In the latest Starbucks ad, a nice-but-slightly-dim boy asks his girlfriend whether everything is okay. It is, she says, in a tone of voice that makes it very clear to everyone but her boyfriend that everything is not okay.
This conversation takes place both in text and in real life. It’s only in the latter that the boyfriend realises what a clot he has been and apologises.
Starbucks’ message is clear: stop texting and start talking. Stop missing out on the subtleties of communication and start getting more out of your conversations. (Over a cup of coffee, of course.)
Is Starbucks swimming against the tide? Has the rise of digital really put an end to the art of a good old chat?
Forget talking face to face; even talking on the phone seems to be falling out of fashion. According to a survey by British telecoms regulator Ofcom, adults now keep in touch with family and friends by email, text and social media more than by phone.
And this is not just in the UK. The TIME Mobility Poll surveyed people from the US, India, China, South Korea and Brazil and found a similar result.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of text over talk. It’s quick (sometimes), it’s direct (again, sometimes), and it provides you with a record of what’s been said (as long as you have the time to trawl through that overflowing inbox).
It’s also a blessed relief for those who recoil from having to actually speak to someone. The New York Times once described phone calls as ‘intrusive’ and ‘awkward’.
Is this such a bad thing? Phone calls might put you on the spot and force you to deal with a problem there and then, but this only means that things get resolved more quickly. And, importantly, you don’t risk missing out on those conversational subtleties.
If this can happen so easily when communicating with family and friends, imagine how much more likely it is to occur when dealing with someone you’ve never met, such as a long-distance client or supplier.
Which brings me to the life of a project coordinator. We are those people who ‘get things done’, working with clients, in-house agency teams and external suppliers to deliver projects on brief, on time and on budget.
It can be a pretty demanding role, but it’s made so much easier when you know you’re delivering exactly what someone wants. A well-timed phone call can often be the difference between keeping a project on track and watching it go off the rails. Here are two examples of situations I have dealt with recently where that phone call saved the day:
Your team has spent two weeks working day and night on a film. The feedback arrives as a short, dashed-off email that tells you the film “needs more zip”.
Zip? Zip where? In the animation or the voiceover? In the transitions between frames or in the on-screen titles? And are we sure that zip is such a good thing in the first place? Should we allow the film to tell a story, no matter how long it takes?
All of these are questions your team will ask you. A phone call to the client to clarify all of the above, saving a lot of back and forth.
You’re working on a film that features English and Russian speakers. You need a bilingual editor as soon as possible. Not tomorrow, not next week: today.
You find the site of a well-respected editing suite. You could email a request over to its new business department and wait for a response; instead, you call.
You find out that all of their editors are out today. What about tomorrow? The moment’s hesitation on the end of the line tells you instantly that this particular editing suite isn’t going to be able to help. You move on.
Text-based digital communication isn’t going anywhere – and neither should it. Most of the time it can be incredibly useful.
But at the same time, all of our jobs rely on communicating honestly and directly with our colleagues – whether they’re in the next room or on another continent.
That’s why, when it comes to finding out what they really want, nothing beats picking up the phone.