The death of voice mail?

I have a confession.

My desk phone’s red light is on. I have voicemail—and I don’t particularly care. If it had been anything important, I assume it would have found its way into my inbox. Still, though, even as I ignore the light, there’s a tiny voice in the back of my head: maybe it’s something important.

For the sake of this article, and to silence the voice, I’m going to take the plunge. Then we’ll check out how some leading corporations are rethinking how they approach voice mail.

OK, here I go!

… What’s my passcode again?

Adam vs. his voice mail

The first four voice mails are from the same salesperson. We’re not off to a great start. The next person called me on New Year’s Eve and asked me to page him about internet marketing campaigns. Someone else talks about how he’s familiar with the work we’re doing here at “Central.” Then a guy threatens to leave me another voice mail that same day if I don’t call back (he does not follow through on his threat). Et cetera, et cetera, until finally, and I swear this is the truth, I get an unbelievable blast of noise and distortion, as if someone has either opened an actual portal to hell or made a sales call while crouching inside one of My Bloody Valentine’s stage amps.

“You have no more new messages.”

Great. Aside from acquiring a newfound respect for my phone’s speaker, that was a complete waste of time.

Coke vs. its voice mail

A few months ago, Coca-Cola announced that it was pulling the plug on voice mail. According to Bloomberg, paranoid employees interpreted it as an ominous sign of austerity (“we can’t afford voice mail anymore?!”) but it turns out that it was a decision motivated by the desire to “simplify the way we work and increase productivity.”

“Many people in many corporations simply don’t have the time or desire to spend 25 minutes plowing through a stack of 15 to 25 voice mails at the end or beginning of the day,” Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School of Management, told Bloomberg.

Of course, if employees love voice mail or need voice mail, Coke allows them to keep it. The number who fall into that category? Approximately six percent of its workers.

Millennials vs. their voice mail

Millennials are the fastest-growing part of the workforce, and they are literally begging you to stop leaving voice mails for them. In the NPR piece linked in that last sentence, a 26-year-old likens voice mails to telegrams. Telegrams! Granted, when you’re accustomed to immediacy and visual connection, listening to a droning 45-second voice mail while you stare at your fingernails probably does feel a bit quaint.

Even in a defense of voice mail, Gizmodo’s Leslie Horn mirrors the case you may make for writing a letter instead of sending an email: it takes time and effort, it’s more personal, it feels different. Of course, you (probably) only receive handwritten letters from people you care about, and there’s (probably) no expectation of immediate reciprocal action.

On the other hand…

People have been saying that voice mail is dead for years. Why should we believe them this time just because a few giants have unplugged their mailboxes?

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Adam McKibbin
Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.

5 Responses to The death of voice mail?

  1. Trey

    I’m no millennial but I always found voice mail to be very painful. Nobody starts off with a TL;DR; so I can decide to listen to the rest or not. There is no phone spam filter (at least not on my work like which is not powered by Google Voice, which, does indeed have a voice spam filter). It requires a prolonged interruption to check it. If my message light blinked I would check it every month or quarter or so. VMs would almost always be followed up with a email describing the voice mail (you should have started with that).

    One day, I decided to change my voice greeting with “hang out now and send me an email” but then I realized, wouldn’t I just be better off turning off voice mail? A few months ago I did just that and I’m so much happier for it. Others in my company, upon hearing about this always answered, “you can do that?” They usually follow with, “how can I do that too?”

    Please please kill voice mail (then kill the POTS and start using some sort of UC product, thank you)

  2. keith rodgers

    I think this has more to do with managers not wanting a subordinate to leave an electronic trail of communications to them. Voicemail is a good system of passing information, far better than e mail but again some companies are killing that too.
    I guess its the same reason tracibility of communications not being required, so the boss can riddle out of anything with you never told me.
    Guess who gets fired if its a major issue ?

  3. Mike Bowens

    Great, with my company’s complex security code requirements, I would no longer have to stumble while I try to retrieve the eight digit code. Now, if companies would get only rid of automated answering and employed human receptionists again, life would be a quantum leap more pleasant.

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