Attention business owners: don't force people to use the phone

By: Esparta PalmaCC BY 2.0

It's no secret that I love Liene's wedding business market blog, Think Splendid. Today she did a post that extra resonated with me:

Here's something I often hear from people in the industry: "If I could just get the potential client on the phone, I could book them. People LOVE me on the phone." Here's reality, regardless of your stellar personality: if your website is outdated or if it doesn't work (especially on an iPad or iPhone), you're not going to get that potential client on the phone. If you want your phone to ring, make sure your website is designed to build trust.

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I've written before about this, but I'll say it again: I have an advertising manager who's happy to talk to potential Offbeat Empire advertising clients on the phone. If you need to hear a voice to feel comfortable with a company, we can totally do that! However, based on many conversations with my sales folks, potential advertising clients who want to talk on the phone are almost never a good fit for advertising on the Empire. They infrequently convert to buying ads, and when they do, while their ads generate clicks… those clicks don't seem to convert well to sales.

Why? Because most of my readers are Millennials, and most Millennials hate talking on the freaking phone. (At 37, I'm firmly a member of Gen X, but even *I* hate talking on the freaking phone!) If you want to talk to us on the phone before buying an ad, then chances are you want to talk to potential clients on the phone to sell them your services… and chances are our readers aren't going to want to talk to you, and they're not going to become one of your clients, and nobody wins. It's just not a good fit.

Now, Liene does make a great point that if your website is awesome, you'll build trust with potential clients who are web-focused, and maybe they'll call you. Obviously, if you're catering to clients under 30 (which most wedding businesses are — unless you're targeting your clients' parents), then you gotta prioritize your website's design. And if you're thinking about phones, think less about TALKING on them and more about how your website LOOKS on them.

  1. So true. If I can't find a business online or it has a shitty website, I won't be calling. If they don't respond to email, I won't be calling either.

    26 agree
  2. I know this probably isn't the correct place to mention it, but reading about the mobile templates reminded me. On OffbeatBride, they switch off on the 4th page and it assumes you want the full website. That's fine on my Iphone, but may be a problem for others.

    • Yeah, our current mobile solution is a stopgap to tide us over until we can develop a more permanent solution… as such, it's got all sorts of issues that I'm not able to prioritize fixing. :/

      1 agrees
    • They seem to fail alot on my iPad, too. At least, it takes forever to load a page, and half the time, it doesn't.

      1 agrees
      • Hmm. I havn't had any problems on my Samsung Tablet but then I use the Dolphin Browser that forces browser pages not mobile pages because, to be honest, I've NEVER found a mobile page that works as good as a browser one.

        2 agree
        • I've seriously considered going back to dolphin. I switched to Firefox when Dolphin made some changes where they track what websites you're visiting, but Firefox is SUCH a pain on my phone, it makes me want to kick babies.

  3. A while back I had an older colleague call me "myopic" because I strongly suggested advertisements not focus heavily on phone numbers, because who gives a crap about anyone's phone number? (I was designing the ads.) She said lots of people are "uncomfortable" with the online environment, or don't have access to the web.

    Sure, lots of people still don't have web access or don't know how to use the access they have. For my money, most of these people are now 70 years old; if that's your demo, then phone number away! But elsewise? Nope, nope, nope.

    Hilariously, when I told her that when a business doesn't provide a website I don't consider them, she told me I was being "close-minded"!

    (Addendum: I actually lurved this colleague hard, outside this particular topic.)

    10 agree
    • Going through this with a non profit I've been helping. Average age is 64, they want "young folks" but then push back against anything tech related — website, web listing, email, even doing things like typing up letters instead of hand-writing them to our head office. And yes Lindsay, when I mentioned that the first thing I did when hearing about this group was look it up on the web, someone told me I was "pushing my agenda" of technology. It's hard to help a group or company grow into the current era if the long-standing folk actively oppose the efforts. Anyone have tips for working in this type of situation? I love the mission of the group, btw.

      4 agree
      • What did you come on to do? If you were brought onto the team specifically to help them appeal to "young folks", you might just say to your naysayers, "Look, this is what you have to do to get their attention, so do you want my help or not?"

