Hanging on the Telephone
Peter Panda

I have a kick-ass smartphone, but I don’t really talk on it that much. Like most of you, I don’t have a landline anymore so this is my number one means of communication. But I realized how often do I actually talk to someone? Not very much.

Sure I call my parents every day, and call to make appointments–but when it comes to talk time, it’s far and few between.

On the business side, it’s even less. Like most agencies, ours at Elasticity is an open floor environment. There have been times when I think about calling a client for a quick question or comment, but decide it’s either too quiet and I may disturb someone or the extreme opposite, it’s too loud to make a phone call.

I could easily go to an empty office or conference room, but that would require actually moving. So I’ll just send them an e-mail instead. Sure I have scheduled weekly conference calls and other miscellaneous phone conversations with clients, but it’s not like the good ol’ days where phone calls were the norm.

In this day of e-mailing, IM’ing, and texting, a lot of us are getting lax. Recently, Inc. Magazine listed the “Top 10 Reasons to Pick Up the Phone Now.”

While most of their tips are common sense, they are worth sharing. I’ve added my own 2 cents below:

  1. When You Need Immediate Response: I know you’re thinking, “But I could text or IM”. If it’s urgent, call.
  2. When You Have Complexity with Multiple People: If your e-mail thread is getting out of control and has several client contacts involved, then schedule a conference call. This way you can make sure you’re all on the same page and in agreement. Also, most people glance at e-mails. When you’re setting time aside to focus on the topic at hand, you can hope that you have their undivided attention.
  3. When You Don’t Want a Written Record Due to Sensitivity: Hmm…I can’t recall a scenario off hand, but Inc. Magazine advises this is good if you want to convey a message without it ending in the wrong hands. This makes me think of Mission Impossible where you could deliver a message then have it self-destruct. I guess this isn’t an option for everyone.
  4. When the Emotional Tone is Ambiguous, But Shouldn’t Be: We’ve all seen those e-mails right? Was my client serious when he/she wrote that? Was that a yes or a no? On the flip side, they could be thinking the same thing. Whenever in doubt, pick up the phone to clarify.
  5. When There is Consistent Confusion: This kind of goes along with number two above. In addition to this, if you’re going back and forth via e-mail and there is still a lack of communication, schedule time for a quick call to clear the air. After the call, send your e-mail as follow up to confirm “We agreed upon ___ and will move forward with our project”. That way you also have something in writing to CYA.
  6. When There is Bad News: I can’t help but think of the Sex and the City episode where Berger broke up with Carrie on a Post-It note. This tip goes for your personal AND business life. If you’re behind on a project or made a major SNAFU, then call to let them know. It’s less of a blow hearing bad news as opposed to reading it. It also shows integrity and thoughtfulness.
  7. When There is Very Important News: Pretty much for all the same reasons as above. Plus, it’s a lot easier to hear excitement than to read it. That’s sarcasm. See you didn’t catch that did you because you’re reading it?
  8. When Scheduling is Difficult: I’m sure we’ve all had clients that we’ve tried to book meetings for (conference calls and/or in-person meetings) and you keep going back and forth via e-mail to figure out a date. If you’re having a hard time getting something confirmed, a quick call to discuss a particular item, or go over a schedule could be the fastest way to accomplish your task.
  9. When There is a Hint of Anger, Offense, or Conflict in the Exchange: Oh, this is a tough one. Who wants to call someone when you know they’re upset with you? Well, Inc. Magazine is right. “Pick up the phone and resolve the issue before it spirals out of control.” A hard pill to swallow, but makes total sense.
  10. When a Personal Touch Will Benefit: To me, a phone call is almost as good as getting a letter in the mail. Ok, a letter is way better but still–when someone takes the time to call and thank you for a great job on project or congratulate you on a promotion–it’s a nice feeling. No matter what the reason for cheer, support, and/or encouragement, it’s always nice to hear the human compassion being extended.

So I challenge all of us to get better about using the phone. I’m going to call one of my clients and give her a quick update about her project and tell her to have a nice day. Hopefully she’ll welcome the gesture. Or, I may go straight to voicemail. Either way, I’m making the effort.

May the below video from my idol, Debbie Harry and her band Blondie inspire you to pick up the phone and call someone:

I’d love to hear if any of you plan to take my challenge and get updates as you go along.
Feel free to call me at 867-5309. If you’re a fan of the 80s, then you know this number well.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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