Making the Case for Phone Call Alerts

by Evan Gilman December 3, 2013 | 3 min read

This is a 5-part series which shares the personal experience of the PagerDuty on-call unsung heroes. They will share which alerting method they prefer the most to let them know when their systems are in trouble. We all have our own preference on how we like to be contacted. Some of us are phone people since our sarcasm is often misunderstood via SMS. While others only want to be texted to avoid awkward silences. Whatever your favorite contact method may be, we wanted to uncover what combination of contact methods you use for alerts. Each contact method has its pros and cons, but having multiple choices has been essential to lowering the response time for many of you.

Phone_AlertTelephones have been around for over a century. They started in our homes, and now they’re in our pockets. In the past decade, the growth of mobile phones has given us the ability to connect with anyone while we (and they) are on-the-go. As amazing as that may be, making calls is the least of what a mobile phone does these days.

Since the mobile revolution, phone calls themselves have been on the decline, mostly thanks to SMS. As such, phone calls carry more meaning than they used to. While an SMS can be written in pieces and read at leisure, a call must be dealt with immediately, hence conveying a sense of urgency. The rarity of a good-old-fashioned call can be used as an advantage in the context of alerting.

Phone calls are a tried and true method of communication. Let’s give phone calls their credit and bring them back.

Creates a Sense of Urgency

The number of phone calls placed today is dwarfed when compared to other contact methods. On average, we receive 3 calls and make 3 calls each day. This number is substantially less than the amount of emails we receive, which hovers at an average of 78 received and 37 sent per day. Phone calls don’t get lost in an inbox – they’re synchronous, and cut through the communication clutter.

Annoys You Until You (Thankfully) Wake Up

When you’re asleep, it’s easy to miss the short ding sound of an email, text, or mobile push notification. A typical phone call rings for 30 seconds, so you can set an annoying screech or bang ringtone that is sure to call you into action. For Mozilla service engineer Benson Wong, phone call alerts help wake him up when he’s fast asleep.

“The phone call alert sets PagerDuty apart for me. I find it to be a reliable way to get me up, more so than just a text message.” – Benson Wong, Service Engineer, Mozilla

Phone call alerts are an effective means of snapping you out of your dream and into fire fighting mode (especially if you’ve set your PagerDuty contact to use a particularly menacing ringtone).

Unchain Yourself

If you are someone who is always on-the-go, emails are easy to miss if you aren’t constantly checking them. A phone call is harder to miss when you’re grabbing dinner with a friend in a noisy restaurant. While having a phone ring in the middle of a conversation is considered a faux pas, the on-call ninjas know it’s just a part of life, and your friends will understand.

With phone calls, people wake up and take action. Escalation becomes rare with this method. Use phone call alerts to decrease your response time for high severity incidents so you can quickly put out the fire. Next week we’ll be debating email alerts.