        5 agree
        • I joined because we're all passionate about the common goal, which is community. We are the community, but want to grow as well. It's not a business, and we're all just community members who also keep it running. If we had clear-cut "roles" that would be so much easier, but instead it's all this vague "we should grow!" without strong ideas behind it.

          But you're right, it might be at the point where I sometimes say "This is the format I'm comfortable with, so that's what I'm pursuing."

          • Gotcha, I was thinking more in the format of a traditional nonprofit, rather than a more loosely-organized community group. In that case, you'll probably have to deliver a more tactful speech, maybe include the fact that just because you're modernizing some aspects doesn't necessarily mean *they* have to change the way they do their thing.

            2 agree
      • I actually kind of agree with Brie. In my case, it wasn't worth an extended argument, because the business owner made the end decision โ€” not the right one, I'd say, but it's his decision. With different clients, I've had lots of luck showing evidence in a format they're comfortable with.

        For instance, use other non-profits as concrete examples. Make a list of similar groups and show how they're active and successful online, etc. Show an example of how many more people could be reached. And most importantly, show it in a familiar format… print it out and give it to them as a booklet, or a report. I do this with a lot of my older clients because tech-based presentations turn them off or make them feel "out of the loop" (no one likes feeling ignorant). You can get people to go for the unfamiliar more easily if it's presented in a familiar format. Hope that helps!

        5 agree
        • Thanks Lindsay! The familiar-formats idea has worked pretty well. I've printed out many things for people from the internet/computer, and most have been really appreciative. The big frustration is one person who's so against "modern technology" that I've had her ask for certain info, but if I give it to her from the web, she will refuse it because she distrusts it so much. I think she and I are just at an impasse. Thankfully our areas of interest don't overlap too much.

          1 agrees
  4. This is so true. I think about 4 or 5 years ago, my mother and I spotted a van for a wedding cake bakery while we were in traffic. The art on the van was very professional and enticing. I jotted down the name, number and website to look up later.

    The bakery website turned out to be awful. All the cakes seemed like the baker just barely had a grasp of Wilton cake decorating basics. Even the "elaborate" pieces she took to trade shows looked really bad. My reaction was "Those are terrible cakes. She doesn't have much skill. I'd be embarassed to have a wedding cake like that."

    My mother's baby boomer opinion ? "You can't go by what's on her website. They're probably better in person. And maybe she's just starting out." This baker was actually about my mother's age and had started her business after owning a catering company *shrug*

    1 agrees
  5. I can fire off emails all day, but I have to work up to calling someone if they refuse to communicate via email. Then I have to recover from the stupid phone call. Phone calls are inefficient for me.

    I seriously could have not planned my wedding without email. If I had had to make all those phone calls I would still be recovering. So, as another Gen X lady who hates talking on the phone, I am pleased to be living in what seems to be heading towards a post-talking on the phone era.

    Side note: One of the reasons I quit my most recent job is because I was embarrassed by their website.

    21 agree
    • This is totally me. I have some people I need to contact by phone because they just do not answer email or really prefer phone calls and I am just not a phone person.

      1 agrees
    • Yeah I have to psych myself up to talk to a total stranger on the phone, and then recover afterwards too.

      I am also immediately suspicous of businesses that don't reveal important information on their website and insist that I ring them if I want to know more. It makes me feel like they've got an ulterior motive that means they can't reveal info openly, or that their prices are so out of my range that they need to convince/guilt me to buy the product. I know that some businesses don't want to advertise price because of undercutting competition, but I'm not that rich and price is my deciding factor whether I buy a product or not. No amount of talking on the phone will change that, I don't want to have to be convinced to buy something that I'm not sure about.

      12 agree
      • This so much. I hate when I'm browing cake shops online and their site is basically "Here's pictures of our cakes, with no descriptions, flavors or prices. But ask us and we'll send them to you." wtf, I don't have time to play tag like that

        7 agree
      • Lol, I have to psych myself up, but afterwards, I'm like, "Yeah! I'm awesome!" and then I'm like, "I just talked to a stranger on the phone, not cured cancer or something!"

        3 agree
    • Can I complain about voice mails, too? Make me log in, listen to you ramble on, have to replay the message twice because you talked too fast when you said your name or your phone number, write everything down, then call you back. I groan when I see the red light on my work phone indicating I have a voice mail.

