference this time is that it will be the way that not just your new employees, but also your candidates and clients, communicate that will force the changes on businesses. As you say, the change should start now…it really will be a case of you snooze, you lose otherwise!

  2. I’d say you SHOULD teach communication…at school. Just because teens prefer to text their mates and not turn up for assessment days or whatever, doesn’t make it progress or right. Indifference to the basic tools of the workplace is no excuse. Nor is laziness.

    Gen Y bang on about how they are the first generation to be tech savvy but I always say what about the soft skills like effective verbal and written communication, the ability to listen and engage, good analytical ability and a flair for digesting information quickly, problem solving skills, common sense, effective relationship building skiils etc. etc.

    You’re right, the home landline may not be the number one tool in the Gen Y communication armoury, but neither do international banks get their business done by texting each other or not being arsed to turn up for meetings.

    Why should we pander to the iphone and ipad user? Should they not develop a bit of flexibility in their aporach along with some decent people skills and adapt to the way organisations run their workplace? You’ve already said that they are unlikely to respond to alerts and turn up for appointments. You also say “the recruiter of tomorrow will not have the communication skills to build meaningful relationships over the phone, let alone make a cold call” – to me that is very sad. I guess some would say it’s progress. But is it? Really?

    1. I wasn’t thinking of progress, more of a development that we can’t ignore. There is a tendency for each generation to judge the next by it’s own values and attitudes…I’m sure we were similarly judged when we first entered the workplace! I think that the ‘basic tools’ of the workplace are constantly evolving and will usually adapt to suit the people working there.
      I’m with you on the need for effective soft skills, but don’t you think that this would normally come from the home…family, friends and local community, rather than school? As for Gen Y, I think that the ‘tech savvy’ argument is wrong…it’s their approach to communicating and connecting which will have the biggest impact.
      As always, manyt hanks for your interest and passionate comments.

  3. Mervyn, you bring up some great points. I especially like where you talk about all the ways to communicate that may not reach the candidate of the future. What do you think WILL get through to them? Do you think we’ve even seen it invented or deployed. How can we as recruiters or hiring managers attract their attention?

    I guess that is why organizations are working so hard to develop their brand so that the candidates want to come to them. How does this impact 3rd party recruiters though? I think we’ll really need to focus on where different generations are in the communication continuum and reach them THERE. For the older generations, the phone and other traditional methods still work. For my generation (X) you’re likely to grab our attention via text or social media. For Y and beyond….who knows. What are you seeing and hearing?

    1. Some great questions there Trish!! We’ve both witnessed out fair share of Gen Y debates and whilst their knowledge of the technology is important I think that it’s how they use it for communicating and connecting which will provide the change. I’m not sure what will get through to future candidates…in fact I’m not sure they know themselves! It may be that repetition though a number of different formats is the key. Whatever it takes they will need to be engaged, with both your company and it’s message…they take notice of things that really connect with them and grab their interest and are good at switching off from things that don’t.
      I do think that word of mouth, or advocacy, are big hot buttons for them and will get through to them…something that companies will strive to fully exploit. And there’s always the all important being with the ‘in-crowd’!
      As for 3rd party recruiters, I think it is a big challenge that very few are yet equipped to take on! Thanks for the comments and support.

  4. I just tried to call and speak this comment to you – phone’s engaged! Seriously, nice work. So far today I’ve used landline, mobile, facebook, twitter and blog to conduct business. You Gotta Have Them All! Or is that Pokemon cards?

    1. That was the post I needed…I saw a deck of Pokemon cards and they reminded me of recruitment because…!!
      You are right, we need to use all the platforms available in a fully integrated approach. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Great post Mervyn.
    I hear it so many times from well respected leaders in the recruitment industry – “what is wrong with just picking up the phone?”
    There is nothing wrong with it so long as you pay as much attention to every other form of communication. These are the same leaders who still target their consultants with cold call targets every day.
    Its not just about adjusting to GenY either, there are some really practical reasons why communication needs to be less dependent on the ‘phone. I once spent a morning in a procurement department at a very large blue chip client, there must have been 30-40 Category managers in this office and their phones rang on a regular basis – I was there for over 3 hours and not once did I see any of them answer a call! They just let it ring through to voicemail so that they could determine who they wanted to call back.
    Sounds familiar? You bet! So why are Recruitment firms still insisting on targetting their consultants on how many calls they make whilst (in many cases) completely ignoring their social media activity?
    I think its time that the recruitment industry started to redefine KPI’s so that consultants are more accurately measured on activities that make a difference.

