It started in December 2014, when Coca Cola announced that it was eliminating voicemail at head office. Then in June, Daniel Huang of The Wall Street Journal, contacted me to comment on major US banks shutting down voicemail for some internal departments. This reality – that business might some day abandon voicemail – has left me with lots of questions and I’m on a quest to find the answers. I’ve started by interviewing my friend and colleage Calvin Pearce.
Calvin is a health care information technology professional, supervising a Tier One support department that services 15,000 clients throughout Nova Scotia. There are 8 or 9 staff fielding service calls throughout the day, 2 in the evening and 2 at night. He can’t imagine how they would accomplish their jobs without voicemail.
“When people use email as a contact point, we can sometimes spend a day going back and forth (question, pause, question, pause, question …) before the problem is solved. On the other hand we can spend 5 minutes with someone on the phone and either have the problem solved or have an appointment organized to visit their office for further investigation,” says Pearce.
His department receives 115,000 internal technical service calls each year. The team’s ultimate goal is to answer each call and deal with it immediately. Of course that isn’t always possible.
“Sometimes entire systems will go down, a server will drop, there will be larger issues that impact clients and demand everyone’s focus,” says Pearce. “In these cases we use voicemail; we change the message acknowledging what’s happening and letting callers know we are working to solve the problem.”
The department also relies on incoming voicemail messages to help them be more efficient.
“When someone leaves us a message giving us details of their problem, we can start working on it immediately. We may have encountered the problem before and can reference the solution before calling back. Or we can take a few minutes to duplicate the problem and find an answer before returning the call.”
But Pearce admits that it isn’t easy to get people to leave a message. “Some people hang up. Some people won’t wait if they are put on hold for any length of time.”
Without information on who’s called, when they can be reached and/or a description of the problem, something that could have taken minutes to solve can morph into hours – or days – of back and forth communication.
“Leaving a message starts the process,” says Pearce. “That’s why my team will always have voicemail.”
The media continues to report the opposite sentiment. My research turned up this story from Inside Columbia magazine about 30-something owner of Peggy Jean’s Pie who would rather ignore customers’ orders for pies than deal with voicemail. As my colleague Elizabeth MacAulay would say – baffling!
What are your thoughts on the future of voicemail in business?
Enjoy your phone work everyone!