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Calling — A Lost Art?

With all the online personal and business interactions, phone calls can feel as outdated as eight-track tapes. But many believe that calling adds a personal touch in an impersonal world.

Adam Hancock Nov 1, 2017

If you want a haircut, use an app to make the appointment. If you have a toothache, describe your symptoms on the dentist’s online form. Need to make a bank deposit or transfer funds? There’s an app for both and much more. With all these online personal and business interactions, phone calls can feel as outdated as eight-track tapes. But many believe that calling adds a personal touch in an impersonal world.

Gay Cookson, director of partnerships and development in the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, is one of them. In her line of work, phone calling is indispensable for building relationships that lead to well-funded projects. “You can’t get to the next step without having personal contact,” she says. “Calls turn into meetings, and meetings turn into money. You’re just not going to get to step three without step one.”

Cookson should know. She has 27 years of fundraising experience — with Utah state government, University of Utah College of Fine Arts, and PBS affiliate KUED. She explains that every business relationship she cultivated started with a phone call.

Simply put, the personal touch still matters. And digital communication tends to be impersonal. “You might get a small gift,” Cookson says. “But if you want someone to invest significantly in a project, people want to do business with people.”

Phone Call Foot Dragging

If phone calls are so important for business relationships, why are we reluctant to make them? “There are a lot of people who are just scared to pick up the phone,” admits Cookson. “And it is a little bit scary because you’re calling hat in hand.” Cookson says that even after all these years she has to psych herself up to get in the mood to start calling.

Others don’t call because they worry about pestering. Hasn’t everyone been on the receiving end of an annoying telemarketing call? “First of all,” Cookson says, “if you’re doing it right, it’s a service, not pestering.”

She recommends being sincere about why you are initiating a relationship and assuring clients that they are more than potential cash. “Good projects deserve good funding,” explains Cookson to clients. “But what I’m calling about today is to pick your brain. Sometimes we need to pick your brains, not just your pockets.” Asking for input can show clients you are interested in them, not just their pocketbook.

Pick Up the Phone

You don’t have to be a fundraiser to benefit from making a phone call. For businesses hoping to profit from the personal touch a call brings, Cookson recommends two strategies: First, record metrics on phone calling and set contact goals with employees.

Second, make phone-calling skills part of the interview process for new hires. “I would even have potential employees role-play phone calls in the job interview,” Cookson says. She recommends looking for people who are mature, confident and personable, and who believe in the business. Those without these characteristics may need to be reassigned to positions that better match their skillset.

What Cookson says makes sense. After all, isn’t it refreshing to call a business and find a knowledgeable, professional human being at the other end? Next time you want to do business, try making a call and reap the benefits.

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