Cutting Restaurant Phone Lines Disrupts Social Interaction | Opinion


(Tiranjini Pillai / Daily Titan)

The elimination of outdated technology may have begun with residential customers “cutting the cord” from cable subscriptions in favor of streaming services. But even before that, many homes recognized the redundancy of landline telephones; once all the members of the family are equipped, the mobile phone culture has definitely taken hold.

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 2021, approximately 67% of adults in the United States lived in wireless-only homes. Now, the trend is also on the rise for businesses, especially restaurants. Abandoning their landline, customers have no choice but to find other ways to make contact.

This decision to cut a critical communication link is foolish and short-sighted, leaving customers in the abyss. The responsibility of service industries is to put customers first in any manageable way. Removing landlines could likely create confusion and frustration on both ends of the line.

For restaurants choosing to cancel their landlines, reserving a table at a favorite restaurant for your parents’ birthday may no longer be a phone call away. If the trend spreads to other industries, imagine the barriers for customers. Letting your stylist know you’re late for your monthly haircut can send you down a rabbit hole to find and install an app.

How about checking the status of your bridesmaid dress alteration? The availability of a necessary tool at the hardware store? Or any other number of valid requests? Each of these seemingly simple tasks, without the benefit of a business phone line, can complicate consumers’ lives.

At one point everyone left a voicemail which never came back. We pressed number after number as we were trapped in a self-expanding rabbit hole. We were redirected to websites and quickly hung up. This latest insult to consumers leaves no doubt that the days of “killing them with kindness”, and “the customer is always right” drive another nail in the coffin of good service.

An old rule of thumb is that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of satisfying an existing customer. Service-sector businesses, especially restaurants, which typically face high failure rates even in good economic times, have been hit hard over the past two years.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry has experienced “catastrophic losses and profound changes as a result of the pandemic.” In September 2021, a field survey conducted by the association found that 85% of restaurants reported declining profits since COVID-19.

Surviving restaurants have been forced to cut staff and costs wherever they could, but many of these creative cost-cutting solutions are reducing customer contact and delegating service quality to outside vendors.

Apps like OpenTable leave reservations to robots. Food delivery apps eliminate the need to visit the establishment at all. In Fullerton, more than 2,700 restaurants offer GrubHub and more than 1,300 offer DoorDash, according to food delivery service websites.

Restaurants and diners trade interaction for convenience and now it’s impossible to tell the difference between one or the other. That friendly voice on the phone ready to answer questions versus a cold website displayed on a screen can be the difference between choosing this restaurant or another.

Reduced interaction with customers can also have unintended consequences. According to a 2014 national survey of the restaurant workforce, the National Restaurant Association reported that half of American adults worked in the restaurant industry. For one in three, it was their first job. By eliminating their landline, restaurants can remove the only opportunity for young workers to learn essential conversational skills.

Today’s aspiring actors and students finding their way into the restaurant industry are likely Gen Z and Millennials. With so many messaging apps at their disposal, the digital age has created a whole generation of phone call avoiders. According to a survey conducted by BankMyCell, up to 75% of millennials avoid phone calls and 81% “experience anxiety before working up the courage to make a call”. Work is the perfect learning ground to address these anxieties and practice having meaningful verbal interactions.

The purpose of a service industry is to respond to customers and provide quality service. Today, there are many ways to connect: from email to direct mail, from digital advertising to in person. With no phone line available for customers who might need a helping hand, they might just go somewhere else. A healthy business should keep all lines of communication open to continue serving customers, including a landline.

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