Businesses/business models that operate using phone calls vs. Millennials

For my entire life, most businesses have offered phone services, where the ability to talk to a live person was considered a “good thing”. But I have heard (in what is a huge generalization, which often happens with this group) that Millennials (and Generation Z, I suppose) prefer to do as much business as possible via the Internet and texting, and that speaking to a live person is a disincentive to deal with that business. (Although I am neither a Millennial or a member of Gen. Z - as a serious introvert, I have the same preference.)

I guess I have two questions:

  1. Do younger generations prefer business contacts to NOT be via phone call? I’m definitely hoping to hear opinions from younger people.

  2. If true, what businesses/business models are likely to suffer because of their insistence on phone calls? Auto dealerships come to mind, but all-Internet models haven’t yet caught on (although this may be due to auto dealers trying to avoid them at all costs).

I’m 50yo and I hate talking on the phone.

  • Incoming phone calls are likely to be inconvenient. Asking “is this a good time” and then blithely ramming on does not endear you to me.
  • Giving phone numbers which only work from within the country does not endear you to me (hey, I live in Europe, we have smaller countries than Americans, Canadians, South Africans and Australians to name a handful; for many of us, going to the supermarket right across the border is No Big Deal).
  • Combining them with “these shitstains only give that freaking phone number as a way to contact them, really?” is likely to make me switch to a competitor. In fact, it was one of the reasons I recently changed cellphone providers: the new one has easy-to-find numbers which work from any country so long as you’ve got a signal.
  • If your business is an international one (right now I’m thinking of the “expat tax-assistance company” a former employer provided as a benefit), combining “number which only works from within the country” with “we are only reachable M-F for six hours which make sense if you’re in Colorado” is not going to make it convenient for me to contact you.
  • And then add that a lot of people are really bad at talking on the phone. Please stop moving your head around: it makes your mouth move around, don’t talk to me from your ear.

So yeah it certainly isn’t only milennials.

My milennial coworkers have agreed with many of the above points, when the issue has come up; many were happily surprised to hear many of us oldsters agree, having been called “weird” by their parents. Add that we often worked on IT Support, and then you get that a ticket received via IM or email can be worked on at your own pace, nobody freaks out if your screen takes a few seconds to come up, nobody thinks you’re weird for needing to go to the bathroom (well, maybe the HR guy, but that HR guy was weird anyway), and yeah, we definitely preferred written contacts over phone calls.

Would it be rude of me to ask your age? Because I’m 48, and I don’t much like doing business by phone if I can do it online/by email. Mainly because I just want to buy this thing/book this service and I don’t have time or energy for your upselling.

I’m struggling to think of an industry that must rely entirely on phone. As for your example, I bought my last new car by ordering a spec online through an online aggregator, and then corresponding with the dealership via email. First time I spoke to a real person was when I picked up the keys.

Count me in as another late-40s person who prefer anything-but-phone-calls to do business. Phone calls are simply too inconvenient; half the time you leave a message, and they need to call back. Or if you do get someone, it’s not the right person but it takes 5-10 minutes to figure out it’s not the right person. Or it’s the right person but they need to go look something up / check the schedule / whatever and you’re stuck waiting while they do that. Or the worst - you sit on hold for 20 minutes before you even talk to anyone.

Give me email or instant messaging any day. Send a message, it goes through the process to get to the right person and get the info, they send it back, voila all done.

About the only time phone is more convenient is when there’s a lot of back-and-forth questions and there’s a time limit. As in, “hey, I need to get this issue figured out RIGHT NOW because it’s time critical that it’s done by end of day.”

I think you’re grouping “ability to talk to a live person” with “required to talk to a live person” into one category.

Look at it this way. Take two similar business, selling similar items with similar websites. Do you buy from the website where you can just move your mouse around and click on things or the one that say “Ready to order? Call us today!”

“Ability to speak to a human” is good as far as most people are concerned. I don’t know anyone that likes spending the first 5 minutes of a call stuck in a phone tree.

So, the answer to the OP is, much business to business selling is now done online, just like business to consumer buying. 15-20 years ago, when somebody needed lab supplies they’d go to our purchaser with a catalog, or perhaps just specs of what they wanted (latex gloves, medium, 3 mil, two cases), and the purchaser would call one of your common vendors and place the order. 5-10 years ago when somebody needed lab supplies, they’d go online click on some stuff, put in their purchasing card info, and a few days later a box full of latex gloves and pipettes would arrive. Today, they go through the internal (outsourced) purchasing portal, and don’t even have to put in a purchase card, just the internal account reference. Supposedly the per transaction cost is a fraction of the purchasing card cost, which was a fraction of the dedicated purchaser cost. In fact, our department no longer has a dedicated purchasing person. At some point the person with that job left, and it was never refilled, because the duties had diminished to not supporting a full time position.

This goes back about 20 years. At the time I was frequently buying computers for my employer. Because the real world, I was usually buying one computers at a time, instead of a bunch of computers all at once.

