Sorry, Gen Z – this is why you still have to pick up the phone

It’s a situation that has now become frustratingly familiar. You need to file your tax return, make a GP appointment or book a boiler service. Instead of simply picking up the phone and speaking to a human, you’re dragged through a labyrinthine series of online contact forms and AI chatbots, ultimately ending up no closer to a solution than when you started.

At the same time, even if a company actually called you, a large part of society would immediately reject the call. Research published this week by Uswitch shows that a quarter of 18 to 34 year olds have never answered the phone. Ever. Nearly 70 percent said they preferred to do things by text, and that’s leading to a conversation crisis: an Ofcom survey found that a quarter of mobile phone users make fewer than five calls a month. That’s the loss of a lot of talk. In practice, this tends to make most interactions more cumbersome and less efficient: often, agreements made during a lengthy text exchange could have been streamlined with just one quick phone call.

Here are some scenarios where texting makes things harder…

Make a doctor’s appointment

There are exceptions where digital services have made access much easier, such as requesting repeat prescriptions online. But for any kind of medical appointment, a text or virtual system is a poor substitute for a human conversation, where a doctor can pick up details that a chatbot or text exchange cannot.

It has now been shown that a lack of in-person appointments has a concrete effect on health outcomes; a study published in the BMJ quality and safety magazine found that “deaths and serious harm” had occurred due to wrong or missed diagnoses and delayed referrals.

Patchs, the NHS’s online triage and booking system for GPs, has good reviews but would struggle to deal with more complicated issues. Using it amounts to recommending a callback during business hours if you need to be seen by a doctor, which would be faster if you just resolved it over the phone.

“There are a number of different things that make the digitalisation of GP services very difficult,” says Emma Stone, director of evidence and engagement at the charity Good Things Foundation, which campaigns against digital exclusion. “Your experience with it differs from GP to GP. This also means that everyone must find out for themselves how their GP uses digital channels.”

However, some young people who don’t want a phone prefer one, says Dr. Sabina Dosani, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. That’s why good conversational skills from the professional on the other end are even more important in helping them break through their digital comfort zone – and they can go a long way. There has been “an evolution in the way young people communicate,” she says. “When they get incoming calls, it’s usually an emergency, or they’re expecting one. For the kind of work I do, which is emotional and relational, they want an understanding person on the line. We could have the same booking software that hairdressers use, but people want to feel connected, cared for, heard and understood.”

The exception to this is videoconferencing and, in some cases, written appointments, which Dosani started using during Covid. “It works great for children who would otherwise never come to a clinic,” she says.

Extending your mortgage

When a Telegraaf colleague went to renew her mortgage last year, the entire process took place online. It was “utterly horrific; I couldn’t talk to anyone and it’s a complicated matter where you have to talk about money in, money out, different dates.”

Delegating complex financial matters to an online form or chatbot risks excluding older people who are less digitally literate, or anyone who is not as tech-savvy, Stone explains. “There are things you’d rather do when you’re talking to someone, regardless of your age,” she says. “For example, if you have a problem or if the stakes are higher, and with anything financial where there is a risk of fraud or scams… A human touch and a bit of reassurance are very important.”

Jo Causen, the CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, agrees. Research from the institute shows that “50 percent of people said they still needed to talk to someone after using a chatbot.” “It’s about figuring out which things are best done by people and which things are best done by technology,” she says.

The same goes for the dreaded tax return. Never has that human touch been more lacking than at HMRC, where waiting times reached a record high earlier this year. Despite complaints, more than half of HMRC staff are still working from home, as figures from January to March show. But the same can be said for any tricky utility or repair booking, where an online scheduling system has replaced the telephone booking rule. It’s so much easier to explain to someone what’s wrong with your boiler than to summarize it in a few characters to an AI “live” chatbot.

Order food

In big cities it may be possible to go to a restaurant and not talk to anyone. Much of the fun of sharing a meal in a restaurant is being taken away by QR code menus, digital ordering systems and bill-sharing apps, introduced during Covid and now here to stay. Gloria, a popular Italian restaurant in east London, was recently criticized for encouraging customers to pay via an app, which then charged an extra £2.99 for the privilege, on top of the 13.5 percent service charge.

Gloria in Shoreditch has recently come under fire for its new app payment option

Gloria in Shoreditch has recently come under fire for her new app payment option: Kathy deWitt

“Overall, customer satisfaction is at its worst level since 2015,” says Causen. “There are some real challenges – one is that there are not enough people and they are not always as well trained as we need, and the other is around technology and using it in the right way.” She says you may enjoy looking at the menu on your phone, but you want a human waiter to explain the wine list, for example, to make it “more of an experience.”

However, a recent – ​​although perhaps not scientific – study conducted by the restaurant chain Prezzo shows that Generation Z (who are currently aged between 12 and 27) suffer from ‘menu anxiety’ and are too socially nervous to have a ​​striking up a conversation with a waiter in the first place. “There is a natural progression in the way young people are being conditioned to use text messaging, which means they are less likely to call for a taxi or to make a restaurant reservation,” says Dosani.

School relations

There has been a shift from phone calls to WhatsApp and text messages between parents and teachers and between parents themselves. Dosani, a parent of two, says that unless one of her children was sick and needed to be picked up immediately, most communication from their school would be “a text or an email, which is much easier to look at than to listen to a voicemail. ”.

Dosani says she has benefited from digital communication between parents, including the (sometimes dreaded) parental WhatsApp chat. “[It] saved me completely not realizing it is a bake sale or mufti day,” she says. But things don’t always go so well, not least because it’s much harder to gauge mood and tone through text messages than over the phone. “I could see how, if it went beyond a factual exchange, it could contribute to misunderstandings,” she says.

A colleague talks about such a misunderstanding: “Just like in most daycare centers and schools, you have a WhatsApp group for your child’s school year. So when my son was three and in daycare, I was surprised to see my phone light up one evening with a photo of a deep bite wound on a child’s arm.

“Biting and hitting is very common in young children and it is almost always staff policy to inform the parents but keep both sides anonymous so that no further accusations occur outside the nursery,” she says.

“But this was the daycare WhatsApp group, and it turned out to be my child. Other parents began commenting on the photo from ‘How Terrible.’ I hope he’s doing well’ to ‘That’s a shame – the offending child should be removed from the classroom’. My friends started calling me when this post went viral, expressing disbelief that this woman had clearly abandoned my child and our family.

“I tried to call the woman in question. She wouldn’t answer. I then messaged her and asked her to move the conversation offline. I apologized profusely, as any right-thinking person would, and asked to meet to clear the air. Because she refused to speak or meet, the matter was never resolved.”

Not all disagreements can be resolved with a two-minute phone call, but it’s certainly better than a WhatsApp lawsuit.

Office communications

Ten years ago, it would have seemed unthinkable that office workers sitting two desks apart would be messaging on Slack or Google Chat instead of speaking in person. And yet there has been a shift from phone calls and in-person conversations to black-and-white messaging, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“I’ve seen it transform – my first job was to sit at a desk and make phone calls, and what’s interesting is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach people, to the point where it’s almost considered an intrusion to call someone to call. says Rupert Wesson, coach and trainer for Debrett’s. Younger employees in particular can miss out on learning and networking opportunities. “The trick is to figure out at what point written communication – DMs, emails, Slack – becomes counterproductive,” says Wesson. “You learn a lot through osmosis – by listening to colleagues. The only conversations you have now are planned and orchestrated, often with an agenda. It’s those coincidental things, those coincidental things, that you miss.”

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