Voicemail: Basically Irrelevant In A Text-Driven World

Here’s your call to action: together we can end voicemail. Maybe that’s a bit ambitious, but at the very least collectively we can reduce it.

Despite advents in technology there is no getting around the fact that text is easily the most efficient content format there is. It’s scan-able, easily transferable, distribution scales and the processing of it can be archived or even automated. Even creating it is easier than other forms of content.

Which gets to the title of this post: why is voicemail still used?

My theory: it’s a habit of the older generation, so they keep using it. That’s the only thing keeping it alive. My generation uses it because we have to (for context, I’m 28) but we don’t really enjoy the process. The generation younger than me is going to balk at it because they’ve always been networked and had phones with text messaging.

With this in mind, I think voicemail should be added to the list of living artifacts.

Voicemail is the worst kind of inbox because it’s terribly inefficient (similar to a regular mailbox) and there is no native way to implement an organization or filtering approach. The fact that we’ve created tools to transform voicemail to text says it all: text is the superior format for transmitting time-shifted messages.

Consider some scenarios:

The “need to chat with someone in real-time”

Scenario: you call someone and they don’t pickup. But you don’t want to leave them a message, you wanted to actually chat with them in real-time to say what you need to. This happens a lot. You could leave a voicemail where the message content simply asks the person to call you back, but that wastes both your time. For the caller: have you noticed how absurdly long the process is to get to through to a cell phone voicemail? For the recipient: it is obnoxious to receive a voicemail where the only message content is “please call me back.” No one finds that useful.

Solution: modern phones have a “missed call” feature for exactly this purpose. Seeing you have missed a call from a contact should be sufficient information for us to know to call someone back. As a society, can we come together and agree on that? If it is really important, at this juncture the respectful thing to do is text your contact saying please call me back ASAP. A text message is as far as you should go – texts are high priority (and efficient) ways to transmit a quick bit of information. It is never appropriate to leave a voicemail that just says “call me back” the correct answer here is a text.

The “can you please do these 3 things?”

Scenario: you call someone to review a list of 3 things you need them to do and ensure clarity on all of them. Except the person doesn’t pick up. At this point, you could leave a voicemail outlining the 3 things you need done, but there is no accountability here and you’re really trusting someone is going to listen to the whole message.

Solution: in this case if you’re assigning tasks, skip the phone call all together and assign the task within your project management system. Note in the task if there are questions or what you’re asking is unclear, please call or email you for clarification. This minimizes the need for phone discussions and keeps your team focused on execution vs. meeting. If you’re not using a project management system you probably should be, but even still email is a superior format to assign tasks than a voicemail.

Let me demonstrate:

Tasks for Future Buzz readers:

  1. Dig this blog? Show your love by liking us on Facebook, following on Twitter or grabbing the feed.
  2. Already subscribe by RSS, Facebook or Twitter? You rock. Don’t like voicemail? Sweet, share this post with your networks.
  3. Finally – take a coffee break, you’ve been working hard!

Easy, right? You can scan all of that in a few seconds, quicker than I could say it to you on voicemail. It’s also faster for me to type it than to wait to reach your voicemail.

The “never responded to my email”

Scenario: you’re trying to reach a prospect or team member that never responded to your email. It’s important enough you’re calling them, but you get their voicemail so you decide to leave a message sharing in great detail what it is you need from them.

Solution: if it’s a prospect they probably received your email. If you follow up with a phone call and get their voicemail they are most likely ignoring you. Sure, they might be busy on both accounts but if you allowed sufficient time between communications and they never got back to you, wake up to reality: they’re ignoring you. The lead is cold, recycle back to marketing to nurture until deemed qualified to try again. If a team member, try re-forwarding your email and flagging with a higher priority. 99% of the time this works. If it doesn’t: this is likely a systemic issue, your processes are broken and you need a better system to manage your team.

The one time leaving voicemail might make sense is if you’re in a place you can’t quickly write an email or add a task to your project management system and you absolutely need to deliver time sensitive information to someone. Of course, this is not ideal because most people don’t place a priority on checking voicemail messages anyway due to the time-intensive nature of doing so. Instead you should work to equip your team for success ahead of time so you’re not put in a situation like the above.

Anyway – in these cases if you absolutely, positively need to deliver information to someone right now you should probably try people’s cell phones rather than leave a voicemail. If they know you’re in a situation you might need to deliver information in real-time, they’ll pick up.

I guess I’m struggling to find a use case for voicemail. It is easily my lowest priority, highest time cost inbox and really one I would rather just see go away. I’ve even thought about replacing my personal voicemail with a message such as “I am sorry but I no longer accept voicemail, please email or text me if you’d like a response” and then listing my email address.

What do you think? Voicemail: about as relevant as a fax machine?

image credit: salimfadhley via Flickr creative commons