My views on life, love , career and…well just about everything.

Is the desk phone dead?

Is the desk phone dead?

Dec 23, 2015

I recently read a blog article entitled “The Phone Is Dead”. It was written by a friend of mine who I respect a lot. (Read the article here.)There is a lot of truth in what he says but I am afraid that I have to respectfully disagree with the concept. I must say that the old girl is on her last legs and fading fast but that condition is mostly caused by the industries decision to go in exactly the wrong direction. To those of us who have spent most of our lives in the phone business , watching us shoot ourselves in the foot comes as no big surprise……we do it all the time!

So what is killing the desk phone? Some might say that the cell phone is the culprit. Replacing landlines in business with cell phones sounds like the perfect idea……there are just a couple of issues to work out……. what’s the cell phone number of accounts receivable? Who’s cell phone do I call to order HBO? Cell phones are designed for one person to communicate directly with one other person. It’s a very PERSONAL communications tool. Calling someone at home is a personal ONE TO ONE kind of communication so its easy to see why cell phones are quickly replacing the HOME PHONE.It’s not designed for groups of people to share calls and collaborate. Businesses need this……you don’t need this at home. Having watched a few companies try to go “all  cellphone” and fail miserably , I can safely say that the cellphone has a strong alibi for the death of the desk phone.

Email is another thing that has been fingered in the desk phone homicide case. This is really interesting to me since I also hear that email is on its way out and being replaced by text and chat. (I wonder if its just really cool to declare things that we use all the time as being dead?) Its true that email has replaced traditional or snail mail in many cases but can it replace the telephone? Think about this shared experience everybody has had….you are emailing someone and trying to explain something. You have been going back and forth for a while trying to work out some details but you are stuck on some point. Finally one of you picks up the phone and calls the other one….the hour long impasse is resolved in a two minute conversation. We have all experienced this situation. Email is good…..but it’s not THAT GOOD!

The biggest problem with the desk phone is the new generation of VOIP phones that are based on the traditional PBX model. Phone systems traditionally come in two flavors…. PBX ( Private Branch Exchange ) and something called a key system or squared. Here’s the difference….a traditional PBX is based on the concept that you have one person who answers all the calls and transfers them to the extension of the person the call is for. Later we added Voice Mail and something called Interactive Voice Response (the press 1 for this and 2 for that thing) or IVR ( IVRs don’t really respond to your voice so this is a misnomer). Sometimes called an Auto Attendant , this really clever addition got overused by some companies in their zeal to eliminate the receptionist. This led to the creation of what came to be called “Voice Mail Hell” where you can’t ever seem to talk to a real person anywhere at anytime EVER. How many times have you have called a company ,got frustrated with the Auto Attendant and hit “0 for the operator”?

The key system is mostly found in smaller companies with five or six lines and less than 50 employees. The concept is simple , all the lines are visible on all the phones and each one can be answered on any phone. All the extensions are visible on every phone set so that anyone can see who is on the phone. ( Obviously if you have 50 lines and 200 extensions each telephone set would be the size of a Buick but for 6 lines and ten phones it works pretty well) You can then put the answered line on hold and tell the person who the call is for to “pick up line 1” or if they are out of the office or on the phone ,take a message or send them to the appropriate voicemail. You can even say “Joe is on the phone, can someone else help you?”( I know that actually talking to someone and trying to assist them is a revolutionary concept but please stay with me here.) A key system also allows you to put the phone call on hold , move to another station and pick the call back up very easily. Basically every phone is an operator console. This allows the very necessary function of answering and routing calls to be done from ANY station in the building.

Since most new VOIP phone systems are built on the PBX model…..they can’t really do key system functionality. For some small businesses that don’t have a central receptionist and everyone basically answers the phone….A PBX can be a real problem requiring a  complete change in how they answer the telephone. I have watched businesses totally revamp how the organization uses the phone…….it’s usually painful and expensive. Many times in these situations you hear the phrase “Can we just go back to what we had ?”

The main reason that, to paraphrase Mark Twain “ The reports of the death of the phone are greatly exaggerated” is the current wave of consumer demand for better customer service. Savvy businesses have recognized that what their customers want is a more personalized experience. Particularly when they have a problem with your product or service. When the cable is out or the dryer quits working, everybody really wants to push more buttons or type more information in a chat box right?……….WRONG! They want a live person ON THE PHONE to fix the problem.

So what is the answer here? Cell phones and email can’t really get the job done alone but they should play a part in your overall communications strategy. The real promise of the new technology available today is the ability to bring all the communications tools at your disposal together and leverage everything so that you have the best possible solution. Forward thinking business communications companies can do that. Carriers like AT&T or single silo equipment manufacturers and vendors can’t really do that for you. If you look at the what the REAL job of these types of companies is….it’s easy to see why they can’t deliver that total integrated solution that you really need.  Carriers sell lines and bandwidth. Manufacturers and equipment vendors sell THEIR equipment. A business communications companies job is to provide a great solution customized for each customer. They work for you. If they are smart , the only agenda they have is making the client happy.

The technology available for business communications today is amazing. Businesses have more options than ever before. The trick is finding a partner whose job is to take the best of what is available and combine it into the best solution for you.

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