No, don’t leave a message at the tone. At least not if you’re calling JPMorgan Chase or Coca-Cola, two major companies taking part in the no-voicemail trend.
JPMorgan announced in June it was eliminating voicemail for about 26,000 people, approximately 65 percent of employees that had it—basically, everyone except employees who take calls from customers and employees who really, really wanted to keep it. “In some company departments that only interact with other bank employees, as many as 90 percent of employees no longer have voicemail,” writes CBS.
In fact, JPMorgan was surprised by how many employees didn’t want voicemail. “In January, the bank offered employees who didn’t need voicemail to interact with clients a choice to ditch it,” writes Yuki Noguchi for NPR. “People started raising their hands. They started volunteering, ‘Please take my voice mail away. It’s annoying, it’s redundant, I never use it anymore.’”
Coca-Cola made a similar announcement last November regarding eliminating voicemail at its headquarters, where only 6 percent of employees chose to keep voice mail, Noguchi reports.
And they’re not alone. As it turns out, a number of companies, including other banks, have or are considering eliminating voicemail. Where 80 percent of business lines used to have voicemail, now, only a third of office phones have it, a Verizon representative told Noguchi.
The end of voicemail—originally intended to make business more efficient—has been a long time coming. “With ubiquitous business connectivity—IM, mobile apps, and email, voicemail has descended into irrelevance,” wrote Gartner research vice president Jack Santos in 2012, predicting “The Beginning of the End of Voicemail.” “No voicemail is a step toward eliminating information clutter; voicemail is not justifiable for the cost.”
Statistics began to confirm this. “In 2012, Vonage reported its year-over-year voicemail volumes dropped 8 percent,” writes Michael Schrage in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article called “Time to Hang Up on Voice Mail.” “More revealing, the number of people bothering to retrieve those messages plummeted 14 percent.” Other studies have found that only 33 percent of respondents listen to voicemail from business contacts and just 18 percent listen to voicemail from people they don’t know.
What’s taking voicemail’s place? Much of the credit goes to smartphones, which let people call someone personally or text them. “We realize that hardly anyone uses voicemail anymore,” Gordon Smith, chief executive of JPMorgan’s consumer banking operations, told investors on an earnings call. “We are all carrying something in our pockets that is going to get texts or email or a phone call.”
So why does everyone hate voicemail so much? There are a number of reasons.
JPMorgan reports that voicemail costs $10 per employee per month—which adds up when you have 135,908 employees. The company expects to save $3.2 million on its voicemail elimination project—partly because suppliers are offering lower rates on reduced services. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, said it expected to save less than $100,000.
Voicemail takes up time in a lot of ways. Unless you’ve got a more up-to-date system, you have to listen to the messages in order; you can’t just pick out the important ones and listen to them first. Callers have to sit and listen to an interminable intro first—which also “prolongs the call by a few extra seconds, enabling carriers to tack on a few extra cents to your next monthly bill,” writes Dan Kedmey in Time. “Former New York Times tech writer David Pogue once estimated that the major carriers may have skimmed up to $850 million off voicemail greetings.”
Then, you have to listen to a long explanation from the caller when you could just glance over a text for the pertinent information. “Back when I did use voice mail, the most important constraint I implemented was limiting messages to no more than 30 seconds,” Schrage writes. “I had friends and colleagues who were leaving one, two and even 4 minute messages.”
It all adds up, and eliminating voicemail makes people more productive. “Checking voice mail, with all the announcements, codes and prompts, took 10 to 15 minutes out of a day, not including the time required to call each person back,” Paul Blanchard, managing director of an eight-person London-based PR firm that got rid of voice mail three years ago, tells Noguchi. With all that pushed to email messages or texts instead, his workers are more responsive to clients and can reply during or in between meetings, he says.
People just aren’t using voicemail. Blame the millennials. A 2012 Pew study found that teens –some of whom may be your employees now, remember—prefer texting over calling, by a wide margin. A phone, to them, is actually a device you use to avoid talking to people.
“The concept of leaving (and checking) voice mail is, to millennials, as obsolete as swing-dancing and playing NHL ’94 on Sega Genesis,” writes Teddy Wayne in the New York Times. “Having grown up in a texting-friendly culture, with unmediated cellphone access to their friends, they have had little formative experience leaving spoken or relayed messages over the phone.” Some have even had to resort to classes to teach them how to leave a proper voicemail message, he writes.
On the other hand, some dissenters are saying that voicemail still has a role in business, and that what’s really the problem is our attitude toward it. “The clue to mishandling is that the focus is immediately on cost,” writes Erik Sherman in Inc. “The answer is that too many people let calls go to voicemail and then do nothing with them. It’s not a money problem, it’s a communication problem.” Moreover, if people are ignoring voicemail, they’re probably ignoring email and texts as well, he writes.
“Voicemail tends to get used when it’s the best or only option of communication,” writes Dave Michels, a telecom expert and president of Verge1 Consulting, in NoJitter. “There are lots of situations where text-based communications are ineffective or inappropriate—including the desire not to give-out email addresses.” Voicemail messages are also considered to be more confidential and more personal.
And as Kedmey points out, “the death of voicemail” has been predicted before. “Tech journalists have been heralding the demise of voicemail since 2009, and again in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014,” he points out.
Still hate the idea of giving up your voicemail? We wish we could give you someplace to call to complain—but we’re not sure of anyplace that would still take a message.
Simplicity 2.0 is where we examine the intricate and transitory world of technology—through a Laserfiche lens. By keeping an eye on larger trends, we aim to make software that’s relevant to modern day workers, rather than build technology for technology’s sake.
Subscribe to Simplicity 2.0 and follow us on Twitter. If what we’re saying piques your interest, head over to Laserfiche.com where you’ll see how we apply the lessons learned on Simplicity 2.0 to our own processes, products and industry.