      12 agree
      • My voice mailbox is full. I decided to leave it that way. I check my text messages constantly and email multiple times a day, but voicemail? No. Youre either going to ramble forever, or just leave a message telling me to call you with no information about why. So I just dont do it now. Write me.

        2 agree
        • Have you come across services like voxsciences which transcribe your voicemails into texts and send them to you? Sounds like the sort of thing that might work for you.

  6. My addendum to this would be that I find it weird when adverts just give an email address, a hotmail or something, and no website. I'm not going to email you on spec, I want to see your website and see what you do before I want to talk to you. Present yourself.

    But then I am a total child of the internet.

    17 agree
    • OMG, when I did a lot of ads I experienced so many small business owners who wanted to do exactly this. It's really misguided, and I hate whoever gave them the idea (I feel like their must be an evil luddite fairy). It's like, what they really want is to communicate with you via phone (e.g.: directly, where they're in control), but they also want to be relevant. They think it's a compromise that makes them look good, but really it doesn't.

      I think it boils down to control vs freedom: older people like the control provided by directly communicating information (phone, and to a lesser degree, email), while younger generations prefer the freedom of browsing information (the internet, and the flip side of email). Older generations didn't grow up with that freedom, so they don't expect it, and they resent not being able to control encounters like they used to.

      4 agree
    • Yeah, I never ever respond to those. What, you aren't professional enough to pay 30 bucks for a domain name and hosting a WordPress website? Ten you aren't professional enough for what I'm looking for.

      4 agree
  7. I've never agreed more with anything. I absolutely choose which businesses to give my money to based on whether or not they try to talk to me on the phone. I will only talk to four people on the phone: my mother, my husband, my grandmother, and the Comcast robot when my internet goes out.

    7 agree
    • I'm the same! I have a post on Offbeat Home coming up about how I use this hardcore privacy blocker on my phone to automatically hang up on any call that comes in from someone not in my address book. If you're legit, you can email me to say "We need to talk." But chances are you're a telemarketer or someone I don't want to talk to…

      (Granted, it's not a solution that will work for everyone… but it works for me!)

      1 agrees
      • If that'll work with iPhones I'm all over it. Right now I just don't answer (and file known spam/undesirable numbers under a contact called "Dont Answer" that has that quiet, feeble, UFO-noise ringtone.)

        2 agree
    • ME TOO. Not only do I normally hate phone calls, I am planning a Pennsylvania wedding from South Korea — no thank you to that phone bill. My money is going to people that minimize that discomfort, meaning a solid, simple, informative website (WITHOUT A STUPID FLASH INTRO, THANKS) and people who don't mind doing all their business over email.

      11 agree
  8. Jeez phone-haters! I'm an older millenial and I gotta say I still like a good old-fashioned phone conversation. Sometimes you can accomplish/decide/get the info you need in a 5 minute phonecall that it would take a day of back-and-forth emails or texts to get through to the same result. You're all wierdos! =)

    7 agree
    • Even though my number is easily available on my website, I have had prospective clients call me before e-mailing all of *twice* in the last 4 years, even with clients that are mostly older millenials/genXers.

      When I do have phone chats with clients/prospective clients, it is after there has been enough e-mail and/or looking-at-website-ness to know what it is we want to talk about.

      I'm a Gen Xer that's older than Ariel ๐Ÿ™‚ but is definitely in the "all online" camp; being able to get customer service without having to pick up the phone is totally a deal-maker (is that word?) when I'm picking who to buy from. E-mail is good, "live chat" is awesome.

      2 agree
    • My baby boomer mom hates phone calls and has totally embraced internet commerce and communication. Half the time she'll text or Facebobook me rather than call me on the phone.

      1 agrees
    • My boss keeps trying to convince me of the same thing and I keep scowling at him like he's crazy. Give me an email any day, at least then I can go back and check that the information hasn't already been covered, and that I'm not tripping all over myself trying to give out the information myself.

    • I totally know what you mean with a phone call being faster. Alternatively, though, I may be working on a bunch of other things or may need something written down to ensure that I have it correctly (or that you will). So if I can email it makes my life easier because I can deal with stuff as it comes in and not end up tied up on the phone for 20 minutes when I have another meeting or am trying to work on something else.

