THE BLOG
08/24/2015 06:08 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2016

When Email and Texting Are Insufficient: An Interview with the Phone Lady

For Hillary Clinton, Emailgate just won't go away. Politics aside, I wonder why so many of us routinely rely upon email when a simple two-minute phone conversation would usually suffice. And voicemail? That's so 2010. Many have posited that it's on the verge of extinction.

Am I the only one who longs for the days of in-person conversation? Isn't that preferable to interminable email torrents and emoticon-laden exchanges of text messages? These are questions I broach in Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It.

It turns out that I'm far from the only one with these types of thoughts. Mary Jane Copps (aka, The Phone Lady) wants to make business communication personal again. Hers is an interesting background: She's a former journalist, salesperson, researcher, and fundraiser. Most important here, she's no stranger to an archaic device you may remember called the telephone

I recently sat down with her to talk about effective business communication and why we use or phones more than ever--just not for talking.

PS: Why are people so afraid of talking to each other today? Has this exacerbated in the smartphone age?

MJC: In terms of phone conversations, phone phobia is a documented social phobia. As the availability of, and reliance on, text communication has grown, so has the fear and discomfort of talking on the phone. People visualize a wide range of things that will go wrong during a phone call and they default to a text medium.

PS: Is the problem a function of age? Are Millennials worse at in-person communication?

MJC: The problem is not age-related. All generations have embraced communication by text over phone. Younger people can be more averse, but that's because they haven't been given the skill set. They grew up watching their parents text and email on cell phones. Once I give them the skill set, the majority embrace the efficiency and creativity of having a phone conversation.

PS: Can you tell me an example of a company that found itself in hot water because its employees actually didn't speak to its customers?

MJC: There are so many. Earlier this year I was contacted by a technology company in Georgia. Over Christmas one of its client became very upset about the level of support they were receiving. When the company's management called the team together to discover what happened, the question was asked: "What did the client say when you spoke to them?." The room went silent. It turned out no one had called the client. Support had tried to solve the problem with email messages only.  

PS: With so many means of communicating these days, how do you strike the appropriate balance?

MJC: In business communication we are striving for excellence. We want to be efficient, because everyone is overwhelmed, and we want to achieve clarity. When it comes to sharing documents and distributing detailed information, email is invaluable. When we want to quickly resolve an issue, know more about our customers, grow our relationships, the phone remains a vital medium.

PS: What's your biggest concern about the future of communication?

MJC: At the moment I'm monitoring the trend of businesses eliminating voicemail (see link above). I'm concerned that, in our drive to save money and be efficient, we will disregard the power of the human voice. There is so much information in the sound of our voices, information that cannot be duplicated on a screen. I'd prefer we impose some voicemail rules or etiquette rather than abandon what is often a valuable method of communication.