Beyond the phone number: Why we need context for every call

July 28th, 2023 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Jonathan Nelson, Director of Product Management at Hiya.

The voice call remains the preferred means of communication among consumers, professionals, and businesses alike.

Moreover, research shows that the vast majority of people and businesses expect their phone usage to either stay the same or even increase in the future. The voice call is fast, efficient, and most of all personal – in ways that other communications channels can’t actually duplicate.

It’s also under threat from a rising spam and fraud problem, one that the telephony industry and all of its stakeholders must urgently confront. Unwanted calls are the number one consumer complaint received by the FCC.

One of the biggest problems caused by spam and fraud calls is that they cause people to treat most calls as “unwanted” – even when the call is wanted. When people lose trust in inbound calls, they stop answering them – which adds to their frustration because they miss important calls. The industry has not innovated and evolved enough to fix this problem and ensure trust.

The phone call is one of the only forms of communications where the recipient has little to no context for who is contacting them. It’s just a random 10 digit string of numbers that the recipient may or may not recognize.

This places the problem of “should I answer this call?” entirely on the individual. That in turn erodes trust, especially in the face of a growing spam and fraud problem. When people lose trust in inbound calls, they turn to other communications channels. Any insights that call originators and carriers can give to call recipients can help – but we’re not yet doing enough as an industry to make this happen.

There is a better way.

It’s time for us to move beyond the phone number as the accepted means of identifying a caller and add context for every call that helps recipients make informed decisions and trust that they know who is calling them. The phone number on its own doesn’t accomplish this. We can replace the phone number with something else: the real context someone needs to decide whether to pick up a call – on every call. That’s the basis for ensuring long-term trust.

The best solution is vetted caller ID with caller identity and call reason. But even when we don’t know who is calling, there is still ample context available that could be valuable to the call recipient.

As an industry, we need to retire the mindset that providing the phone number as a primary identifier is as useful as providing an email address.  It’s more like if we identified emails by an IP address – a seemingly random string of numbers – and expected email recipients to know who the sender is and trust that they can open the message safely.

So, what do we need to be able to effectively do this? Fundamentally, we need to do four things:

  1. We need to be able to collect this information.
  2. We need to be able to attach this information to the call.
  3. We need to be able to show it when the call arrives.
  4. We need to be able to confirm (and regularly reaffirm) its reliability and accuracy to ensure trust between callers and recipients.

The technical capabilities – such as the rich display afforded by virtually any smartphone – are already available today. They just need to be brought together to deliver clear, reliable context about inbound calls.

Call recipients don’t need a random string of numbers – they need to trust they know the person or business that’s calling.

The missing piece here is trust, not just in the abstract but as an embedded layer in voice technology. The industry still largely operates as though it only has the phone number – and sometimes the basic identity/name. That’s not enough information for call recipients to make informed decisions and be able to trust the voice call. We need to think bigger and embed trust into caller identity.

Call identity is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, imagine that for any inbound call you could know that this is a work-related call rather than a personal call. You might not know the specific person calling you, but this gives you much more context than the phone number alone. Or imagine you receive a callback from your doctor’s office. Maybe you don’t know their number, but if you knew you’d called them recently, you could reasonably surmise that this is an important call that you’ll want to answer. There’s a wide spectrum of information that we can be using to create context even in the absence of the caller’s actual identity. That’s how we restore and ensure trust.

Let’s work toward a new identity layer that builds trust and empowers recipients to make informed decisions so that they never miss an important call. It’s time to think bigger and move beyond the phone number and embrace the value of an accurate and trusted identity layer. Let’s think big and restore long-term trust in our most important form of communication, the phone call.

About the author: Jonathan Nelson is the Director of Product Management at Hiya.

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Categories: Industry Viewpoint · Unified Communications · VoIP

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