Although all of us have our own unique way of answering the phone, it goes without saying that ‘hello’ is a universal option. However, it wasn’t the first choice. As communication rapidly progressed from the birth of the telephone, amongst those advances is an oft-forgotten precursor to ‘hello’. This lost phrase provides insight into how a current shift in communications technology could be an opportunity for businesses to achieve greater success.

The First Greeting

In 1876, new communications technology required new etiquette. Prior to the invention of the telephone, societal convention asserted that you didn’t address anyone directly without a prior introduction; there wasn’t a requirement for a word such as ‘hello’. This explains why the fateful line isn’t “Hello, Dr Livingstone”.

When Alexander Graham Bell patented the device in March that year (the credited inventor is still a subject of debate, with Bell, Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray all in the running), he advocated the use of the word ‘ahoy’ or ‘ahoy-hoy’ as the first telephonic greeting. Already in common nautical usage, it originated from ‘hoi’, the Dutch word for ‘hi’.

It was Bell’s rival, Thomas Edison, who actually coined the word ‘hello’ as a method of initiating telephone calls. Prior to Edison’s adoption, its common usage was as an expression of surprise rather than a greeting. For context, think of the classic policeman impression.

What’s particularly interesting is the logic behind why ‘hello’ was mooted as an option; it’s here that history creates an analogy with the current state of the communications industry.

Business First

In 1877, Edison was in discussions with the president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh, the organisation prepared to introduce telephones into the city. At the time, Edison saw the device having application only for business, functioning with a constant open connection between both sides. As such, a method was needed for one operator to signal to the other that a message was imminent. Although the idea of a call bell was considered, Edison was confident that the word ‘hello’ was clear and punchy enough to get attention.

This triggered somewhat of a war for the salutation of choice, with Bell still favouring ‘ahoy’, and even a third option of ‘What is wanted’ briefly muddying the waters. However, it was all over by 1880 and ‘hello’ was the clear winner, appearing in operating manuals as the standard greeting. Edison was right, and perhaps more so than even he could have imagined.

Then and Now

The story of ‘hello’ demonstrates that technology drives change. It also reinforces that business is often a leading consideration, with the most to gain from it.

For anyone still using copper-based phonelines or ISDN, a similarly wide-reaching change is in progress. The process of switching off all analogue phone services has already begun, and will complete by January 2027. Although this change is happening over a longer period than the lifespan of ‘ahoy’, it shares similarities in that there is a compelling reason behind it, and an end result that benefits everyone. Just as ‘hello’ was initially proposed to improve business communications, the Big Switch Off provides a similar opportunity.

Like most things at the point of conception, copper technology was never designed to be the pinnacle of telecommunications backbone. The latest telephonic evolution doesn’t even require traditional cabling at all, relying entirely on the Cloud for its infrastructure. Hosted Telephony requires less equipment on site, saving on costly maintenance and upgrades. It offers the freedom to communicate when, how and where you want without any disruption, using anything from a handset, mobile or desktop app. That makes it perfect for another recent development, the rise of remote working.

The only aspect of this migration businesses must watch out for, as with all new technology, is how to adopt it without causing disruption. And SCG can help with that. There are a lot of things to consider, and every company is unique; we’ll discuss all your available options and ensure you’re able to say hello to both new and existing customers on the best telephony system for you. We even have our own Hosted Telephony System, Evonex, both in name and intent the Evolution of Customer Experience. A scalable, flexible and reliable solution, it delivers all the features you need to communicate across your business whilst increasing productivity.

Would anyone want to go back to using ‘ahoy’ as a greeting nowadays? I doubt it, and I believe it will be the same once we move away from copper wiring; an interesting anecdote, but a total impracticality for today’s business needs.

If you’d like help preparing your business for the Big Switch Off, or to discuss the benefits of hosted telephony solutions, please call SCG on 0800 090 1965. I promise we won’t answer with ‘What is wanted?’.