Why Voicemail Sucks!

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I had a conversation for an upcoming article about what technologies I love and which ones I hate with business technology writer Grace Tiscareno-Sato . As I went through the mental list, I realized how much I dislike voice mail! There is a huge opportunity here for AVAYA or some other competing company to start marketing better alternatives (that I’m sure are out there). Considering how important team communication is to most corporate environments, I’m surprised large companies are not investing more in voice mail innovation. This could translate into huge productivity gains.

To me, checking my voice mail is as annoying as calling my cable company’s 800 support number. As some of you have read here before, I’ve had some pretty annoying and lousy experiences with Comcast and Verizon customer support. When you dial in to check your voice mail, I end up having to key in my ID & PW, then go through 3 menu levels to just listen to recorded messages. So, checking a voice mail ends up taking 5 to 10 minutes or longer.

Another part of the negative usability experience of using voice mail is that it forces me to go to it on its own terms, instead of the voice mail coming to me on my terms. What if I want to listen to the voice mail of my wife first, to know if I need to stop for some milk, and ignore the voice mail from the vendor that can be dealt with tomorrow? On top of that, when I have voice mail messages, I get this red light on my phone that teases and taunts me all day. it’s a mystery indicator that provides little value and provides little information. I would love to have a phone that can tell me who’s called (by caller ID or just the number), when they called and left the voice mail, how many missed calls I have — basically, some of the features we see on cell phones. On top of that, I would love a web or PC based voice mail system that lets me search voice mails — something like what the iPhone has.

iPhone voice mail interface

Listen to your fourth voicemail message without listening to the three before it. Visual Voicemail shows you a list of all your messages — and who they’re from — so you can play them in any order you please

In short, most of the times I check a voice mail, I find that I have already returned a call or dealt with the issue, so the voice mail is useless.

But besides the usability flaws, I think another major problem with voice mail is that most people don’t know how to leave a concise and effective voice mail message. For some reason, people feel the need to leave a complete message fully explaining the reason for the call, and providing all the background or contextual details needed. All I want to know is who called, and hear a 15 second summary of why they need to speak to me.

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