  9. I hate phone for initial interaction. I want to know exactly what I need to get out of a phone call going into it. I will happily enough talk on the phone with either of my parents, my grandmother, my brother, my husband, or my best friend, but I really need to gear up before calling anyone else. Sometimes it really is the best way to accomplish what needs to get done โ€” mostly when dealing with people my parents' generation and older. But I don't like it.

    I'd agree that this attitude is pretty common, too โ€” one of my classmates was mentioning today how much he loathes talking on the phone. He was saying that he'd much rather Skype with people he knows well than phone them โ€” it's much easier to pick up on non-verbal cues if you can see the person you're talking to.

    5 agree
    • I am oppositely inclined. I HATE talking to friends/family over the phone because conversation is all "chat, awkward pause, chat, pause" for like, an hour. I got stuff to do in that time and don't like a phone wedged between my ear and shoulder.

      But with business dealings, I want an answer NOW! Not when the person has time to get my email and formulate a reply. This is entirely my personality, but when something pops into my head, I want it resolved as fast as possible, so I'll call.

      That being said, if I'm trying to research a product or service, website all the way baby!

  10. I don't mind the phone but greatly prefer email. Having everything laid out in writing minimizes misunderstandings.

    I hate vendors that try to call me or only want me to call them during business hours. I work during business hours. I don't mind shooting off a quick email during the workday but I'm not going to call you and let the whole office hear about my wedding plans.

    10 agree
    • I can't agree with this enough. I prefer to conduct any business over email because I can actually reference it later, I can hold us both accountable for what the email says and because I have a job that requires my attention during the exact hours that the vendor wants to speak to me.
      I especially hate the phone because generally, I call a place, have to leave a message, then end up playing phone tag. EFF THAT. I know it's a poor attitude, but if I'm calling, THIS is the time I have free to talk–not whenever the business is free. I try to leave a good time for them to call, but I rarely get a callback in that timeframe.

      11 agree
    • THIS! What's with businesses that try to sell you things and are only available during business hours? (Shops I get, but online shops?) I WORK during business hours and so does my partner, thank you. My biggest annoyance is with realtors. No, I'm not taking a precious day off to go look at an apartment that I might not even like. Why can't we meet in the early evening?

      And I totally agree about the phone thing. Talking to people I know is fine, people I do not know – not so much.

      5 agree
      • The company that did our wedding list never entirely got that you have to email me, because I am at work during the day and therefore cannot answer the phone. I told them EIGHT times not to phone me and they didn't stop. I can't answer the phone during the day because I'm at WORK!

        1 agrees
    • Its not just a matter of working. I'm the stay at home mom of a toddler. Trying to answer the phone while he is awake and active immediately cues Yelling Grabby Baby Syndrome. So phone calls can happen during naptime (those brief hours when I also garden, shower, cook, clean, and do anything else I want to get done while there is daylight) or after nine (bedtime). Thing is, I can send an email or browse a website whenever, because typing on my phone doesnt get his attention.

      2 agree
  11. A long time ago, before Google, my mother wanted to know the name of this song she liked. She made me call a radio station and sing them a snippet of the song… -____- Scarred. For. Life.

    If I'm ever in a life or death situation…I'll text the police.

    6 agree
  12. It's really interesting to see the different responses here. I'm a late eighties kid and thus a total Millenial, but there are times when I actually prefer the phone. With big companies, I don't trust the email system – too often my queries have simply gotten lost in the system or gotten half-illiterate replies without any answer to my questions. I prefer the phone because it's quick and simple.

    Though I must admit it hasn't always been this way. I used to have a little phone phobia, but working in journalism has quickly helped me get over that.

    The very best compromise, for me, is social media. Sending off a tweet or Facebook message to a company's official account is often the most quick and effective way to get a reply.

    2 agree
    • I hear you about not trusting that your email doesn't get lost in a big company's system, but so many times I've called and then had to be passed through four people before the fifth says that they don't know and can they get back to me. At least with an email it can be forwarded to the correct person without you hanging on the end of the phone waiting.

      1 agrees
  13. I picked my dentist by emailing or using Web forms for all the dentists near me who had good ratings on Angie's List. Only ONE replied! Multiple practices had broken forms that gave me errors when I submitted!

