Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do politicians want people to telephone them?

Recently, a greater than usual amount of instructions for political activism has been reaching me, and a common theme seems to be to telephone politicians. The instructions are to tell the person who answers the phone that you would like the politician to take or stop taking a particular action, and tell them any personal stories that support this request.

But why on earth would the telephone be the optimal medium for political activism?

If you telephone an elected official's office, someone has to answer the call. If you tell them an anecdote, someone has to write it down.  If they have a case tracking system, the person who answers the phone has to enter their notes into the case tracking system. The whole process moves at the speed of human speech, and is subject to transcription errors on the part of the person answering the phone, and dictation errors (as well as general human error and any lack of preparedness that's borne of inexperience) on the part of the person making the call. This is especially egregious because less-experienced phone-callers have to write up a script for themselves, which they read to the phone-answerer, who transcribes it into whatever system the political office uses.

But if you send them an email, the message will reach your political official (or enter their automated system) in your own words, either by copy-paste or through an automated algorithm. No human intervention, no possibility of human error, and also no staffing expenses to deal with your inquiry. It's faster for political staff (reading is faster than typing) and might also be no less slow for the citizen if - like me - they'd have to write up a script before making a phone call, or - like me - they can type at the speed of speech anyway. There's no human error, because your very own words either reach the politico directly or are entered into the automated system. From the point of view of the politico, they can get their constituents' POV straight from the constituents' mouth, and/or get their constituents' POV without having to pay the salary of political staff who run itnerference.

So how did it come about that a telephone call is considered the most effective way to reach politicians?


laura k said...

From an activist's persepctive, the telephone is considered second best to a personal, non-form letter, sent in the paper mail. It's usually in this descending order of goodness:
- Personal letter
- Phone call
- Personal email
- Click-and-send email

More work on the part of the sender shows a greater commitment. But when you get on the phone, you do not have to tell anecdotes or make a statement of any kind. You simply say, "I am calling to approve/disapprove/thank/voice my displeasure at [issue]." One sentence, that's it. Then give your name and postal code when asked.

Elected officials get a lot of email, but fewer phone calls, and fewer still personal letters.

impudent strumpet said...

That's so weird, because if I put myself in the shoes of the person working in the office, your descending order of goodness is also descending order of convenience. You'd think the politicians (or their office staff) would want to encourage the communication methods that make their job easiest.

laura k said...

They're supposed to care more about their constituents than about making life easier for their staff.

impudent strumpet said...

If they did care more about their constituents, the constituents wouldn't have to go through the trouble of using the more time-consuming contact methods!