Musical call tones and my mental model

Musical call tones when you are waiting to be connected to the person you are calling are great from a marketing and technical point of view, but they are inconsistent with (many) user expectations.  Does this mean they are wrong? Is there a cultural or demographic dimension to this?

I have a mental model for the way that phones work.  I dial a number and get a mechanical ‘brrrr-brrrr’ tone.  In some countries it is a simple sine wave tone, but it is a recognisable feedback mechanism that lets me know that the call is waiting for the person (or machine) at the other end of the line to answer it.  If I get a single tone it means the line is engaged or can’t be connected.

I’ve another mental model about music being played to me on the phone.  It means that I’ve been connected to the other person and have been put on hold.  If I have initiated the call, and it is not a free number, it is costing me to listen to the music.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore musical call tones are becoming increasingly popular.  Instead of the mechanical brrr-brrr you get a song that the person you are calling has selected.  The first time I got this I was calling a colleague in China and I immediately put the phone down.  Was I being charged for this? I associated the music with being on hold, and I didn’t want that on an international call.  The musical call tone broke my long established mental model of how a phone works. That caused cognitive dissonance and I didn’t like that.

To my knowledge, none of the UK telco providers offer this service.  Could this be because consumers would find it hard to accept it?  If so, why is it so popular in China?  Ubiquitous phone ownership is relatively new in China, could it be true that they don’t have such an ingrained mental model of what a waiting call tone should sound like?  Or is it (more likely) an age thing.  I’m just too too conditioned with my ‘brrr-brrr’ and youth the world over will cast it away in favour of whatever is top of the download chart. (Eeugch, I’m sounding old!).

Users is a dirty word

Language matters.  How you describe something frames your reference.  One of the problems with so much software is that it is designed for generic “users” (typically UML stickmen) who may also have roles, but don’t have lives.  Why this obsession with users?  Everybody “uses” things.  Surely the important thing is to understand the nuances of that usage, and that means thinking about real people.  Josh Bernoff wrote a while ago,

Nobody talks about users of dishwashers, or users of retail stores, or users of telephones. So why are we talking about “users” of computers, browsers, and software?

Try, just for a day, to stop using this word. You’ll be amazed at how differently you think about the world.

Stop thinking about “users” and start thinking about people.  Personas are a good way to start doing this.  Get all your stakeholders thinking about the people whose lives will be touched by the product that is being developed.

Jeremiah Owyang updated his model of what web strategy is. It’s a cool model and worth a look. One of the things he has done is changed the word “users” to “community”.

One of the comments from Connie Bensen reads:

“I recently had a discussion about verbiage on our corporate website & heard the phrase ‘those words are industry standards’. Well, customers don’t know them. An analogy from the library world is that I took down the sign saying ‘periodicals’. It now reads magazines. (a shift towards making things customer friendly)”

I like that.  It is a subtle change, and when I’ve argued with colleagues in the past about the difference between users and customers and consumers they just don’t see the point.  What is wrong with users, after all it is the language of the industry.  Yes, that maybe, but it is not the language outside our industry and they are the people that we build applications for.