Is it time to hang up on voice mail?
Some big U.S. companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Coca-Cola, are doing away with the phone messaging systems, partly as a cost-savings measure and partly for efficiency’s sake.
After all, who wants to spend the day playing phone tag, when there are so many ways to reach a person — email, texting, instant messaging or Skype?
Even if a voice mail is left, there’s no guarantee it’s actually played. With call display and missed call lists, people know right away who is trying to reach them, so they often don’t bother to listen to the recording.
“We realized that hardly anyone uses voice mail any more because we’re all carrying something in our pockets that’s going to get texts or email or a phone call to you,” Gordon Smith, JPMorgan Chase’s head of consumer and community banking division, said at an investor conference this week.
If voice mail, which costs the bank about $10 per line per month, isn’t being used, why pay for the service? The move will bring an estimated $3.2 million in annual savings.
The bank’s move isn’t a sweeping edict; those who deal with clients will keep voice mail. In Canada, the move is expected to impact only a few dozen non-client facing JPMorgan Chase employees, in areas such as information technology and operations.
The Star reached out to the five big Canadian banks for comment, and only CIBC said it has no plans to end voice mail. Others did not respond or declined to say anything.
Coca-Cola axed voice mail at its Atlanta headquarters last year, but a spokeswoman for its Canadian operations says there’s no such plan here.
“Whether in the consumer world, or in the employee world, people are becoming increasing impatient, because we know technology can do things much faster, flexible and adaptable,” Hardy-Vallée said.
If people want to watch a particular television show, they can turn to Netflix or other streaming services, without waiting for a certain time slot.
“If you apply the same logic, a voice mail is a very linear way of consuming information,” he said, adding he only has one telephone number — his cell. “I have to dial in, play, pause, stop, and I have to write something down. Those little precious minutes for the modern employee are becoming more unbearable.”
That’s because if you get an email, you can read it right away. And you can probably read it while walking on the street, while looking at your smartphone, or during a conference call, he said.
If the information can wait, email is ideal. The recipient will open it when it’s convenient, he said.
But for urgent matters, and if you can’t reach someone by phone, “text messaging and instant messaging are becoming the way that people communicate,” Hardy-Vallée said, adding IBM has its own internal messaging system and social media platform to communicate.
Milena Head, a professor of information systems at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, can’t even remember the last time she received a voice mail from a student.
“It’s been at least two years,” she said. “I would not be surprised if voice mail goes by the way of the dodo bird.”
She believes the attitude change is driven by the younger generation, which wants an instant response.
Head confesses that voice mails just tend to fall to bottom of the priority list.
“As I sit here in my office, I look around, and I can see three Post-it notes of voice mails from the last few weeks, and I haven’t responded,” she said.
Another reason people like emails and text messages is that they serve as a written record or documentation.
“It’s visible and it takes less time,” Head said.
And if it’s important to have a conversation that’s not documented, Head says, she’ll usually get a text or email that simply says, “Call me,” rather than a voice mail.
Telecom companies like Bell, Telus and Rogers, which declined to share any data on usage, say voice mail is evolving.
New services can include capturing voice mail immediately into audio files that are emailed to users, converting voice mail to text messages, or visual voicemail messages, where messages can be retrieved on mobile devices without dialing in.
Carmi Levy, an independent tech analyst, believes it’s only a matter of time before voice mail fades away — like pagers, typewriters and fax machines.
“It’s been on its last legs for years,” he said. “We can’t be bothered to talk to each other. We can’t be bothered to leave voice mail, or even listen to it.”
He concedes that it’s sad to lose the human connection of a voice, opting instead for words on a screen.
“Nostalgia aside, the bean counters have voted. It’s pretty clear voice is taking a back seat, and that won’t change,” he said.
But Levy acknowledges people miss hearing operators or receptionists pick up the phone.
“Now is probably as good a time as any to stop and ask ourselves whether we are losing too much in the pursuit of efficiency,” he said.