    He turned out to be nice when I went in, and gained points by reacting with surprise when I said that he was the only one whose office answered email.

    3 agree
  14. Absolutely! I hate phone calls. I think it has to do with lack of customer service, too. I can't tell you how many times I've been forced to call a company only to be treated like I'm an idiot. If I get someone on the phone that treats me badly or has bad manners, why would I want to deal with your company? It's only strengthened my desire to avoid calls completely if I can.

    3 agree
  15. In college I used to drive to Pizza Hut to order my to-go pizza, because I HATED the phone that much. So thankful they now have an order online function!

    6 agree
  16. Wow, I always thought hating the phone was an introvert thing, not a millennial thing! I feel so validated reading all these other comments from people who hate talking on the phone and are really sick of crappy websites and internet forms and email addresses that don't work.

    8 agree
    • Me too! I thought I was abnormally rubbish at the phone, and turns out it's generational. Excellent!

      3 agree
  17. I feel so validated with my phone hating now. If I get a call from an unrecognized number I basically throw my phone at my husband and have him answer it instead. Even if I really like you, I feel awkward talking on the phone. If I don't know you, it's like 20 million times worse.

    3 agree
    • Haha, yeah, I will not answer for unrecognized numbers. Saved me a lot of time on spam calls from people who want to advertise SEO services, payment processing services, other marketing services, and so on.

  18. What if you're trying to sell something to a potential client who may not know about your services? When I send unsolicited emails, I rarely get a response. I assume they think it's spam, or they have so many emails in their inbox that they don't even get to mine.
    I find that a phone call asking if I can email them information helps establish that I'm legit, but I don't like talking on the phone, either, so making that first call is really hard. Anyone have any tips on working around that?

    • Is cold calling and emailing considered normal practice in your line of business? Because personally, I wouldn't just *think* an unsolicited email was spam, it would *be* spam to me. Business offers that I didn't ask for would feel really intrusive to me.

      2 agree
      • Unfortunately, cold calling is part of my line of work. I'm mainly contacting other businesses, though, not individuals.

  19. As a cusp baby (baby boomer and GenX), I can say that it isn't just the younger crowd that prefers electronic communication. I may use the phone ONCE for my planning with someone, but after that I want email or texting, so far all of our suppliers are cool with that. Every supplier we have to date was researched online first. Both of us work during the day, and I can do some stuff online, but the phone is out.

  20. My problem is that when a vendor I'm considering insists on talking over the phone I either assume that a) they can't communicate well over email and I shouldn't use them or b) they are going to try to fast-talk me into something or make verbal agreements that they won't keep and I shouldn't trust them. I only dealt with this while searching for wedding vendors, but it seemed to be pretty spot-on, unfortunately.

    (I also have a hard and fast rule that if you play auto-play music on your website without an easy way to turn it off, I won't use you. And even if I can turn it off, if the music sucks, I still won't use you. I'm a Judy Judger.)

    9 agree
  21. I am definitely a millennial, and I prefer email for initial contact and most interactions, but I really, really dislike when a business I am working with does not offer a phone number at all.

    If I do business with them and there is a problem, it can be extremely infuriating to resolve it with email, while a simple phone call would clear up the problem quickly.

    6 agree
  22. Wow. I have never seen anyone address this before! I hate phone calls. I don't call anyone. If someone calls me? I ignore it, and then text them. Admittedly, I do have an anxiety disorder that's greatly connected to phone conversations, but still.

    If I have to call for something, I'll find someplace else. Ditto if your website says something like "contact us for more information". Unless it's something odd, it should be there. If you're trying to sell to me, it might make sense to have the prices listed, for example.

    4 agree
  23. My husband and I are in our mid 20s. We judge restaurants harshly by their website. It they don't have a menu or prices we just refuse to go there. If it has a certain kind of music playing, we don't go.
    I planned our entire wedding via e-mail. We communicated with the restaurant, wedding commissioner (before meeting her in person), even my wedding dress was all e-mail (never spoke on the phone). It was amazing.
    For my work (I coordinate a TV show) I communicate all by primarily via e-mail unless I need an answer ASAP.
    I think my phobia of phones started after I worked as a telemarketer. Being yelled at for 40 hours a week by people who don't want to be called caused quite a bit of anxiety for me.

