About a month ago I was making some updates to www.anu.net. We had put in a new support system and I was updating our email and Twitter contact details. I got to the section of our Contact Us page where our phone and fax numbers were listed, and thought to myself “does anyone still use these”?
Since setting up the company in 2004 we have never had an actual fixed line, but we have had incoming VoIP numbers. Initially we forwarded incoming calls to a receptionist service who would direct calls to the appropriate person, or take a message if nobody was available. As the years went by call volume steadily decreased (even though our customer base has grown steadily, as has the volume of support requests). Around 2011 (the exact date escapes me) we found the receptionist service, while good, was excessively expensive and wasn’t really needed, so we installed Kerio Operator (an IP PBX) and set it up to do much the same as the receptionist service had previously done through an IVR system. Customers didn’t complain.
Looking back over the years, the way we interact with our customers has slowly been changing. We are using phones less and less, with Skype, iMessage and Google Talk largely replacing their function. Email volume has remained fairly steady and is still a favourite method of communication.
Smart phones, and more recently the Phablet (iPhone 6 Plus anyone?) have been instrumental in this shift. Many people now seem to prefer picking up their phone to write a message than to make a call. The other factor at play here is the outdated pricing models of the traditional telcos. With customers spread out across the globe, traditional phone call charges can quickly rack up significant bills, making the free alternatives much more attractive.
We are still reachable by phone, and any customers who already have our number can continue to call it and will reach us. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make it hard for our customers to get hold of us. Phones are however in my view old school tech and unless the traditional carriers make some radical changes to their business models (and do it quickly), they will soon become obsolete, replaced by cheaper, richer methods of communicating.
To date I haven’t had a single complaint from a customer that they could not find our phone number or figure out how to reach us when they needed to, which validates the decision to remove the phone number. How it works out longer term remains to be seen.
Personally I can imagine within 3-5 years being able to ditch my mobile phone completely and instead rely on a small tablet with wifi and 4G connectivity. I already exclusively use email, Facebook and FaceTime for keeping in touch with friends and family. Anyone stuck on an old school phone could reach me via an incoming VoIP a line. I already rely on VoIP for 90% of outbound calls and could probably switch over 100% already.
Here’s to the disruptive power of the Internet and new technologies. Happy Holidays!