The art of conversation: Part One

In a world driven by technology, a simple spoken exchange of words is becoming a rarity. Most of us would rather text than talk. In fact, texting is the most common way people use their smartphones – an invention which began life as a way to communicate with your voice. So, how has this apparent loss of the art of conversation impacted on the contact centre? If so, what do we have to do to evolve with the changes?

Helen Beaumont Manahan, Head of Training and Development, delves in this issue in the first of our three-part blog on why talk is not cheap.

Have you glanced around a train carriage lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed that nearly everyone, including you, is absorbed in a screen. Consider the same scene just five years ago. Would so many people have been ‘plugged in’ and oblivious to their surroundings?

Times are changing fast. As we become more connected via our touch screens, voice interfaces and the Internet of Things, we’re increasingly confident in conducting transactions in this digital space. So far, so brave new world. That’s as long as the technology does its job. However, when things go wrong, we are inclined to put technology to one side. When we need reassurance, or we need something fixed right now, we seek out a human connection.

Quality contact counts

When we do have cause to reach out to someone who can help, the quality of that contact matters more so than ever before. Yet, most of us can recount poor, unhelpful or even downright distressing examples of customer contact. So much of our lives is digitised now that it can sometimes feel that, in the moment of truth, the art of conversation is dead. Or that it is definitely declining.

Humans crave conversation. Perhaps that’s why we’re so reassured when we recognise that we’re part of a good conversation. It’s no coincidence that the Turing test is constructed as it is. “Are you a bot?” is an increasingly common question levelled at call centre agents. Similarly, we’ve all felt the frustration of being unable to get the answers we need from AI. This is notwithstanding the fact that it’s undoubtedly massively useful and improving all of the time.

Authentic experience

Even as computers speed towards the once inconceivable goal of passing the Turing test, it can seem our newest generations are adjusting their course at a similar rate to align with technology. In this societal shift, it could easily be argued that conversation is truly becoming a lost art. A perfect storm of down-skilling is brewing at precisely the time when younger generations are entering the workforce.

A colleague recently said that she’d never felt older than watching her pre-teen children reluctantly speak to their grandparents on the telephone. She noted with something close to dismay how much more comfortable and animated they communicated over text. Text is still a form of conversation. But, the ability to type short bursts, delay responses or not reply at all is worlds apart from the nuances of traditional conversation. You can delete, amend, polish and tweak a text before hitting send. These luxuries are, of course, not afforded in spoken conversation.

The true art of conversation resides in the ability to navigate the sometimes-tricky interaction between two or more humans – who could be friends, foes or strangers – and forge a connection. We will explore this in the next blog on the art of conversation both in and outside of the contact centre. Until then, browse our services here or contact us to find out more.