    1 agrees
    • I tend to side eye restaurants that don't at least have a basic website saying "Here's our name, address, phone number and a sample of our menu (subject to change) + check us out on Facebook for specials"

      2 agree
  24. ill add myself into this- you MUST have a good website. your website is a representation of your business. if you dont have a legit website, your not a legit business in my eyes. ill poke around the website, and then if i want to go further ill email, and then ill call. its like dating- you gotta be real up front, but then ease into the intimate communications nice and slowly, so everyone is comfortable with it…

    haha!

  25. I agree I prefer to visit websites and hate phone call only places. Plus, I'd rather have an e-mail than a phone number then I have a record of any correspondence especially if I am, say, commissioning an outfit or jewelry. I prefer retailers to keep their websites up to date, easy to navigate, and devoid of stupid flash intros. Too many gimmicks on a page and I am out before the content finishes loading.

  26. I only got through reading a dozen or so comments, but it sounds like a lot of us are in the same boat. I am in the age bracket that generally does not want to talk to you on the phone if I can just email you.

    When I was 20 and just starting my business, there was advice about how if you were a legit business, you would certainly have your phone number right there on the website. A lot of directories will not even let you submit your business if you don't provide a phone number.

    So I did have my number out there, and I have my experience with being available by phone. Compared to emailing, it really does waste a lot of time. Also, time zones present an issue, because I work with people all over the place.

    My target customers are people like me- we like the internet. We like email. I like having time to research or look up details before I answer a question; They like getting emailed design proofs and not having to schedule a time for us to phone conference. Eventually, I took my phone number off of my website.

    As someone else mentioned, having a record of everything is also invaluable.

    I've run across a lot of old schooler business types that just don't get that this works well for me. But, really, it's been years. It's working for me.

    I'm not saying that there is no reason ever for a call or that it is impossible to get me on the phone. Just that, in general, email is what works for me and my customers.

  27. I mostly agree with this post, but sweeping generalizations are never good idea for business. I'm smack dab Gen X, and I'm not a huge fan of the phone either, but I still field daily calls to our business. I want to mention that there are cultural differences as well from various different backgrounds, especially in more diverse big cities, and couples average age range is anywhere from mid 20s to mid 30s these days, so that is a large swath of different types of people you encounter from one inquiry to the next. Not everyone hates the phone and some people hate email. Yes, good website and mobile site is essential for any business these days, but you have to be available to communicate with clients no matter their preference. Also, nearly everyone uses gmail or other free email service, which are not always reliable. Nearly every day or so we have at least one inquiry where our email response goes into spam/junk. If I didn't call to ask if they received our reply to email when I don't hear back from inquiry that seemed to be a good match, we would fail to serve a fairly significant number of couples each year if we just relied on email response alone. Email is not perfect, and I have over a decade of data reports of weekly email failures we experience for a variety of reasons. The advice here is a little bit narrow IMO. I don't pester people with repeated calls or emails, but I do want to be sure they receive a response from us in the first place.

  28. I actually have an 800 number but you know what? When they call it, it redirects them to go back to the site and if it's urgent to use our "live chat". I won't answer the phone simply because what I offer is inexpensive and they will eat up more of my time asking questions that can simply be answered by reading the information provided on the site. I've gotten emails from people complaining that they can't get through when they "call" and guess what – these are the people I don't want for customers anyway because 9 times out of 10, they didn't read the information provided and they will be calling over and over (many of them already have and they still get the same recording). I plan to continue this practice because I'm not hurting for business and they can take theirs elsewhere.

  29. I can't "THIS" enough. I have literally created a folder in my wedding email that says DO NOT USE VENDORS, where I've had multiple potential wedding businesses that would outright refuse to answer my questions without me calling them or worse – require me to "pop in." Why the hell even have a website if your company doesn't want to let it work to your benefit? Businesses, the only way you're really going to survive another decade is to adapt to your new clientele! Geez!

    1 agrees
  30. YES! OMG YES! I planned an overseas wedding, and most of the time was surfing their site at 4am their time. If they didn't have an email, I didn't do business with them, period.

    Oh, and the "call us for prices" crap should go on there too. If you won't list your prices, and I have to go out of my way to find them, I've already assumed I can't afford you, and have moved on to the next vendor.

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