Phone Call? Or Email? Or…? Informal Survey Results
We conducted an informal survey to find if people would rather be called, emailed, or something else. This is a brief overview of the results so far.
(Note: for this summary, we will be using the term “extravert” as used in clinical analysis initiated by Carl Jung instead of the popularized spelling, “extrovert.” )
The Movers & Makers company is engaged in ongoing research about introverts, extraverts, age, occupation, and communication preferences. The original hypothesis was that introverts, or individuals in introvert-friendly occupations such as STEM, were more adverse to having a phone call disrupt their time, with some exceptions. In contrast, extraverts, or individuals in extravert-friendly occupations, were more open to phone calls. Our formal interviews showed this hypothesis to be incorrect and revealed a trend based more on age and occupation than temperament.
As an informal triangulation of our data, The Movers & Makers research team decided to conduct surveys on popular social media and internet forums. The research has not yet concluded, but “Phase 1” of these informal surveys are complete and we’d like to share the results of these surveys. The results of this informal survey coincided with our formal research and also contradicted the original hypothesis. This summary is not an analysis of our hypothesis, our formal research, or of the informal research. This summary is only a brief overview of the informal survey results.
In addition to essential demographic questions, the questions of the survey took the form of “I work for a company that has never done business with you and I’d like to introduce myself.” The possible answers included, “Call your phone number,” “Send you an email,” “Send you an SMS,” “Send you an MMS,” and “Send you an IM.” We also asked two, somewhat open-ended questions that emphasized the positive and negative consequences of the communication preferences.
Our initial observations, which initiated our research, were that there are some people that don’t like to be called on the phone and would prefer to be contacted by other means. This survey supported the observation with less than a third of respondents preferring a phone call (31.3%) over alternative methods. Email was the preferred method by half of the respondents (49.6%).
Granted, the spectrum of scenarios may have been biased toward phone-call-aversion, so this is not an absolute reflection of preferences, but merely a summary of the preferences reflected in this survey.
Breaking down the data between introverts and extraverts yielded an insignificant difference between the two temperaments. Introverts preferred a phone call in 30.61% of responses. Extraverts preferred a phone call in 31.41% of responses. This is a difference of only 0.8% and is much smaller than we anticipated.
The similarities between introvert and extravert coincide with our formal research and are also reflected in the breakdown of most of each questions that follow.
While “ambivert” is not a part of some personality/temperament models, many contemporary research make allowances for ambiverts. In our case, we are including the term because people that identify as ambiverts seem themselves as distinct from both extraverts and introverts and they may have a distinct profile. However, the number of respondents describing themselves as Ambiverts is too small to comprehensively study and we recommend a more in-depth study of ambiverts and communication preferences. Still, as a note of interest, we’ll include the results here, though we caution against drawing any conclusions. Ambiverts responded with a preference for email at 54.6% and phone calls at 19.2%.
Our original hypothesis did not account for sex or gender. We allowed for the selection of “sex” in the survey to satisfy any curiosity of biological temperament selection. As we suspected, there isn’t a large or significant difference in correlation of sex to communication preferences as borne out in our formal research and reflected in these survey results.
Overall, male respondents selected a preference for a phone call in 34% of responses with females selecting phone calls in only 28.6% of responses. Email was the preferred response for both males and females in 49.3% and 49.7% of responses respectively.
Gender and Non-traditional Genders
We specifically did not include the word “gender” in this survey because the study of gender is outside of the scope of our current research. We allowed for the answers of “Prefer not to say,” and “Other” with an open field to promote the completion of the survey, but this survey is not equipped to tackle gender. Even with this allowance, only 0.1% of respondents answered with a non-traditional sex. Of that 0.1%, some of the respondents showed open hostility to the survey in their comments, indicating that this answer was not truly reflective of the respondent. The answers from these respondents were removed from our analyzed results.
That does not mean, however, that we do not value research regarding gender. We believe that the identification of gender and that correlation to communication preference might be quite significant. It is simply that we have not begun to tackle the question at this time. We would openly welcome input or recommendations from anyone with knowledge or expertise in this area.
The first of two areas with distinctive responses is the difference in generation. The age groups that we call “Millennials” are the least resistant to phone calls, with 31.6% of responses, and yet 48.4% of the Millennial responses prefer email. Millennials were also more open to “alternative” communication methods such as IM, SMS, etc. with about 20% of the responses in total.
The age groups that we call “Generation X,” or “Gen X,” are slightly more resistant to phone calls with only 29.1% of responses preferring a phone call and 57.3% preferring email.
The age groups that we call “Baby Boomers,” or just “Boomers” are the most resistant to phone calls with only 23.6% of responses preferring a phone call and 72.7% preferring email. Boomers were the most resistant to “alternative” communication methods with only 3.6% of responses for SMS and zero responses for the other methods.