    1. Don’t get me started on this one Mark! The transactional sales model, it’s faults and inflexibilities, is a whole other post! I think you’re right, the industry needs to redefine what interactions it values, and look at what it takes to build the deep, mutually beneficial relationships that eventually lead to good business. I am sure that the grad trainees so beloved of the sales led recruitment businesses will struggle with trying to develop relationships over the phone, yet will probably make far better, longer term connections using all the other communication tools at their disposal.
      Thanks for your comment and very valid observations.

  6. What a great post! The recruiting industry has changed a lot the past decade, but there is still the need for the phone. Saying that, I would be more willing to returning a phone message by email rather than a cold call. I am very busy and it also gives me a chance to research before the call.

    Social media is enhancing recruiting and increases connections and the recruiters reach. There is so much information on the net and it is important what you do with the information. Making connections online is the start, speaking with peope by phone really enhances the experience for everyone.

    Love the discussion and the post

    1. Thanks for the comment Chris. My premise was that communication was changing and business would need to change to reflect this. At the moment the phone is still the primary connection tool for most of us, but it will change and businesses will need to gear up for it. Chances are that the trainees you take on will not get the experience from speaking on the phone that we do. Having said that, they may well be more likely to want to meet in person.
      Do you think there is a cultural difference here between UK and US? Is the land-line phone used more amongst young Gen Y in the US? I’d love to get your take on it.

  7. A good article but could not quite work out how you do get hold of an 18 year old.

    Getting rid of phones in a sales environment wont happen in our lifetimes though. As social media user I can only keep up with so many tweets or emails etc but if you call me you have my attention cos I know your real.

    1. Thanks for your comment Alex, I agree getting hold of – or in modern parlance I guess, connecting and engaging with – an 18 year old isn’t easy, yet in 3-4 years time every business will need them in their workforce. It’s something that the most forward thinking businesses are looking at now, and probably worthy of a blog on it’s own!

      I take your point about getting rid of the phone and agree that it’s unlikely to completely happen over the next 5 to 10 years, but I wouldn’t give it much longer. The key will be when the current crop of 16-21 year olds really impact the workforce. Give one of them a sales team and see how they go about setting them up!

      From fax machines to e-mail, we’ve always thought in recruitment that the phone is irreplaceable, yet both of those medium became dominant once clients and candidates started using them and demanding that we do

  8. Enjoyed reading the post, Mervyn. I recently asked a family friend (he is 18) what technology/networks he uses to talk to mates and he said instant messaging, texting and Myspace (he is a musician). I also make a point of asking work experience students what technology they use and it tends to Facebook (these students tend to be 15/16).
    What does that tell me? Well, not to make generalisations about how anyone uses technology! And to keep asking the question.
    I think the key is to understand how the comms landscape is changing and for us to be in the places where people are communicating. And as there are a range to choose from gaining attention does become harder.
    I’m excited by developments such as Google Voice etc and it will be interesting to see how technology continues to transform how and where we talk to each other.
    One thing is for sure, I notice that phones in our office don’t ring as much as they used to . . . and that the one thing I do less on my smart phone is . . . make calls.

    1. You’ve nailed one of the big challenges Martin – there are so many platforms and ways of interacting now that it is impossible to use just one! Even the age group most comfortable with them use a variety. Being in the places where people are communicating will be the challenge, and one which I believe the traditional recruitment industry will find hard, as there will almost certainly be no measurable KPIs and ROIs. The big question facing HR will be how to identify and engage with a workforce both current and potential – that communicates in such a myriad of ways.
      Thanks for a really enlightening comment!

