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Is Business Voicemail Dead?

Any quick Internet search will throw up articles predicting the end of voicemail going back more than 10 years. While this technology has proven resilient over the decades, has the end finally come for it?
The Millennial Effect
Mobile phones and voice software clients have sounded the death knell for traditional desk phones, and the same may be true for voicemail. Even though voicemail has evolved over time, taking on capabilities to become unified messaging, some features haven’t taken off. These include voicemail as a .wav attachment to e-mail in a user’s inbox and early implementations of speech-to-text transcription of voicemail messages.
Our clients are telling us that voicemail is dying, but why now? One explanation could be the “Millennial effect.” Millennials have grown up with text messaging and various chat applications as their preferred forms of communication rather than face-to-face conversations.
Leaving a voicemail used to be the only way to ensure a recipient knew that somebody had called. Caller ID now serves that purpose, and if callers want to leave the specifics they can do so using text messaging, email, and instant messaging (IM) from their smartphones. It seems this is now the quickest way to receive a response, too, since recipients don’t have to take the time to listen to and take notes on voicemails. Plus, the text-based communication gives both parties a readily available and searchable archive for future reference.
Many users see voicemail as a pain point, and don’t listen to their messages at all. Others save voicemails for “later” as a default, but then forget to listen to them. Even when users do make the effort to listen to voicemails, if they’re among the growing mobile workforce, chances are their environments — for example, noisy coffee shops, airports, and train stations — aren’t conducive to hearing what’s been left in a message.
Chats & Messaging
Addressing this reality, some mobile services can now prompt a user with an SMS option if they detect voicemail answering a call.
Why not do this in the workplace, too? For many business conversations, IM has replaced email as the default non-voice method of communicating. IM could serve the same purpose for voicemail. Just as they do socially, many users IM their work colleagues when they receive no answer when calling their office phones. This becomes even easier if the user were to receive a screen prompt such as “Do you want to send a chat message?” when your UC system detects that the call is going to voicemail.
Benefits to user organizations include:
  • Potentially reduced license costs for voicemail
  • Reduced storage, archiving, and retrieval overhead
  • Fewer help desk calls for lost voicemail PINs
  • More effective communication of information (hopefully)
Businesses, too, have been adding text and messaging channels to their customer support operations. Increasingly, customers can contact a business via text messages to schedule appointments, make product inquiries, check delivery times, and so forth. This increased use of text messaging for business use reduces the need for traditional telephone calls and voicemail.
So, What Should User Organizations Do?
With voicemail’s demise, enterprises will have one less platform to develop, support, integrate, and license. However, voicemail can’t be dismissed out of hand. Knowing which mode of communications is best means understanding the nature of inbound communications. So, are the inbound communications transactional or personal?
If they’re transactional, then you must identify ways to enable a caller to complete the transaction on the first contact, irrespective of the availability of the person called. The customer journey should have minimal pain points.
If personal, then you should consider how your users wish to receive information. As noted above, today most will prefer text messages and emails.
It’s vital to also consider the preferences of your customers. Certain demographics, such as some older callers, are either not comfortable with or are unsure about how to use technology to leave messages via alternative means. If your organization needs to service such needs, then a small legacy voice messaging service may be necessary. In these instances, you may be able to take advantage of emerging technologies, such as voice transcription and speech analytics, to facilitate the best possible response to such callers.
In Summary
In recent years, it has become evident that voicemail is no longer necessary for most business needs. Instead, businesses and customers alike are choosing more modern communication methods, including IM, SMS, and email. However, although modern technologies have reduced the need for voicemail in many circumstances, organizations should continue to assess and analyze their specific transactional needs. The key is understanding the needs of the customer and ensuring that you use the correct communications for them; where appropriate, you should retain a voicemail capability.
Fatally wounded perhaps, but voicemail is not quite dead!
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"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.