Visit any number of retail outlets, franchise or not, sales or service, and you will be sure to hear a telephone ringing, writes Iain P W Robertson, the major issue being that no-one wants to answer it and even replying is ignored.

telephone-ringingNo matter how it is couched, the non-responded telephone call is something that has implications for both parties to deal with. The caller will be reluctant to call back, regardless of how important the contact might have been. On the other hand, the recipient will never discover if that call was for business, or not.

Telephony has moved on considerably in the past forty years. In the late-1970s, the era of the ‘party-line’, there were insufficient cables in the GPO system to allow individual and private communications and British Telecom was unable to satisfy the demands placed on it for several years and the costs were exorbitant.

Today, it is unusual indeed not to spot anyone from a pre-schooler to a business-person without a mobile communications device being tapped into or permanently attached to an ear. Yet, despite the readily available and inexpensive telecommunications media, it appears as though the ‘ultimate veto’ that ought to be applied to our television remote controls, is being applied to the telephone too.

However, it is not just telephones that remain unanswered. Bluetooth enables links to any and everyone, virtually everywhere, both safely and in complete security. E-mails can be despatched speedily and most smart-phones in general use can receive them, as well as the recipient’s personal computer, of course. Why then is it so difficult for people to communicate? Why do people not respond? Surely it is just commonsense and good manners to do so.

On many occasions, I am sent usefully informative e-mails that can generate a near-immediate response from me. I received one the other day from a London-based PR company. I responded by telephone. The individual from whom I had been sent the communiqué was unavailable and would remain so for the rest of the day. When I asked the female receptionist, how I could have just received an e-mail from a person, who was miraculously (now) unavailable, she had no answer.

There was an ancillary issue here. The company was a PR and communications business attempting to demonstrate to me its ‘outstanding efficiency’ and to sell me its services. Its receptionist was completely useless. The irony of not being able to relate with anyone was not lost on me, as this is a far from unusual situation. I returned the call two days later, to much the same effect. My subsequent e-mail requested that the original sender contact me at his leisure, after all, why should I be bothered?

On more than few occasions, when I have attempted to contact my local car dealer, which normally has staff falling over each other, my call has not been answered. I have even visited the dealership, as its telephones have been ringing out, yet even with somebody sitting alongside the phone, it remains blissfully unanswered, as though it had not even been heard. I have also adopted a superior tone and stated loudly that someone should answer that call but they seldom do so.

It even affects me to the extent that I wonder if certain regular contacts even wish to speak with me at all. I tried a little experiment the other day. Somebody that I had been attempting to reach by simply dialling out their telephone number was mysteriously unavailable, even though that person had been expecting my call.

Instead, I dialled ‘141’ ahead of the number (which conceals the caller’s identity) and, lo and behold, the call was answered and this after making two prior calls directly, within minutes of each other. I carried out the same experiment with somebody else later in the day and received an immediate response. It must be me!

Of course, with BT, which still owns the lion’s share of all telephone lines, selling off its client database to the highest bidders (even though it also includes ex-directory details none of which should be passed on to ‘other parties’), there is always the high odds of a double-glazing, driveway-laying, PPI-paying, distant, well-to-do and deceased relative from Nyasaland wanting to speak with you. Woe betide you, if you actually wished to speak with any of those people.

The bottom-line is that it is just plain impolite to let the phone ring-out unanswered. You might be missing out on some vital information. You could be losing an order for business. Yet, if you require information and that call remains un-responded to and you do not receive the information that you need, then the world might be as well stopping, to let you off. Or, perhaps, we are so inundated and obsessed with the latest communications technology that we can use it to hide behind and postpone action, rather than react to it.

Answer the telephone, for heaven‘s sake. Respond to e-mails and text messages. It might be old-fashioned and not ‘on-trend’ to do so but it might also pay dividends were you to, especially in the retail trade, which needs to enhance its response levels now, more than ever before.