Voicemail, of all things, has been making a fair amount of news lately, with the likes of JP Morgan Chase and Coca-Cola both saying they’re getting rid of voicemail for employees, or trying to. Meanwhile, Apple is said to be working on a service for consumers that will use Siri to transcribe your voicemail messages and, presumably, email or text the content to you.
JP Morgan Chase and Coke Nix Voicemail for Employees
I’ll tackle the Chase and Coke news first. Bloomberg explains the Coke move like this:
Office voice mail at the world’s largest soft-drink maker was shut down “to simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to an internal memo from Chief Information Officer Ed Steinike. The change went into effect this month, and a standard outgoing message now throws up an electronic stiff arm, telling callers to try later or use “an alternative method” to contact the person.
NPR reports the company made ditching voicemail optional for employees and that only 6% opted to keep it.
Chase’s move wasn’t quite as dramatic. Folks who routinely interact with customers can keep their voicemail, but many others are willingly giving it up. As NPR reports:
The bank blew past its goal of eliminating half of its voice mail boxes and to date has eliminated about two-thirds. Across the whole bank so far, that's over $8 million in annual savings.
It sounds like Chase was paying way too much for voicemail - $10 per person per month, the NPR piece says.
Killing Voicemail: Smart Business or Communication Problem?
Many are extolling these moves as smart business – after all, everyone hates voicemail, right? But it struck me as overkill. Yes, voicemail is not the go-to messaging service that it once was, but it still serves a purpose.
The blogger Erik Sherman at Inc.com has what I consider a good perspective on the issue. He writes:
You cut cost from a business when it's not providing a solid return on the investment. For voicemail not to provide a return means either that either people don't use the phone anymore, they don't leave messages, or the messages they leave are ignored. … The answer is that too many people let calls go to voicemail and then do nothing with them. It's not a money problem, it's a communication problem.
And the answer to the communication problem is a simple one: speech-to-text technology, a la what Apple is proposing. But that technology is hardly new. I’ve been using Vonage’s voice-over-IP service for more than 10 years and have had voicemails emailed to me for most if not all of that time. Usually the transcription is good enough for me to get the gist of the message. If it’s not, there’s the audio recording file attached to the email that I can listen to.
So is giving up voicemail really the answer for companies that feel they aren’t getting benefit from it? My gut said no, but for a reality check I talked with Ben Crown, president of Mutare, which has been selling voice-to-text voicemail solutions for about a decade. In short order, he rattled off a number of benefits to the technology.
Benefits of Voicemail-to-Text Technology for Unified Communications (UC) and Contact Centers
Yes, texting and email have become a dominant form of communication, he says. “But it’s still true that when something is important, you call, and 80% of those calls end up in voicemail,” Crown says. “Usually the calls are important. So if you don’t check your voicemail, your most important calls are being ignored.”
Mutare offers a voice-to-text engine (called giSST, pronounced ‘gist’ which is very clever) that plugs into a customer’s existing unified communication platform or is offered as a cloud-based service. The engine also comes with Mutare’s hosted voicemail service. And it doesn’t cost anywhere near $10 per person per month; depending on the version, Mutare’s is more like $2 to $4 per person, or less than $25 to $50 per person per year.
“You get a lot more value from it than that and your organizational responsiveness improves tremendously,” he says. Figuring the average full-time employee is worth about $50,000 per year, “If $25 per year makes them more responsive and improves the job they do, to me it’s a no-brainer.”
That’s especially true for any organization with a professional sales force, where missing a message can cost a sale. But the technology is also a boon for other professionals such as lawyers. “They love it because in court you can’t use a phone but you can read emails,” Crown says.
Call centers are another natural. If agents are too busy, a voice overflow mailbox can take messages from callers, transcribe them and get them to agents who can respond. Or maybe the call center isn’t open 24x7 but after-hours callers can leave messages. Rather than have agents listen to them all the next day, they can read the transcription.
“You can read the transcription of a 60-second message in about 15 seconds,” Crown says. “It makes agents much more productive.”
What’s more, converting speech to text gives companies something that can be extremely valuable: data. Perhaps it can be uploaded to customer relationship management and other such sales-enablement or analysis tools.
Probably the best proof of the effectiveness of voicemail-to-text technology is the fact that customers like it.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of customers on our platform and the renewal rate is in the high 90s percentage,” Crown says. “Once they use it, it’s very addictive.”
And voice-to-text technology certainly sounds like a more effective way to deal with voicemails than telling callers to go find some other way to get in touch.