Consider the following scenario: Joe, the plumber, calls his insurance company to obtain some information on his policy.

Joe got a recording that politely invited him to leave a message or press zero to speak with an assistant. He pressed zero and got the assistant’s voice mail. She invited Joe to leave a message or press zero to speak with a co-worker. Joe pressed zero and got the co-worker’s voice-mail. She, in turn, invited him to leave a message or speak with a supervisor. Joe pressed zero and got the supervisor’s voice-mail. She invited him to leave a message or press zero for immediate assistance. He pressed zero and got the receptionist – not an actual person, mind you, – but the receptionist’s voice-mail. At that Joe said the hell with it and hung up.

Has anything like that ever happened to you? Is voice-mail a modern strategy for improving business and personal communications or is it an excuse for not answering the phone?

If a person does not usually return voice-mail, wouldn’t it be more honest to say, « I never return phone calls so don’t bother leaving a message? »

In general, does voice-mail increase your blood-pressure or your serenity?

Does voice-mail have any redeeming qualities?



  1. 1
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Voice-mail is a boon. Recall that in the not-too-distant past, a busy-signal or a no-answer meant that one would have to keep calling and dialling until someone finally answered. If one were a small-businessperson, one would have to hire a secretary or pay for an answering service. Voice-mail liberates us from all of that.
    Fortunately, I have rarely had the kind of merry-go-round experience that Neil describes above. Especially in business, I find an almost 100% return rate to the messages I leave.
    What I DO have a problem with in this age in which voice-mail has already been with us for more than two decades is outgoing messages in which the person feels it necessary to waste my time by telling me: « Hi, this is John Smith. I am not home right now. But if you would be kind enough to leave me your name, phone number and a brief message at the tone, I will gladly get back to you. » We all know what to do at this stage of human evolution and don’t need to be told all that. In this regard, the best out-going message I ever heard was: « You know what to do and how to do it. Beep. »

  2. 2
    Chimera Says:

    Ha! I used to work for an answering service. Voicemail liberated me from all that. Gee, thanks…

    When it was first implimented, voicemail was a pretty good tool for the reasons Tony has mentioned. It allowed people who were legitimately busy to get on with their day and not worry about that one important little detail — it would get done eventually.

    But it also had its drawbacks. Voicemail is useless to someone who does not have a phone, and who needs to speak with someone — anyone — immediately.

    And I’ve worked on the other end of it, too. Answering your office voicemail is a job that almost no one wants to do. Been there. Avoided that. Why? Because nine times outa ten, the person whose call you’re returning has forgotten that the original reason for the call was soooooo important, and now he wants to waste your time chewing on your ear about what took you so long to get back to him!

    I loathe voicemail. I don’t use it. Give me back my answering service.

  3. 3
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    I HATE all the work you have to do to navigate through a company’s voicemail system. I can never track down the person that I need to talk to. I am trying desperately not to have such a system embraced where I work. Now we will have to check not only email but the phone voicemail too. We share a phone with about 13 people.

    I don’t mind having an answering machine at the desk of someone though. That way, I can leave a message and they can get back to me. It’s the navigating through it all that I can’t stand. There should be one paid real person who answers the phone and directs your call. If there is an answering machine at the end of it, OK.

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