For some time now, industry analysts have been predicting the demise of voice telephony. Although these early warnings of collapse may have been premature, analysis of reliable industry data by Disruptive Analytics indicates that, for most of the developed economies of Western Europe, North America, and East Asia, peak telephony (defined as a peak in the total net amount of outbound voice telephone traffic) occurred sometime between 2008 and 2013.
This means that the elasticity of demand, wherein cheaper calling meant more volume, no longer applies – communication is happening elsewhere. In the U.S., phone call volumes declined by 7 percent between 2008 and 2013, while over the same period the U.K. volumes dropped by a whopping 14 percent. (Still, some countries – including Brazil, China, and India – saw dramatic increases in voice telephony over this time period. But the trajectory that will lead to future declines as these markets mature seems defined).
But, to quote my favorite movie comedy Raising Arizona (and The Bible): “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Voice is not dying, but it is becoming more selective and sophisticated when it is used. Service providers that get this transition have a great opportunity to make voice telephone calls meaningful – I think of it as smart(er) voice.
Voice has a niche among email, text, Slack, etc. as the exact right communication for a particular type of communication scenario, in intra-company interactions, inter-company sales and support calls, and in increasingly compelling applications that leverage the unique qualities of voice. Specifically, voice is excellent for conveying emotion through tonality, for working appendage free, for collaborative problem solving and, in general, for humanizing interactions. The path to continued viability and success for voice telephony (and service providers that offer it) is to identify and focus on those areas of business communications and industries in which voice remains the optimal medium, and develop those attributes within voice that make it so compelling.
In customer support establishing a personalized rapport, and conveying sympathy and understanding, can substantial lend itself to a positive experience on the part of the customer/caller. Though often more time consuming as a support tool, voice calls have a large impact on customer retention, according to companies like Zappos. The trick is to do it cost efficiently. Smarter IVR systems that make it possible to get a support agent on the phone more quickly, but weed out all tasks that can be accomplished easily without an interaction, would go a long way to making support more personalized, voice more accessible but, at the same time, cost management more possible. I would go so far as to say that service providers and the businesses they support should promote direct to voice interactions under certain scenarios (like an at risk customer relationship) that, using big data applications, should be possible to identify.
Interaction between remote employees – remote collaboration – is also an area where voice (with video at times) is extremely valuable, as it serves to focus the attention of the group and facilitates productive insights, which are often tied to the act of collaborative conversation. Voice meanderings through topics in meetings and in internal conversation are a means to stimulate the “Aha!” moments (problem solving, tossing out crazy ideas, etc.) that used to happen at the water-cooler.
Voice can be a crucial tool to extend the warmth of the office environment without losing the intangible benefits of human interaction so closely associated with productivity. Open-ended voice chat sessions where co-workers are talking to each other are one potential way to use technology and voice to bridge the divide. Whenever we are working on a difficult platform issue at VoIP Logic (News - Alert), all engaged employees immediately hop on a voice chat session that usually lasts for hours. We have found this – along with the associated chat/screen-share for information sharing – is much more effective for multi-pronged diagnoses and resolutions efforts.
Some business telephony technology companies (like Inference Solutions) are creating new tools that can be used to innovate around the human voice. These services – biometric voice prints for security, voice-controlled IVR, and call transcription, among others – allow service providers to use the spoken word in fascinating new applications. The idea with Inference is that service providers will design their own cool voice-based applications.
In short, while confronted by a new and existential threat in the era of post-peak telephony, voice remains a valuable – and in some cases indispensable – means of business communication. By focusing on and innovating voice for those industries and business processes where it is the optimal medium, service providers can re-invigorate the use of voice telephony.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson