The broad impact of COVID-19 becomes more apparent with each passing day. An unintended consequence of the virus – and the world essentially shutting down – has been environmental
Less than a year ago, I was lucky enough to visit Italy for the first time. We started in Venice, the city of canals. It's a unique place because of its waterways. But a closer look at these canals revealed brackish, unhealthy looking water.
And then last month, the Italian government effectively put the entire country on quarantine in response to the horrific effects of the virus. This is a country highly dependent on tourism as well as the incessant motorboat traffic up and down the canals.
And the result?
The water has cleared, actually making fish visible to the naked eye. But it's not just in Italy. This environmental “cleansing” process is happening all over the planet. According to Quartz, NASA and the European Space Agency are measuring a 30% drop in pollution in China, coyotes are returning to Yosemite, while the bear population has quadrupled.
In just a few short weeks.
The changes in our world aren't just environmental. They've also been behavioral, essentially ending habits, customs, and practices that have been with us for years, and even centuries. We're staying home, no mani-pedis, no bar nights, no baseball. We're wearing face masks, and we've completely stopped shaking hands and giving hugs.
One of the other impacts that no one saw coming is that people are actually talking on the phone again. For Millennials, in particular, texting has all but replaced talk as a primary form of communication. But not anymore.
We asked the question in this year's Techsurvey, and learned that many avoid speech communication, instead preferring text messaging. Of course, that was way back in January and February – which seems like years ago.
My how the world has changed.
In just a few short weeks.
In newly released data, MediaPost reports data from both Verizon and AT&T, showing how voice calls have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 outbreak. Thanks to stay at home, social distancing, and stronger feelings of isolation, consumers are once again picking up their phones and actually talking to someone.
Verizon says in the weeks following the virus attacking America, they are now facilitating 800 million cell phone calls on an average weekday. That's – nearly twice the volume it handles on a typical Mother's Day, normally one of the busiest phone traffic days of the year.
AT&T tells a similar story. Wireless minutes have risen 41%, while voice calls were up about 33% last month. You can only imagine how they're pacing in April as 95% of the country is under stay at home orders.
And there's other data to support this notion that consumers are more willing than ever to have a phone conversation – even with telemarketers. The New York Times' reports about a recent telephone survey conducted among New Yorkers about the coronavirus crisis. Out of respect for respondents and their stress levels, the questionnaire was kept intentionally short.
Yet, researchers found that not only were people more than willing to answer all their questions, they often continued the conversation, delving into more personal issues like their sadness, fears, and loneliness. As one of the interviewers told the Times:
“They just want to talk to someone.”
That's backed up by several researchers who confirm that not only are people more likely to answer the phone from an unknown caller, they're more apt to complete telephone surveys. And then some.
Because everyone is being impacted, often in profound ways, by COVID-19, many are willing to tell their stories. To anyone.
Interestingly, a study by AllAreaCodes.com notes a new phenomenon about telemarketing calls – even though they may not be interpreting it correctly. According to their report, consumer complaints about “nuisance calls” are down 55% since the crisis occurred.
Their explanation? Perhaps telemarketers are making fewer calls, thus there's been less whining from consumers.
My explanation? People don't mind these calls as much because they're lonely, and may want to simply have a conversation – even with a telemarketer.
They even published a map showing where complaints are on the downswing (darker colors). While not true in all cases, many correspond to areas where COVID-19 spread has been most prevalent: Washington, New York, California, Louisiana.
So do these changing telephone habits portend anything of significance for radio? What do lonelier, more talkative consumers have to do with radio listening?
Talk to radio programmers and personalities at music stations, and many will tell you they just don't get any real volume of phone calls coming into the studio. Many simply say, “The phones are dead.”
Now, there's a chicken-egg-of-it. That is, if you don't ask for listener calls, you don't put them on the air, and maybe you even stop answering them, well, people are going to stop calling.
The days of having multiple incoming phone lines coming into the station, ringing incessantly, ended a long time ago.
You can see the net effects of this long-term benign neglect of the phones from the chart below. It's the pecking order of the ways TS20 respondents frequently connect with their favorite radio stations.
Database members make up the vast majority of our respondents, many of whom signed up to participate in a contest. You see that reflected in that top touchpoint.
Close behind is the station's mobile app, visiting the website, streaming on a computer, and Facebook – all frequent ways in which they interact with their preferred station.
And down near the bottom of this list is the now lowly studio/request line – once the primary way in which many connected with radio just a couple decades ago.
But now, people are back on their phones. Sure, they may still be connecting with a favorite radio station or personality via social media.
But the stats indicate this may, in fact, be a great time to open those phone lines, take a request or two, and have a conversation with a caller from your town – off the air. It's something that Spotify, SiriusXM, Netflix, and even your local TV station simply cannot do.
And when they make that inevitable request, don't forget to respond with those famous lines:
“It's comin' right up.”
“I'll try to get that on for you.”