After catching up on technology news and perspectives, TechCrunch has a very clear message that states voicemail is out-dated, obsolete and unproductive. While I agree, checking voicemails is a real pain, there are deeper fundamentals that cause that pain with voicemail. I’ll share my perspective on voicemail and how to improve it, for everyone’s relief.
I remember in the late nineties it was fashionable and almost elitist to have that “duh-ding-dong” tone which forwarded into a telephone company’s voicemail service. It was convenient because people didn’t need to purchase an answering machine and would be compatible with the Message Waiting Indicator (MWI) feature on modern phones which would alert you to messages. Later on, people stopped using the phone company’s voicemail service simply because it became cumbersome to manage and realized that not enough relevant people called them — right around the time telemarketers and “voice broadcasters” hit prime-time, they hammered in the last nail sealing the value in voice messages forever.
In a prior position, I used to sell and retain consumers who would pay for these services.
Trust me, people simply don’t like voicemail.
The problem isn’t necessarily the voicemail system, it’s the dynamics around it that frustrate people. Common questions around voicemail that we all feel differently about are:
- Is my message important enough to warrant a voicemail?
- Will they understand my question/statement? (… does it need context?)
- Will the person call be back soon?
- Is the person really busy or are they ignoring me?
Leave it to humans to muck up an already-weak communication device. We use a device that is supposed to store messages to reject communications from people. How genius! Admit it, if it’s that person who you didn’t really want to talk to, you hit the End button on your cell phone to dump them into Voicemail Hell.
Michael Arrington summarizes his perspective:
Voicemail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it.
I believe the problem is not the voicemail product or service, but the in the way that we use it. I suggest the following “rules” of engagement for voicemail:
- A voicemail is not to be abused. That is, don’t continually berate someone or leave messages for someone. There’s a reason why voicemail providers make it easy to delete messages. Also, don’t neglect your mailbox for ages so it fills up — either use it or lose it.
- A message should last no more than 30 seconds. My frustration with voicemail is when people share their entire message with me in the form of a one-way conversation and low fidelity recording. I admit I’m guilty of this, too; but I aim for half a minute when I need to leave a voicemail.
- Include your name, phone number, e-mail address and a short message. Unless you’re a frequent caller to one person, it’s always a good idea to clearly state your name and contact methods first before you go into your message, should the recipient need to replay the message. Include a non-telephone contact method in case they are busy mulling through their messages.
- A message should convey the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Assuming that the recipient can’t quickly call you back, briefly run through the five W’s in your message so they have a preview of the upcoming conversation that you may have.
- If a message is urgent, mark it as urgent. Many voicemail systems allow the recipients to mark their message as urgent, which will typically make it rise to the top of their message queue for their listening. After leaving a message, try pressing # to learn about more options with your message.
- Explain if a voicemail needs to be returned. While it may be implied, recap at the end of your message with the necessity to call you back. Often, there isn’t a real need especially if you will see them later that day.
Now, I agree with the conclusion that today’s classic voicemail systems are antiquated and obsolete. However, there are a few features that I would enjoy and expect to see out of voicemail services:
- E-mail delivery in MP3 format (attached).
- Call Log from all callers even if they didn’t leave a message.
- Cell phone integration, sending a text message with call details.
- Introduction of voicemail “away messages,” since ‘unavailable’ is so passive and cliche.
- Introduction of Web-based voicemail management systems on the computer, including fast forward and the creation of an “address book.”
- Introduction of IM notification, including instant call forwarding.
- … and consumers should have the ability to support their house phone, cell phone and business phone into one service.
As we evolve from the traditional offering in voicemail packages, we will see that voicemail isn’t dead, but instead it will integrate with our other communication methods that we use most. Right now, voicemail is just dusty but with a little innovation, it can exist much more positively in our lives.
[Image: 'I hate voicemails' on Flickr]