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Pick Up that Phone: Valuing the Conversation Economy

Conversation is a primal part of being human. So why does it seem in today’s times, with more forms of communication possible than ever before, the core method of talking, using our physical voices, is being lost?

That issue was investigated in the recent Gregg Johnson article for the Harvard Business Review, “Your Customers Still Want to Talk to a Human Being”. Johnson contends that advancements in technology have helped organizations push their customers to more automated systems, and that further developments of “intelligent” technologies such as voice assistants will only increase the pressure for companies to consider shifting aspects of their customer service and sales units to machines.

However, the data proves that when it comes down to purchase decisions, human beings still want to talk to other human beings and contribute to the conversation economy. That coined term, conversation economy, refers to all the companies and industries that rely on verbal discussions as part of their business model.

Market research firmly exists within the conversation economy. Phone conversations are central to conducting market research, even though there has been popular movement towards other methods such as polls and web surveys. These instruments succeed at collecting quick, transactional-focused data, but often times fall short of accumulating any feedback of substance or use.

To put the value of conversations in perspective, consider how many times we have heard of organizations struggling to collect real feedback because they rely on web surveys instead of the time-honored method of having a discussion? Or even worse, they fail to collect any feedback at all because after a deteriorated relationship they are not in a position to even have the conversation.

Additionally, tales of fading conversation skills are prevalent all over the news. Newer generations have devolved words into abbreviations and into emojis, and have replaced phone discussions with email and text. However, there is real value to picking up that phone and having a dialogue with someone on the other end. Things such as emotion, tone, and extra detail that someone may abandon if forced to write it all out themselves are critical pieces of the puzzle that are lost if an actual conversation does not occur.

As web-based survey methods have become more popular, phone debriefs are almost now a contrarian approach to collecting feedback, but one that is still highly strategic and valuable. In a recent Anova program run on an annual basis, the client requested we inquire how respondents would like to provide feedback next year: either continuing with the traditional phone method or switching to an emailed web survey. 77% of respondents stated they wanted to continue to have phone discussions because of the ability to talk with someone who understands their business and thus provide more verbose, insightful commentary.

The message is clear: the conversation economy is one with much room to grow and phone conversations still have a valuable place in today’s business world.