What do you think about voicemail?

Do you think voicemail is dead?

I just read two articles calling for death to voicemail. Why Voicemail deserves to die http://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2015/jun/03/voicemail-deserves-to-die-dont-leave-message-after-the-beep-jp-morgan and 4 Reasons You Should Never Leave Another Voicemail Again http://time.com/3645710/no-more-voicemail/

You can read them yourself but if you haven’t time – Here are their combined bullet point premises:

  1. Fewer people are listening/ no one checks their mail
  2. Teens hate it
  3. They’re annoying by design
  4. They’re hopelessly analog
  5. There is a red flashing light that will never go out
  6. The only person who leaves a message is your mother
  7. Hundreds of hours are wasted listening to someone hanging up
  8. It’s boring
  9. You get a faster reply on Instagram

I can’t believe these pieces were in the Guardian and Time. It’s blatantly apparent the two authors aren’t operating in a business environment. Are they barely in their twenties? Do they live in a solely digital world and think everyone must operate the way they do? ‘Only your mother is leaving voice mail’. Is that really a bullet point? I’d like to voice an opinion or two.

Before we look at the act of leaving messages, let’s reflect on the necessity first.

How many companies make it hard to do business with them? How many busy and overworked employees just let the phone ring? How many in a corporate environment run from meeting to meeting to meeting? How many customer service phone systems give you an automated message asking you to leave the very same – a message to keep your place in line.

Back in 2008, when I was gathering vignettes for my book 101 Quick Tips Create A Great Customer Experience http://www.successis.co.nz/books.htm , I interviewed Kevin Drinkwater the CIO of Mainfreight http://www.mainfreight.co.nz.

He said ‘We don’t use voicemail at Mainfreight, ‘We are allowed it on cell phones,’ he qualified, ‘but our policy is to answer the phone within three rings.

Each branch handles their own calls (no call centres) and only the head office has a receptionist. We want our customers to have immediate contact with their local people.’

‘It has especially surprised our customers in the USA and business has increased considerably along with this policy. The customers love it – they feel it makes us easy to do business with. It’s been so successful it’s now one of our main selling points.’

Well, that was 2008. This is 2015. I telephoned to verify if the policy is still in place. Yes. It is.

What is your alternative to a live voicemail?

Email of course is a primary alternative.

Text messaging to the recipient’s smartphone of course. This means however that if a company wants to cut voicemail to staff from customers, they’ll have to get them cell phones to receive the ‘text’ messages on.

Internally a company can use the Enterprise Microsoft software Yammer or Lync (now available to small companies with MS Office 365). These systems enable you to check if someone is at their desk, available, or already on the phone. You can message them through these programs.

All the VoIP’s (voice over internet protocol) programs have messaging – Viber, WhatsApp, Skype. In essence text messaging in another form.

You have social media – Facebook’s Messenger, Twitter, and LinkedIn in which you can ‘leave a message’

None bar email are as universally used and accepted in business as the telephone. Notice I said ‘universally’ which means accounting for demographics.

Let’s get back to voicemail. I’d like to counter ditching it with a few points

  1. In many contexts, text is too personal. For example prospecting calls – they’re just not right for text. They can be too long, or you don’t know the right person to speak with in the first place.
  2. Cut through. Emailing instead of leaving a voice mail can too easily be ignored, Would you rather have your message one of five (voicemails) or one of 100 (emails)
  3. Some messages are too long for text
  4. It’s nice to hear a human voice, it’s more personal. Matthew Mewse ‘The Telephone Man’ supersizeyoursales.com concurs. ‘We have lots of options around messaging. Nothing though replaces the human voice as a response to questions and answers.
  5. The phone (along with email) is still the primary communication channel for many mature business peoples. Busy business people will not check Facebook or other social media sources for messages that pertain to business.
  6. If I were to look back at my Manhattan youth, the days before cell phones, the only way to find out if you missed a phone call was to get a voicemail. Ah, the fun we all had coming up with funny, cool or musical solicitations to leave a message (remember those days?). Perhaps if people took more care in 2015 crafting our ‘please leave a message’; there wouldn’t be so many hang ups to listen to. Here’s a column I wrote on How to stop hang-ups and get more messages
  7. You have to be good at it. You can edit an email many times before sending. Ditto for text messages. But for voice, you get one chance. It’s easy to get all bumbly about it. Before I pick up the phone, I think about what message I’ll leave if they’re not in. This ounce of precaution has paid off. I can’t tell you how many stammering or too long voice messages I’ve left in the past.
  8. Time intensive. Voicemail demands more time from the recipient than a simple text message. So if the situation is right, the relationship right, do leave a text instead. With smartphone technology, you can now ‘speak’ your text message and have it automatically translated to text.

If you, like me are going to continue leaving voice messages, here are five good tips:

  1. Repeat your phone number twice, and slowly to ensure the receipient has tie t write it.
  2. Worst times to leave messages are Friday afternoon and Monday mornings.
  3. Best hours to leave messages are 6:45 AM to 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM.
  4. Voicemail messages are an excellent way to introduce yourself to a person. Be personable, yet professional, and link your message to something of interest to the person you are calling (such as another person or event).
  5. 20 seconds tops. The optimal length is between 8 and 14 seconds.

What do you think? I’d love to read your opinion.