I remember installing our first small business phone system here at AccessDirect. Among other headaches, I precisely recall being crouched down under my desk drilling through the wall so that I could run a cord through to connect my first employee to our phone line.
That was 17 years ago. If someone would have told me I could throw all the cords away and that my phone lines could exist wirelessly through the internet — I would have handed over that whole tangled bundle in a heartbeat.
Fast forward to today: this morning I was dictating an email to one of my staff using Siri on my iPhone — from my breakfast table — voice to text to computer without the use of hands or any wiring required. The way we communicate looks almost nothing like it did in 1997. Or at least, it doesn’t have to. But when it comes to business phones many small business owners are still stuck with their bundle of cords, dense user manuals and hefty overhead of a traditional phone system.
Small Business Phone System Survey Results
I was surprised by this finding in our 2014 Small Business Phone System Survey. Big corporations might not update because of the sheer size of the task — but I can only imagine that small companies don’t update because they simply don’t have time. The telephone is a utility, as long as it works, it works. Juggling all the moving parts of a small business can force the attitude: if its not broken, don’t fix it. But when it comes to small business operations, that can stick small companies in the past, which doesn’t serve well for productivity or staying ahead of the competition.
It also doesn’t help the budget. Small businesses overwhelmingly choose affordability over functionality when it comes to their small business phone system. Yet over half are still paying for traditional landlines, legacy system overhead, hardware, and an additional mobile plan, while missing key features that would save time, cut down cost, create leaner operating systems, increase productivity and feed the sales funnel.
Choosing a Telephone System for Small Business
It’s time for small companies to go virtual with their phone system. Of course I believe this — I sell virtual phone systems — but I declare it because the downward trend in the use and preference for traditional landline and desk phones at work is undeniable. Desk phone usage drops by nearly half for the small business employee under 45. Our survey findings predict that by the time today’s children enter the workforce, the desk phone will be extinct. While 61% of 45-60 year olds want to keep the desk phone around at work, only 38% percent of 30-45 year olds want to keep it.
Walking into an office without any desk phones might sound absurd — but if it does, let me direct you to a video from 1974, where Arthur C. Clarke, prominent science writer and futurist, stands in front of a computer the size of our entire office, and predicts the Internet. He forecasts a day where man will have a small console in his home from which he can communicate, access his travel plans, his bank statement, and work from anywhere.
Of course, that prediction that was sci-fi like in 1974 is our very normal reality today.
So without those gaudy black boxes, dial pads and phone jacks in our offices, what does the future of business telecommunications look like? Our survey allows us to envision that.
The answer is in voice-based communications. Despite buzz generating headlines in 2014, such as the New York Times declaring voicemail dead with Millennials, our survey finds that at least among small businesses, the practice isn’t going anywhere soon. In fact, 56% state that voicemail is valuable and that they use it frequently, with an additional 24% stating that voicemail is still important with their clients.
Sure, 12-17 year olds might prefer hiding behind text messages, but I doubt the future of communication is text based. Looking forward to a world with no voice calls mimics the host’s concern in Clarke’s 1974 video, “but what will life be like in social terms, if our whole life is built around computers?” Just like computers didn’t take the place of socializing, neither will text messaging prevail to create a world that is toneless and alienating — now that voice technology is catching up, we can see a future where voice communications have a stronghold in telephony.
As far as doing business, small companies overwhelmingly find voicemail valuable, and that remains static across all age groups with a sufficient sample size (age 30-70).
As I plan the future of my own small company, it is imperative for my team and I to understand what our small business client will need as communication continues its rapid evolvement. As a small business owner (we are still 5 employees after 17 years strong), I get tired of reading big Fortune 500 funded reports on the future and then trying to apply them to the forecasting of my own business. We serve businesses primarily in the same small size as ours: 2-5 employees, and so we limited our survey to respondents who own or work for a business with ten employees or less.
From our survey, I learned that I can ignore the speculations that voicemail is dead but continue down the path of mobile integration. What we hear from many clients is that talking on a mobile phone often creates discomfort in connection quality as well as physical comfort (it’s hard to hold a cell phone and take notes, or have a prolonged discussion), but just as the cord has disappeared from the land line phone and the dial pad from the cell phone, and internet has gone from dial-up slow to 4G, those innovations will come in stride. And when they do, the desk phone will begin to gather more dust.
Voice communications are here to stay
As the internet reshapes our world, including the world of telecommunications, in some ways it is very reassuring to find that the inherent principle of telephony, voice communications, is not going anywhere. In fact, I project that it will become more powerful than ever, that we won’t need hardware at all, but simply to speak into the air to be connected. It’s a long way from running cords through drywall, but then again, who could have ever believed that phone cords would be replaced by something invisible called “the cloud. ”In our survey, respondents identified two dozen providers of business telephone systems that they employ for their small businesses. This is also something I couldn’t have imagined in 1997. We are a small business among many here in telecom, and it is encouraging to be part of a diverse and healthy market. We publish our survey results not only to exhibit leadership in virtual phone systems for small businesses, but to encourage small businesses to purchase a small business phone system with confidence based on what the future of telephony looks like. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to our team.