The second of two areas with distinctive responses is the difference in occupation, or, occupational “wings” as we call them. These wings are simply divided into occupations that are STEM-related and non-STEM-related. The survey results reinforced our formal research and part of our hypothesis that respondents in STEM-related fields are more resistant to phone calls than their non-STEM peers. Respondents in STEM-related fields responded with 23.5% of responses preferring phone calls and 57.4% preferring email.
Responses in non-STEM-related occupations were more receptive to phone calls, but only with 34.2% of the responses and 46.7% preferring email.
We asked respondents to imagine a range of hypothetical scenarios and how they’d prefer to be contacted in those scenarios. The scenarios spanned a variety of business-oriented communications that fall onto a spectrum what we term “cold to hot” in order indicate the amount of familiarity the two parties have already established. We also asked about preferences in various degrees of urgency and responsibility.
It is probably unsurprising that the more distant and less urgent relationships are the most resistant to phone calls and the nearest and more urgent relationships are the most receptive to phone calls. In the “coldest” scenario, I work for a company that has never done business with you and I’d like to introduce myself, responses were predictably low on preferring a phone call with only 8% of responses and 85% preferring email. In this scenario, the differences between introvert and extravert were negligible, but the differences in generation were in-line with the overall responses. STEM and non-STEM responses were also in agreement with the overall responses.
Also, predictably, the “hottest” scenario, I have an emergency (business emergency, not life or death), included 74.6% of responses favoring a phone call and 5.9% preferring email. As an interesting note, in this scenario, more respondents preferred SMS to email with 13.7% of the responses.
The scenarios that emphasized cool or hot combined with responsibility, however, were a little surprising. For the scenario, I’m a customer with a question (it’s your responsibility to answer customer questions), the responses were similar to the warm business responses. 19% of responses preferred a phone call for customer questions and 72.2% of responses preferred email.
The scenario, I’m a customer with a problem (it’s your responsibility to handle customer problems), showed a surprising 61% preferring email and only 31.2% preferring a phone call.
We were also interested in understanding what impact these preferences have on the communication recipient. We set up a pair of questions in the survey to give respondents a chance to demonstrate the perceived consequences, both positive and negative. The negative consequences include, “I mostly roll with it — no big deal” (16.8%), “I find it irritating and frustrating” (24.3%), and “The interruption negatively affects my work” (16.5%), as well as, “I may decide not to reply or continue communication” (17.8%). The most damaging consequences would be “I lose some respect for the person contacting me” (7.3%), and “I may block that person, or mark their contact as ‘spam’ or ‘junk’” (6.5%).
Conversely, when the respondents’ preferences were respected, there were positive consequences, including, “It helps me manage my schedule” (14.3%), “I feel I’m more productive and efficient” (13.9%), “I believe I can dedicate the proper amount of attention to the communication” (21.5%), “I’m less irritated” (20%), and “It reduces my anxiety” (18.8%).
Our initial observations were that most people don’t like receiving phone calls. Perhaps it’s no mystery that the manner in which communication technology evolved puts the telephone front-and-center to business communication. However, our ongoing research shows that most people find phone calls to be disruptive and intrusive. Using the phone as a primary source of communication could be damaging to business relationships and to the overall economic health of our collective society.
Looking at this research, we can see why “cold calling” feels ineffective and like “a waste of time” to many people. “Cold emails” are more likely to be effective and seem to have a lower downside. In fields like recruiting, it may be damaging for the hiring side of the relationship to initiate contact with a phone call.
Yes, the research is ongoing, but it seems relatively clear that the phone should not be the first point of contact in any scenario, unless we know for certain that the recipient would prefer a phone call or we know for certain that the purpose of the contact is an emergency (the definition of “emergency” is somewhat subjective and needs to be judiciously applied). In business scenarios, the least risky option for contacting anyone is to use email and the most risky is to use alternative methods like MMS, or even IM. But, phone calls seem equally risky by the same standards considering that email seemed to dominate the responses.
As an illustration of the resistance to phone calls, this is a comment from the survey, “I hate phone calls, almost unconditionally. Texting or e-mails are always preferable unless it’s really an emergency.” And, another comment, “I do not generally like speaking on the phone because it’s a purely auditory activity, and I am a visual person… I like time to process what’s going on and formulate a response, otherwise I feel flustered and anxious.” These and several other comments are reflective of the overall tone of this survey. There were no equivalent comments showing resistance to email.
Our research currently only analyzes the state of things as they are, not why things are as they are. For example, why are Boomers more resistant to phone calls than Millennials? Why are STEM-related occupations more resistant to phone calls than non-STEM-related fields? Why are extraverts as equally resistant to phone calls as introverts? What is the significance of gender in communication preference? How might this study be different if we focused on personal scenarios instead of business scenarios?
All of these questions push us to recommend further research in this area. We know that we are continuing to research this area, but our small contribution covers only a fraction of needed research.
We will begin “Phase 2” of this research soon. If you’re interested in participating, keep a watch on our blog for updates. This topic will remain a topic of interest for The Movers & Makers Company and our research is ongoing. If you are interested in this research or our other research, please contact us; but, please refrain from calling us on the phone, it’s so disruptive.