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Phone Phobia: Not Just for Old People Anymore

phone phobia(Article updated June 2017) Reports of phone phobia among younger people are still numerous. Is this scourge affecting ‘Millennials’ different from what ails older people? The answer is yes and no. The no part is that the end result is the same: not making calls, or being less successful with calling. However, the reasons behind fear of phone are indeed different for younger people. Resolving those concerns sometimes requires a slightly different approach, too.

Surprise: It’s Not About Attitude

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say everyone born in or after 1985 is “younger.” Everyone else, moi included, is “older.” That younger group includes Millennials, who are often described as having self-centered or entitled attitudes. Describing younger generations as having a poor attitude is a tradition that’s been around for…well, millennia. The presumptions rarely hold true and in this case are also irrelevant. What makes phone phobia different for younger people is what happened in 2003: Do Not Call laws went into effect.

Older People Have Two Calling Models

Let’s start on the older end of the age range. For these people, phone phobia is driven by the experience in receiving ugly cold calls. Most callers were rude, pushy, and sounded like they were reading a script. Eventually, these calls went beyond intrusive and annoying, as well as waaay past unprofessional. Things got so bad the Do Not Call laws were implemented.

For older people making outbound calls, the canned, annoying, pushy and unprofessional call is the model that comes most easily to mind. That model is the source of their phone phobia: they don’t want to behave like those callers, and they know their prospects will reject such calls. However, this older group has a much more pleasant phone model to draw from, too.

Most older people remember a time when phone calls were not at all tainted. We’re old enough to remember how special it was to receive and make long distance calls. We’re also old enough to have acquired phone etiquette because we learned it at home, and saw it on TV.  Television, in particular, taught us business phone etiquette. From Della Street to JR, we saw business calls on both sides of the phone line so often the proper behaviors were almost automatic. (I’ll explain why this is important in a bit.)

All in all, people who had been making and receiving a lot of phone calls by 2003 have two models to work with: one positive, and one negative. That’s not the case for those on the younger end of the age range.

Younger People Have Almost No Model

Our oldest “younger” person was born close to 1985. In the present, they’re in their early to mid thirties, but way back in 2003 they were about 18 years old. Being teens, most were barely cognizant of the experience adults had in getting rude and pushy cold calls. You can easily imagine many shrugging off their parents’ annoyance — what’s the big deal?

By the time these youngsters acquired their own phone numbers and were old enough to be good prospects, the Do Not Calls laws were in full swing. They received far fewer annoying calls, which means the dreaded model is much more theoretical for younger callers. Sure, they got the message that making cold calls is bad, but they don’t have personal clarity on what to avoid.

In addition, examples of basic phone etiquette became less common at home and on TV. Fewer kids were taught how to properly answer a phone–their parents didn’t treat it as a special privilege. Examples of business phone etiquette became rare, too. Secretaries on “Ally McBeal” weren’t exactly taking messages and the cops on “Law and Order” weren’t focused on customer service. This gap was filled with training as our younger group entered the work force, but that training doesn’t duplicate the depth of the positive model the older group has.

Last but definitely not least: the landline telephone was no longer the only way to communicate. IMing and texting were added to the mix — communication devices that do not provide a voice-to-voice model at all. As a result, younger people often feel that making a phone call is essentially somewhat rude, no matter how the call is handled.

Should Each Group Receive Their Own Training?

Since younger people have had a difference experience with the phone, should they receive their own training? No, because the concerns younger people have about making cold calls are nearly identical to those of older people. No matter their age, most people are worried about how prospects will react to being interrupted. They’re worried about the image they’re projecting. Like their older peers, younger people are not sure what they should say. Like their younger peers, older people often have unrealistic expectations for what they can or should be able to do when cold calling.

The methods for resolving concerns and equipping callers with effective telemarketing skills are the same, too. However, managers should be ready to make adjustments in their coaching as needed, so I’ll wrap up with a few tips.

Tips for Following Through After Training

Remember that most people do not finish their learning curve in training, they complete it on the job.

  • People of all ages often need to be reminded of the above, and that building their skills can feel awkward and uncomfortable in the meantime.
  • Because the model is often unfamiliar to younger people, they may not have an intuitive “ah ha” when learning it. This means they may not start to fine tune their approach and calls for a while. In other words, they may need more practice over time.
  • Younger people may not have any actual calling model in mind–positive or negative. Do not use calling stories as illustrations to help make a point because they won’t have enough of a context. Just state your point and show them what the desired behavior sounds like.
  • Younger people are often concerned about being perceived as unprofessional and adopt overly-formal language to try to prevent that (which sounds canned). They often need more of a push to use their own words in scripts.
  • Older people are often concerned about cold calling hurting their image. The only way to resolve this concern is for them to experience what happens as they actually make calls. Start them with a very low dials goal, if needed, but get them rolling.

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2 Responses to “Phone Phobia: Not Just for Old People Anymore”

  1. Sara says:

    My nieces and nephews rarely use the telephone for verbal communication. They prefer to do all of their communication via text. My sister manages a staff of “younger” people, and is only able to reach them by texting–They won’t pick up phone calls.

    I wonder if that may be part of the issue.

  2. savage says:

    You are absolutely right, Sara. Younger people are used to texting and find it relatively easy not to pick up calls.

    This is similar to what happens when we older people consider email or calling. email — a form of texting, really — often seems easier.

    But there are many younger people who really need to get comfortable and good with the phone. Luckily, a bit of training and practice is all it takes.

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