Where Have the Good Old Phone Calls Gone?

Communication in the 21st century is easier than ever. While we don’t even want to picture what life as a translator must have been like without PCs and without the Internet, the new communication channels seem to have completely taken over, much to the detriment of, well, somehow old-fashioned but still highly useful means of communication like…the good old phone! Talking on the phone seems to be something you did as a teenager who had nothing to say but talked for hours anyway. Today, you don’t call, but you send e-mails or leave messages on social networking sites instead. But let’s not forget that communication is supposed to make both one’s personal and one’s professional life easier and we feel that e-mail writing sometimes defeats this very purpose. It is not unusual to receive an e-mail like this one:

I need a translation. How much does it cost?

To this we typically respond saying that we need to know the source and the target language and that we need to see the actual source text and that we would have to talk about the deadline. Since the potential client didn’t provide his or her phone number, we send an e-mail.

It’s English to German and it’s very short.

No attachment.
Now we need to write another e-mail asking about the document again.

In the end, we might end up exchanging dozens of e-mails to define deadlines, learn about the target group, inquire about existing glossaries or desired corporate wording etc. while we could easily have clarified all details in a short phone conversation.

In 2007, 58% of all people who contacted Dagy for the first time sent her an e-mail. Only 25% called her landline, while 16% called her cell. And yes, a few people sent a fax.

Since there seem to be people out there who have quit the habit of talking on the phone, we must try to guess whether our customers truly dislike spoken communication or not. If we feel somebody just does not want to talk on the phone – fine, we will send dozens of e-mails. But if there’s reason to believe that the potential client has a healthy relationshipwith his or her phone, we will just give that person a call. Or ask them to call us! Those teenage years are long gone, but speaking to somebody directly sure beats any other means of communication. As our Mexican friends would say: hablando se entiende la gente.


Michael on December 9, 2008 at 5:25 PM said...

You are so right. E-mail as substitute for a phone call is often a time-waster. On the phone, you can ask questions, clarify ambiguities, and follow up on answers – all in one relatively quick session. I find it infuriating to have dozens of e-mail messages going back and forth, not uncommon, to get to the bottom of one question. Sending data is, of course, a completely different thing.

Eve Bodeux said...

I agree. I must still pick up the phone more often that most people today. I have an invisible threshold in my mind and when it is crossed, I call to explain the issue rather than taking 45 minutes to draft a complex email about it. Sometimes email is a time saver, sometimes, a time waster!

bonnjill on December 9, 2008 at 8:09 PM said...

Try arguing over the word count of a translation using the chat feature on Skype. I did that yesterday. Not fun! I kept asking her to call me so we could discuss it. She kept telling me she was too busy. So I took the bull by the horns and called her myself. At least Skype is pretty instantaneous. The delays in e-mail can often be frustrating.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on December 10, 2008 at 3:49 PM said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Just had another long PHONE conversation with a client who had a few questions about a translation. It was a very nice and constructive conversation, but I think via e-mail it might have sounded a bit distant, as you can't tell people's intonations. I am glad our client called instead of writing a long and time-consuming e-mail. She'd asked me about the details of a scientific term, and it was much easier to explain verbally. The phone is a great thing indeed.

@Jill: Funny about your Skype-chat with your client. If one has time to chat on Skype, one has time to talk (of course, on Skype you can multitask and chat with many folks at the same time, but still)!

Corinne on December 11, 2008 at 8:14 AM said...

I agree completely; one of my favorite agency clients *always* calls on the phone, and because of that I feel like I have more of a personal relationship with them. The things I like about e-mail are that the recipient reads it at her/his convenience (no worries about interrupting people), and it provides you with a written record, rather than just your memory of the conversation.

MT on December 11, 2008 at 4:48 PM said...

Actually, I have just the opposite point of view: I hate getting constant phone calls all day long, and so I prefer to do everything by e-mail if possible. The fact is that e-mail is cheaper for the caller, and it's cheaper for me not to have to return phone calls. Plus, a "paper" trail is nice in case of misunderstandings, etc.

However, for e-mail inquiries I also have a canned response, saved as a signature in Outlook. It briefly explains the whole translation process, my rates, turn-around, time, and then I attach the contract to the e-mail for the person to fill out and sign. (If it's an agency, I omit the contract.) That streamlines the whole thing pretty well, and only serious inquirers continue the interaction beyond that point.

Thomas Gruber on December 12, 2008 at 1:49 AM said...

Great idea to save e-mail templates as signature.

Guillermo Matías Gumucio said...

Congrats! Excellent post and comments, I agree a hundred percent with everything said and couldn't have said better. I'm often annoyed by e-mails novels that could be summarized in one or two phone conversations, not even mentioning the ones related to glossary differences.

Keep the good job!

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