By Stephen Laskowski
Press 1 if you know the extension of the person you want to speak to. Press 2 if nothing on our menu resembles the department you are looking for. Press 3 if you want to travel in a time machine circa 30 years ago when you still had the ability to pick up the phone and talk to a live human being in under 20 digits.
Who hasn’t at some point wished for prompts like that last one? Perhaps technology has improved our ability to communicate quicker, but it’s also meant an erosion of interpersonal contact. Ironically, though, it might not be long before some of you who still value doing business with a human voice start feeling nostalgic for voicemail.
Recently, a major US bank and international beverage maker eliminated the ability of customers to contact the majority of their employees via voicemail. The reasons given include cost savings and the availability of more efficient means of communication; i.e. texts and e-mail.
There’s little question in this era texts and e-mail are a faster, more efficient, means to reach people – my own voicemail prompts members to contact me via e-mail for faster service. But is the elimination of voice-mail entirely really the right decision if you’re trying to promote better communication with a customer? When a customer reaches out to you by phone are they really asking you to make a quick decision on their behalf or are they looking for a decision with a personal touch? Are their issues ones that can’t be settled over e-mail which require you to have a conversation?
The decisions the business community makes regarding voicemail not only signals a technological evolution in how businesses communicate with each other – no different than the elimination of telegraphs and faxes – but an evolution in how we as a society value personal interaction.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for technology and efficiency. Basically, signaling to your customer that no one will be home when they call, just doesn’t cut it for me. You may not always want to talk to your customer at times, but they defiantly want to talk to you when they decide they are going to dial your number. Perhaps some of these companies should have experimented with voice-to-text/e-mail options. It might be costly, but I’m guessing it’s a technology that could placate a few of us old schoolers, where each side gets to deliver and receive communication in the manner they’re most comfortable with. At the very least, it confirms to customers they’re being heard from and their message has been received and not just being bounced around to different stations in cyberspace.
Ultimately, the main issue for me is not what technology choices we make as companies, but how we as businesses value personal contact with our customers. Throughout my years of working with many successful fleet owners and suppliers across Canada, how they value personal interaction among themselves and their customers is still the most common and consistent attribute they all share. The successful owners make it a point to visit their customers regularly. The personal connections and the value of eye-eye meetings continue to be paramount. These connections reinforce to customers they are dealing with a person of action who can attend to their needs and solve their problems, and not another faceless corporation that queues up their customers behind the (overseas) cybernetic customer service counter.
Sure, e-mail and texts can provide you with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but seeing or hearing how that answer is delivered really tells you the way a company feels about the value of its product or service, its support for customers etc. Remember most communication between people is non-verbal.
OTA, I think, has adapted to evolving trends the right way. In many ways it has remained ahead of the curve in our industry by utilizing different technologies to communicate important information to our membership the best way possible.
When the Ontario economy went through its dramatic restructuring starting in 2008, OTA began looking for new ways to become more efficient in our communications strategies. Skype, webinars, e-newsletters and video became the most efficient way to deliver messages. The use of this technology was a big hit with the members, but relying exclusively on this technology long-term presents the same potential risks as those faced by companies eliminating voicemail – the loss of personal contact with members. That’s why when we evolve with the times we try to do it by respecting our members’ needs and level of comfort. Most importantly, we still prioritize and enhance that personal interaction they demand.
In 2015, OTA began ramping up more open public meetings at our offices. The issues varied, but truthfully, most could have been addressed over the internet or by survey. But based on the level of attendance at these functions, it was evident that members strongly value the ability to come out and speak their mind and listen to the thoughts of their fellow trucking managers and executives. This is a good thing.
OTA will continue to pursue more ways to create personal interaction between members and staff. Look for more forums where members can get involved in policy development, learning best practices, and being informed on new compliance and enforcement practices in our sector. These forums and other events will also continue to create new and innovative networking opportunities for members – the number one reason why most companies join an association. OTA’s Car and Bike Rally in September and the Executive Convention in November are two excellent upcoming opportunities to build lasting business and personal relationships, improve your business and, most importantly, have fun and simply enjoy the industry you belong to.
OTA is an organization is worth your time. By joining, you put yourself in the middle of the action. And when you’re a member, there’s always a real person here to answer your call. Plus, you can leave anyone of us as many voicemails as you like! At least as long as phones still exist.