Are we losing the art of speaking on the phone?

Your brain receives and processes information within 50 milliseconds of hearing a human voice – up to 20 times faster than it computes through sight. In those initial moments, it actively scans for, and locks on to, emotional substrates. In short? Humans are continually seeking out genuine connections. Voice is still king.

Digital transformation, meanwhile, focuses on convenience: live chat, instant messaging… the omni-channel experience. A recent study from Accenture revealed 41% of customers actually want <more> digital options. But that same report found that just 36% believe digital trumps actual human interaction.

So despite the perceived appetite for junking voice and perfecting conversation technologies like chatbots, customers are still struggling to find the connections they crave on-screen.

The demand for efficient, human-to-human contact is clear – 58% of customers still prefer it for a quick answer to a question. And when service issues arise almost three-quarters (73%) prefer it to a “digitised voice and blinking cursor”.

Put simply, we need to remember how to talk.

Technology can – and should – improve business communications. For SMBs in particular, modern communications technology can enable you to compete on equal terms with much larger businesses and grow without having to invest heavily in new offices, hires, resources and equipment

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Someone, please, pick up the phone

For many time-critical or emotionally charged issues, having excellent customer service on the phone, and the right technology to support that, is essential. But what’s the right technology, and how is it best to deploy it?

In AMEX’s 2017 Global SME survey, 63% of respondents cite applying the latest technology as an absolute investment priority, but just 25% consider themselves “very effective” at actually doing it.

Fortunately, hosted telephony in 2017 is smart, cloud-connected and loaded with features to transform the customer experience across retention and attraction, and consequently, your bottom line. But reconnecting with customers through voice is just the tip of the iceberg. Frustrate them, and you’re back where you started.

In November 2016, Akixi partnered with cloud-based audio recording platform Dubber. Their clients now have fully-traceable and searchable call recordings, incoming or outgoing, easily retrieved and downloaded as MP3 files, all through a simple plug-in. It shows that convenience to both the customer and the business is back in play – and all through voice.

But making those calls should be simple, too. Integrating CRM allows for click to dial functionality and call tracking, which automatically adds a call task when a call is made to the account. Fixed mobile convergence is also paramount, negating the need for on site wired networks at satellite offices, while affording workers (all now digital employees) streamlined, multi-channel communication wherever they are.

Find your voice, but don’t neglect compliance

There are times when voice presents a security issue on a call – transmitting sensitive financial information, for example. In collaboration with Semafone, Gamma now offers full PCI compliance: a fully-hosted, secure payment solution for contact centres, connected to SIP trunks.

This partnership enables the customer, through their own keypad, to make a transaction directly to the bank. The call centre is taken out of scope, risk is minimised and handling time is reduced. And the bottom line is this: reducing PCI scope from SAQ D to SAQ C could drive down PCI compliance and audit costs by more than 75%.

The importance of keeping Sensitive Authentication Data off screens and recordings cannot be overstated. And understanding the enemy and securing the right solution is imperative in a market expanding at almost 10% annually.

What lies ahead…

Looking forward, we’re seeing ramped-up innovation around voice in business from players outside of the traditional arena. Take Discord, a cross-platform app currently offering voice and text for gamers, for free. Already, its own users are demanding integration for work communication.

Google recently revamped Hangouts to grab more business users; Amazon has launched its own video conferencing and chat service, Chime. And since last year, SMEs have been able to access free HD video conferencing and chat from Skype Meetings. With the 2025 shut-off deadline for ISDN and associated PBX systems, and migration drawing ever closer, it’s a fascinating time. Making the right choice now lays the groundwork for a groundswell of innovation ahead.

Our brain circuitry and hearing has evolved across 400 million years to deliver genuine connection through voice. Let’s not allow that fact to fall on deaf ears.

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11 May 2017 | Jamie Ward

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The views in this article are the personal views of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Gamma.