Sunday, October 22, 2017

When Can We Drop Voicemail Instructions?

In my real job, I make a lot of phone calls and I am still amazed by the amount of voicemail instructions I have to sit through before I can leave a message.

I remember when my family got its first answering machine. We always had two telephone lines: one that was my dad’s and the other for everyone. My dad is an artist and worked for a while as a muralist. It was during this time that he bought his first answering machine.

This was about 1978 or so, as I recall. It was a Radio Shack special, and before you jump to any conclusions about its quality, it actually lasted into the 1990s.

The typical outgoing message for a home answering machine went something like this:

This is ________, and I’m sorry, but I can’t take your call right now. Please leave a message after the tone and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.

That was in 1978. Home answering machines really became popular around the time the government broke up Ma Bell. That was 1984. That year, according to Wikipedia, home answering machine sales reached the one-million-per-year mark. That was 33 years ago. More than a generation ago.

It’s now 2017, and I call various businesses and have to sit through sometimes long, complicated instructions. It seems leaving a voicemail isn’t enough these days. Now I’m supposed to do something else.

Often, I get something along the lines of this:

The person you are calling, [Insert person’s own recording of their name here], is not available. Please leave your message after the tone and hang up or press 0 for additional options.

Why do I need additional options? I want to leave a message. That’s all.

Sometimes, the messages get even longer:

We’re sorry, the person you are calling, [Insert person’s own recording of their name here], is not available. To leave a message, press 1. When you have completed your message, press 9 to send it immediately or press * for delivery options.

I can only think of one “delivery option” I’d want to select: that the voicemail system would tap into some sort of telepathic link to send the message straight to the person’s brain right that second.

I bet if I press that 0 for more options, that won’t be one of them.

What else would I need? Would I want the message to not be delivered in a timely manner? If that was the case, why would I leave a voicemail at all?

The more automated the voicemail systems are, ironically, the more detailed the instructions get, and thereby, the longer it takes for the caller to be able to leave their voicemail. (Isn’t leaving a voicemail the whole point of a voicemail system?)

I do see the value in identifying the person who’ll receive the message: we want to know we’ve not reached a wrong number. But once you do that, get on with it! Play the damned beep and let me leave my message. This isn’t some new breakthrough technology that requires an elaborate explanation.

Don’t give me “additional options.” Give me the beep and I can handle the rest.

Do detailed voicemail instructions get on your nerves or do you find them helpful?


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Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.