The pundits have been proclaiming the death of voicemail for almost a decade.
They say voicemail is too cumbersome and antiquated. They say it takes too long to play back an audio message compared with reading text. And they say it disrupts our workflow by making it too hard to forward or reply to each message.
Recently, some prominent companies including JP Morgan Chase Bank and Coca-Cola have actually turned voicemail off for employee landlines, forcing their workers to send emails or text messages instead.
Meanwhile, critics proclaim that Millenials do not even know to make a phone call, much less leave a voice message. All of which implies that pretty soon, no one will be using enterprise voicemails. Every company will abandon it, this thinking goes, and all the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers who use voicemail will die off and be replaced by savvy Millennials who manage to go through life without ever making a phone call.
Or so they say. But what’s really going on here?
In the case of companies eliminating voicemail systems for employees, two things are happening. First, almost no one still uses landline voicemails because most employees prefer using their smartphones for business communications. Landlines have been relegated to lowly backup status for making outbound calls whenever there is crummy cell phone coverage.
Make no mistake, employees are still getting lots of calls and voice messages, but it’s happening on their cellphones, not their landlines. Consider the implications of this – CIOs and their companies have no control over, or visibility into, those business communications made on personal phones, which raises serious concerns about oversight and compliance.
Secondly, many employees, especially younger ones, are explicitly failing to listen and respond to voicemail because they see it as old-fashioned. People have to wade through too many annoying prompts to leave a message, then they’re not sure if someone actually got the message, and the person who received the message still has to sit through it and listen to it.
There is some truth to these criticisms, but if someone makes the effort to leave a message, is it really in a company’s best interest to ignore it? And there are plenty of good reasons why people call rather than sending texts. For instance, someone in a car who doesn’t want to risk a crash by texting, but still wants to take advantage of that downtime while driving.
Millenials feel most comfortable texting their communications, but as more of them go into business and get jobs, they will find that it gets harder and harder to be successful when they avoid ever talking to colleagues, partners and clients. Just try being a real estate agent or a lawyer without ever picking up the phone. Even selling stuff on Craig’s List is almost impossible without ultimately talking to other people.
Abandoning voicemail altogether would be shortsighted for IT managers, especially since the technology has evolved so much in recent years. New services can make voicemail an effective productivity tool when used correctly. Some of the coolest apps can transcribe voice messages into text messages. Instead of texting someone to ask if you can call them, you can just call, leave a message and it will show up as a text or email, or as a notification on their app. This is more efficient than asking permission to call in the first place. Plus when people get texts from ten people, those one or two phone calls tend to really stand out.
In many ways, voicemail resembles the ongoing evolution of radio. Rather than disappearing as many had predicted, radio is still thriving as a medium that has evolved from AM to FM to satellite radio and now to TuneIn and Pandora online.
Likewise, voicemail is not dead, it is just evolving. Voicemail has quickly morphed from tape recorded messages to digital tools and now to intelligent answering services that allow people to efficiently leave, understand and respond to messages. The truth is that the death of voicemail has been greatly exaggerated: Long Live Voicemail!
Alex Quilici is CEO of YouMail.