  9. I remain unconvinced that there will ever be a better way of selling than face to face or by phone. And how do you best get that face to face sales opportunity? By sending a text message or tweet or by picking up the phone and getting past the castle guard? Voicemail does, however, have a lot to answer for if you’ll excuse the pun, in how it has made getting hold of people much more difficult. the example of the procurement people above letting their phones go straight to voicemail is a sad illustration of exactly that.

    1. Key word there is ‘selling’ – I believe that the whole concept of sales will change beyond belief over the next 5 – 10 years and I’m not sure that UK businesses are prepared for it. Word of Mouth, Advocacy, peer recommendations – the workforce of the future will grow up fairly immune to traditional sales IMO. The 16-25 age group are fairly big on face to face interaction, it’s just that they are unlikely to even think of initiating it through a traditional telephone call…and a cold call at that!
      Procurement is a telling example as they will play an increasingly key role in companies’ recruitment processes in the future, particularly in their interaction with 3rd parties.
      thanks for your input to the debate!

  10. Mervyn is right – the concept of selling will change significantly over the next decade. In fact its already changing but we wallow in ignorance over the fact. Focussing on the classic selling ‘steps’ from the cold call to the ‘close’ (Gag!) will have significantly less effect, certainly in consumer sales – maybe not business sales so much in the short term – as things change. Classic sales approaches are built on the existing model of sales and marketing, where large marketing budgets would fund one way, one dimensional marketing campaigns on which sales would follow up. Or sales would hit prospects directly.

    This is going to change significantly because marketing is changing/has changed – its now two way, whether we like it or not. You cannot simply influence sales by spending money on a campaign. not long term anyway. If the experience doesn’t match the marketing, the two way dialogue can kill the brand. Also, social media and the web has given us unlimited access to our peers, our fellow buyers and we now trust their opinion over and above the marketing messages, which consumers are trusting less and less.

    We also don’t want to be sold to any more. We have had enough. targeting cold calling, for example in recruitment is largely pointless but it still exists because the industry is built on this framework and it hasn’t needed to change for over 40 years. The pace of change will soon outstrip this business model. Maybe not tomorrow or next year, but mark my words, its coming. If you own a traditional, contingency agency business now and you are still working those tired kpi’s my advice is to sell up, or get radical.

    My final point would be to pick up on Alasdair’s question – how do you best get that face to face sales opportunity if you don’t use the phone. Well I can say with confidence, that I have developed some great relationships, that became face to face sales opportunities over twitter, in a matter of weeks, that would have taken me months, possibly years on the phone. People are vastly underestimating the potential of tools like twitter to build quality relationships.

    And don’t think for a minute that twitter and the like are just another angle in, or conduit to a ‘sales opportunity’. The GAME HAS CHANGED FOLKS! Build a relationship or connection via twitter and revert to old tactics like ‘the close’ once you are in and you will blow it. There is no place for it in this new space. Consequently I wont be ‘going for the close’ (Gags again..!) any time soon. But I guarantee I will be doing business.

    1. Hi Gareth, i to have developed some good relationships via twitter, and got work out of it, but I was thinking more of a pure sales role. When I worked in telesales way back when we had to make something like 65 calls a day with x percent being effective. How will salespeople’s success or failure be measured in the future do you think, if it entails hanging around the twitter community and slowly but surely developing relationships rather than the old AIDA method of making a quick but always relevant of course, sale?

      1. “65 calls a day with x percent being effective” raises the question of what is effective. I suspect effective in this context means an instant sale or at least a warm lead to follow up. But these sales and leads are to people who are easily susceptible to influence, often from people who don’t have the balls to hang up on their telephone tormenter. They are a quick fix. Very few will become long term sustainable customers. That’s why you have to keep a permanent telesales team; to compensate for high customer churn.

        If telesales created long term sustainable relationships by definition they would not need to exist – but they do, albeit as a dying breed. They will become extinct as increasing numbers of companies latch on to the fact that there are far better ways to build proper lasting relationships with their future customers by leveraging new communications technologies and brand building.

