When Does Voicemail Matter?

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!

6 thoughts on “When Does Voicemail Matter?”

  1. I found the article by Rebecca Miller from Inside Columbia interesting. I think it’s quite a different context from the other large organizations doing away with voicemail. Her reasoning has no strategic imperative other than she hates it. Because she runs her own business and has the option, she can make this decision. Hopefully she has evaluated the potential impact and risks. It would be akin to someone deciding they won’t accept orders via email. Or deciding not to engage with customers on Facebook. It’s one less communication channel and some number of less customers.

    We have so many more communications channels now than we did just a few years ago. The new challenge is matching my preferred method and your preferred method. Less chance they will be the same now.

    • Hmmm, lots here I hadn’t thought about Linda. The fact that we have a “choice” about allowing our customers to reach us by phone … honestly this had not occurred to me. While there are other methods of connecting, the phone seems so primary to me, that I hadn’t considered it as only one of many. That’s an issue for customers, isn’t it? Mind you, I’m not on Facebook, so which of my customers am I ignoring. Hmmmm – I think you’ve given me a future blog post. In terms of the pie bakery, she’d be ignoring many people over 40 I think. It still doesn’t make sense to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • I know of a social media person (not local) who’s voicemail message says to email her because she rarely checks voicemail. A good friend of mine now texts with most of her clients. It’s important to remember that each channel of communication has pros/cons and to choose appropriately given the circumstance. Communication has always had its challenges – more channels has complicated that even more. You’ve given me lots of food for thought, too!

        • So my thoughts on this … and I am going to verify them with psychologists and the like – are that we will lose something very valuable if discard the sound of the human voice. Of course all channels of communication have value, but to eliminate how someone says something … there is so much information in tone of voice both about the person and the issue/topic they are communicating.

  2. I hate it when we play catch with email! Back and forth in a linear communication. A waste of time.

    Email is great for data sharing, or confirming appointments, or sharing a phone number. It is a tool that poor bosses use to dictate what they want done. It is not communication. It is easy for people to hide from working with people.

    Pick up the phone and communicate with the other person you will generate more ideas and have better solutions to problems- that is if you really want to solve a problem and have success.


Leave a comment

What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

Do you or your team want to improve your communication skills? Do you have a communication question or challenge you'd like to discuss? This quick-to-fill-out form is easy to use and you'll hear from Mary Jane very soon.