I was talking with a friend the other day and they mentioned that, whilst on the bus home from work, they had been sat near a woman who was conducting business over her mobile phone. During the conversation, which he couldn’t help but overhear, she mentioned not only a client’s name but their full address and telephone number. When the woman had finished my friend showed her the notes he was able to take just by being in the vicinity and without deliberate intention to listen.
Her reaction was to say she would report him, perhaps she thought he was being stalker-ish, however all he was attempting to do was to point out to her that she should really be more discreet when conducting business over her mobile phone in a public place.
What can we learn?
My friend had no ulterior motives, he destroyed the notes immediately, yet some may not be so honorable. What if that had been a competitor sitting nearby? What if it had been a person who perhaps knew the client being talked about but didn’t know their address or phone number – they do now. What if it had been some irresponsible person who now had a name & number to make prank calls, or worse, intimidating ones?
Conducting conversations over the phone is very normal yet I think we are still used to them being in the privacy of our home or office. We envelop ourselves in a little mobile cocoon and erroneously believe nobody else is interested. Usually we’re right and they are not interested, but we must always believe the assumption that they could be.
How can we change?
People think I am strange, I have a mobile phone and I am a very gadget-orientated person, however I rarely answer the phone when out in public. Partly because I think it is pretty unprofessional to be conducting a phone call with the hustle and bustle of a town in the background, but also because I do not feel comfortable discussing business in such a public environment. I don’t have any secrets per se, yet I am aware that my clients may not appreciate their business being announced to the customers in my local coffee shop (for instance).
So we change by changing people’s perceptions. Don’t be ‘always available’, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we absolutely need to answer the phone when it rings. If a few of us hold firm then more and more will follow. There are so many alternatives that are not as obtrusive or potentially damaging – text, email, chat via Google, Skype, even Facebook if necessary. Explain to your clients that this is a better way to communicate when out in public.
Points to ponder …
- DO be aware of your surroundings when taking a call in public.
- DON’T give sensitive details out loud – that’s what texts & emails are for.
- DO remember that your clients have a right to privacy
- DON’T be afraid to say “I’m just out at the moment, may I call you back later when I can talk to you properly?”
- DO offer to text or email your caller if they need immediate information, explaining why you don’t like to discuss business in public