I need to be honest here – I am not a big voicemail user. I seldom leave voicemails for other people. When I get them, they aren’t checked quickly. If someone wants to send me a message, I prefer email. I know I’m not alone.
But that’s just me. Voicemail remains a key part of the enterprise collaboration experience for many people. Many executives depend heavily on their voicemail systems, in fact. These voicemail ‘power users’ will send dozens of voice messages a day, using features like group voicemails and voicemail forwarding. Voicemail and email differ in their productivity economics. Voicemails are easier for the sender to send - speaking something is much faster than typing an email with equivalent content. However, listening to a voicemail requires more time and effort than reading an email with equivalent content. Voicemail optimizes time for the sender, and email, for the receiver. This is why voicemail is still a favorite amongst executives.
Voicemail, like other traditional telephony services, was built around the limitations of the telephone. Users have traditionally needed to navigate through spoken menu options, making complex tasks – such as voicemail forwarding – more difficult and slower to use. Voicemail systems are also most effective when used with users within the same enterprise. Though you can certainly leave a voicemail for users in other enterprises, many functions beyond that – including basic ones like callback or sender identity – don’t work well, or don’t work at all, for users outside the enterprise.
And that’s a shame. Consider an executive, Joe, who works for Conglomerated Inc. Joe is trying to close a deal to acquire LittleGuy, his next acquisition target. There is a counter offer on the table, and Joe desperately needs to speak to the CEO of LittleGuy, Mary. Joe takes out his mobile phone, and opens his contact list, quickly finding Mary. His phone shows presence status for his contacts – including ones in other businesses – and it indicates that Mary is on the phone. Joe figures she is probably talking to the other bidder. Joe selects Mary and presses the ‘leave voicemail’ option. He is immediately dropped into Mary’s voicemail box – he doesn’t want to anger Mary with a call while she is on the phone – and he tells her to call him back immediately.
When Mary gets off the phone, she checks her missed call list on her deskphone and sees that she missed a few calls. The list includes the names, pictures, presence status, and contact information for everyone who reached out to Mary – including Joe. Mary’s phone shows that Joe sent the message directly to voicemail. She selects the message, and hits play. She can hear the urgency in Joe’s voice, and decides to call him back. Joe’s presence shows that he is in a priority meeting. Mary touches Joe’s picture on her phone, bringing up his contact information, including a link to the contact information for his administrator. Mary selects the link, and then touches the “call” option, connecting her to Joe’s admin, Edwin. Edwin knows that Joe is expected Mary’s call, and transfers her to Joe’s mobile phone. Joe tells Mary that he is willing to up the offer by 10%, and Mary accepts.
This example illustrates a few important things. First and foremost, it shows the importance that inter-company voicemails can play in an overall collaboration experience. Secondly, it shows how visual interactions can accelerate and simplify usage of the system. Directly depositing voicemails, integrating presence, and attaching rich contact information – all improve the productivity gains offered by voicemail. When all of this works inter-company too, voicemail can realize its full value as collaboration tool.