It was almost completely at my discretion as to which company I purchased from: Compaq, Gateway, IBM, any number of resellers, etc. All of those required calling in, going back and forth with some salesman to explain the difference between the T75X and T75XL, or is a T75XL better than the T90X? Except Dell. I could go to their website, look at specs, look at prices, decide 75Mhz with 8MB is better than 90Mhz with 4MB, and buy it, and be done. No phone tag, no being ignored because I was calling business sales, but only wanted one computer.

So, the answer to the (rhetorical?) question you posed, “Do you buy from the website [or] ‘Call us today’?” is definitely buy from the website. That also explains why higher education is often full of Dell computers. They made life easier for us, and have reaped the benefits of it for decades.

And often they don’t even need to do that, as the appropriate account is associated with their username and/or with the stuff they’re purchasing.

Yeah, I hate doing business over the phone, which makes the internet a godsend.

:confused: How do auto dealerships insist on phone calls? Last time I bought a car, it didn’t involve the phone. I went in in person, but only after browsing some dealerships’ inventories online.

I’m 53.

My recent car purchase involved me going through a car buying service, after which I received several phone calls from their affiliated dealers. I won’t go that route next time.

It might be specific to my area, but there are a bunch of dealers around here that won’t even show you their online inventory without you giving your contact information.

In my area, every dealer shows their inventory* and allows you to send them emails or get an “e-quote”.
The last time I got a car I sent an email to all the Honda dealers in the area telling them exactly what I was looking for and asked them what they could do for me (new car, they were all working with the same thing). Every one of them replied that I needed to come in. Some started off with that, some gave me a little back and forth and then asked me to come in.
The car I got before that, same idea, but I got solid numbers from everyone. Much easier.

*And their inventories aren’t always correct. Depending on how quickly they update the site, a car that shows up their today may have been on the lot for hours or even days. A high demand car could very well be gone by the time you get there.

That’s a reasonable point since, as you noted, “ability to talk to a live person” is the phrase used in the post. The thread title on the other hand was “businesses/business models that operate using phone calls”. That brought to my mind a business where phone calls are a normal part of operations, even if not absolutely required.

I, an older 34 year old millennial, often encounter businesses where some step in an otherwise online relationship necessitates a phone call and I consider it at least a black mark on the business. If I had an entirely online alternative I’d seriously consider it on that basis alone.

To be fair though, the most common instance that’s coming to mind for me is a business involving some kind of subscription and the company forces you to call to end payments. Usually it’s abundantly clear they could have made it automated but want to make losing a customer as difficult as possible. In those cases it’s far more about being manipulated and toyed with than forced to speak on the telephone.

Personally, I’d love if there was some type of law that stated that any subscription service must allow can’t require you to cancel via a different method that you enrolled. So, if you enrolled online, they can’t require you to call. If you started the subscription by phone, they can’t require you to type up a letter and send it certified mail etc.

I have a French-sounding name and live on a street with 15 letters and a dash, in a village with 17 letters and two dashes. Some of these characters are accented. So all of my info has to be spelled out when doing something over the phone with an English speaker. I’d much rather type it in.

(But many forms on Web sites won’t accept that my name has accented characters or that a street name can be 16 characters long and contain a dash. Some sites do accept my typing but give errors about the address “not matching postal records”, which is bullshit. That’s a separate issue.)

I’ve seen that before , not just with car dealers -real estate agencies do it as well. In my experience they want a means of contacting you* to try to sell you something. But they don’t actually require you do anything by phone - the only parts of buying cars or looking at real estate I’ve done by phone is setting up appointments and that can be easily done by email. What can’t be done online or through email with car or real estate purchases usually has to be done in person- but that’s a different issue that will probably never change.You’ll never be able to test drive a car online and houses/apartments often look more appealing in photos than in person.

But I’m 55 and for most transactions that don’t involve cars or real estate , I’d rather do it online/by email/by text unless there’s going to be so much back and forth that it would be easier to do by phone.

  • some want your email address, others your phone number

I’m in my mid 30s. Depending on where people draw the line for “Millenial”, I’m generally just barely included as one of the oldest.

I dislike phone calls for businesses except in certain circumstances for a number of reasons:

  1. Phone calls interrupt, other methods don’t. Via email/electronic means, we don’t both have to be available at the same time. So I can make a request when it’s convenient for me and the business can respond when it’s convenient for them and I can read it when it’s convenient for me.

Obviously, if it’s something where we’re going to need to have a conversation, I’d rather have that conversation on the phone. It’ll be faster than bouncing emails back and forth.

  1. I get so many spam phone calls these days that I only answer my phone if I recognize the caller. Which means that phone tag often eats up a lot of time if return calls need to be made due to the difficulties finding time that both parties are free.

  2. If I get info in a phone call, I have to remember the information. With email I have a record I can just refer to.

That said, I also want there to be an actual human I can talk to on the phone when something’s not working. Someone who can navigate the problem without dealing with a scripted electronic system that doesn’t actually cover my issue.

There is in California. We left-coasters sometimes get made fun of, but we manage to pass some consumer protection laws too.