        Sales is dying. The future is all about creating and maintaining relationships that will make your future customers come and find you rather than you trying to hunt them down in packs.

      2. Thanks so much for your comment Jon. I firmly believe that the whole essence of business to business sales sales will change. It is interesting that you and Chris, both people who can be classed as potential client contacts, have reservations about the phone as method of first contact. As I mentioned in an earlier response, like fax and e-mail, once clients and candidates start using social media as the point of contact then recruiters will have to follow suit.

  11. I think is a great post, but I would say the phone is still important, I feel that social media is here to stay, it is a great tool to leverage as a recruiter and if you are not using it you will not be successful in business today. But in my mind to be successful you still need to build a relationship via the phone and use the tools that are out there today, FB, Texting ect… to support that. Companies today are leveraging a more virtual approach to interviewing so knowing how to communicate verbally is still very important it is your first impression to many employers today!

    1. Thanks for your input Chernee! My premise was that the new generation of recruiters and candidates entering the workforce were using different communication platforms and that business will inevitably follow…I do believe that. For established recruiters the phone will always be the first point of contact, but it may not always be the same for candidates and clients moving forward. Recruiters need to be adept enough to use the full range of communication platforms available to keep up. Certainly we need to be in the conversation to be part of the conversation.

  12. @gareth ” If you are not blending it (social media) into your current strategy now, you will be dead in 5 years.” PLEASE! This is a huge exaggeration. Do you honestly stand by this Gareth?

    @Mervyn I hope all my competitors stop picking up the phone and making personal connections with their clients. For me there is no substitute for actually talking to someone and then actually meeting a potential client to talk business. Huge cliche I know, but people buy people. We are in a people business, people are our products. You can’t get away from that. And you only really know a person if you have actually met them.

    Wow – what next? Recruitment consultants firing off multiple CVs of people they’ve never met?!

    If you are right, it sure is going to be easy for people like me to differentiate ourselves in the market.

    1. Alistair – well yes I do stand by what I said. If, as a contingent recruitment business you continue to use the existing methodologies to find and interact with candidates and to find and interact with clients, on top of the traditional KPI’s WITHOUT blending/incorporating/adapting to the new forces including the drive to socially connect, you will be dead. Or if not dead, you will only be operating in the shitty end of the market, picking up the scraps.

      The phone and face to face are absolutely key as you have said. But FACT, i have built relationships this year, that have gone from zero to what i would call very strong and trusted relationships in months. This used to take a year, sometimes years especially when you are a recruiter – you are not trusted. But in the last 12 months, social media has been THE single differentiator and enabler of real business and deep relationships.

      It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you extrapolate that over the next five years, given the pace of change, the pace of adoption, you will fall behind if you don’t get on board.

    2. You can certainly differentiate yourself to people who are talking your calls, but if your potential clients stop answering then you’re speaking to no-one. It is the next generation of clients who will expect to interact in different ways. Not tomorrow or next year, but over the nest 5 to 10 years the telephone will lose it’s effectiveness as a communication tool…almost certainly as the point of first contact.
      Meeting someone will always be key, and the generation entering the workforce over the next few years will be big on face to face interaction…it’s just that I don’t believe they will initiate first contact through the landline phone, because they wouldn’t have been using it.

  13. If someone had told me in high school that I would spend my time interacting with people I have never met- or my entire team that I work with would be all people that live in all regions of the nation – also all people that I have never seen in person- I wouldn’t have believed it. If someone had told me that I would be able to work from my home office and do what I do on the internet- I would have been shocked. I can’t believe how far we have advanced in the ways we do business- I am excited for the future and to see what the next 10-15 years will bring.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Gina, and I share your excitement! I really do believe that the pace of change will catch a lot of businesses cold making for a very interesting future!

  14. Thank you so much for highlighting this blog again! It is so true that GenY have a different view of communication and we have to be creative in how with engage with folks today. It is not the normal traditional pick up the phone. But I do believe human interaction outside of social media tools and taking the conversation off line is still very important and critical to success in any business whether recruiting or marketing etc… Looking forward to conversations to come.

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