Saturday 1 October 2016

Voicemail is dead. Good riddance to a slow, awkward system

Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30

'The dreaded voicemail has you trapped for at least five minutes'
'The dreaded voicemail has you trapped for at least five minutes'

'You have. Eleven. New. Voice Messages."

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Painful, isn't it? It signals that you may as well put the kettle on. Because the dreaded voicemail has you trapped for at least five minutes.

Happily, this pain could be at an end. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are quietly starting to do what ordinary people have been doing for several years. They're ditching office voicemail services.

If you work for a bank, this process may already be at an advanced stage. Last month, JP Morgan Chase eliminated voicemail for all but customer-facing employees. Citigroup and Bank Of America - which also have large Dublin offices - are considering the same move. And it's not just banks. Coca-Cola has started the process internally too.

Their reasoning is simple. Voicemail is not just a tedious, cumbersome pain in the backside, but a waste of time and money too. JP Morgan says it will save $10 per employee per month by ditching the service.

Staff there are jubilant: most actually asked for voicemail to be taken out of their daily lives.

("People started raising their hands," said a spokesman for the bank. "They started volunteering. They said: 'please take my voice mail away. It's annoying, it's redundant, I never use it anymore.'".)

Companies like JP Morgan are only reflecting what has been happening outside the office for years. Voicemail is almost dead. Younger people, in particular, scarcely use it at all anymore.

Who can blame them? While it takes seconds to send an SMS or read an online message, it never takes less than 20 to 30 seconds to dial in and listen to a voice message. Worse, it often takes over a minute, with rambling or inaudible messages and multiple voicemails that have piled up. Then there is the extra complication of trying to hurriedly jot down a telephone number, address or some other mumbled detail. And that's before even considering more fundamental behavioural issues, such as confidence or nervousness (over tone, language or empathy) when leaving or composing a voice message.

Ironically, some of our telecoms operators are helping voicemail disappear down the tubes. Ireland's second largest mobile network, 3, classifies voicemail access as a premium add-on feature.

But like all technological changes, there is a generational divide. The frosty rebuke - "I left you a voice message yesterday and you never responded!" - has become one of the great relationship flashpoints between parents and their (under-35) adult children.

Older generations appear to have little sympathy with the argument that voicemails take up valuable time compared to other methods of messaging. Younger people reply that their pressurised, deadline-oriented jobs make it tough for them to hang around while a phone's centralised answering service crawls through its job.

So far, it is the younger generation who are getting the upper hand. Voicemail is dying in Ireland and around the world.

The tech industry, which has been a reliable predictor of working practices that gradually take root in other industries, largely gave up on voicemail years ago. I can't think of a single contact who uses voicemail in anything but the most extreme circumstances. Many of those who bother to record an answering message do it just to say that they won't be checking voicemail.

Even the most steadfast defenders of voice messages are whittling away at the medium's relevance. An increasing number of older people, for example, now refuse to answer calls "from numbers they don't know" - even though it may be a friend or family member calling from a work phone.

So what's taking the place of voicemail? At work, communication systems such as Slack are emerging as quicker, more efficient alternatives to voicemail (or even texting). Other alternatives - from project management tools like Wrike (which recently established its European headquarters in Dublin) to customer interaction systems like (Dublin-based) Intercom - are also gaining a foothold in everyday work life.

It's time to declare that voicemail is dead. It is a relic of a bygone era. Let's move on to something else.

Sunday Indo Business

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