Enterprise Communications

The Decline of Voicemail and the Changing Rules of Communications Etiquette

by Michael Brandenburg 06 Feb 2013
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If there was one general theme that presided over my recent research on the voice and unified messaging market, it was that while voicemail usage has been fading over the years, there is still a requirement by most businesses to have a voicemail box associated with every user. In trying to understand the decline, conventional wisdom suggests that other applications in the unified communications and collaboration stack, namely e-mail and instant or text messaging, are proving to be more popular than voicemail. Based on my own in-box, the continued popularity of e-mail is certainly having an effect on voice calling, but there is actually another, less obvious change that is causing voicemail’s decline: we don’t make unsolicited phone calls anymore.

In my role here at Frost & Sullivan, I talk on the phone to a lot of people during my workday: my boss and teammates, other colleagues within the organization, as well as clients, vendor teams, journalists, and countless others. Yet, with rare exception, I always know who I am going to be talking to before I pick up the phone. That is because there is almost always a prior notification. A phone conversation with my colleagues is almost always preceded by an instant message; conference calls with vendors are always pre-arranged via e-mail or a calendar invitation; social networks or commercial instant messaging might get involved before having a phone call with other contacts. With other elements of the UC&C stack serving as preludes to a voice conversation, there is little reason to not expect a caller on the other end, and even less reason to leave a voicemail message.

This expectation that all wanted and anticipated calls will be preceded by some form of notification is making me even more suspicious of the unsolicited calls that still do come in. This suspicion is only amplified by the constant robo-callers that seem to show up each election cycle or credit card offers that still get through despite state and federal do-not-call lists.

Obviously, there are always going to be roles within the organization, such as customer service or helpdesk services that will continue to receive unsolicited voice calls. However, for many knowledge workers, voice communications, while not completely outmoded, have been escalated one tier higher in the overall communications stack. Voice communications are now reserved for the most meaningful part of the conversation while minor details, trivial matters, as well as the logistics of more in-depth interactions are handled via other communications modes such as e-mail, chat, text messaging, and others.

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