Nov 302012
 
Action shot of silver haired man in business suit and tie stomping on cell phone

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Whether you are a parent, business owner, or social butterfly, for many people, voicemail is on the A-team of players when it comes to communication.

For me however, voicemail has long gone the way of the telegram. And gosh, do I love it.

As a high-energy entrepreneur, you may expect me to settle down at my desk after dinner with my phone, a pen and a notepad, to patiently listen to and record details of each of the 30 voice messages I got that day. And then take the time to respond in a timely manner to each one before 9pm. You might think I look something like this:

In reality, I’m all over the place. I sometimes eat dinner at home, but not usually. Sometimes I go out for sushi, sometimes I eat at my boyfriend’s, sometimes I eat in bed, sometimes I drink happy hour wine at the local dive bar for dinner,  and sometimes I don’t eat dinner at “dinnertime” at all. But usually, no matter where I am, by the end of the day, I look something like this:

Now, I will tell you that these photos are not of me. A picture of me resembling the first woman doesn’t exist, and the actual picture of me resembling the second woman I have deemed too disturbing for my readers.

Thus, I have absolutely no time or patience for voicemail. Years ago, I had it. Voicemail, that is, not time nor patience.

When I was a student, almost no one left me voicemails, and if they did, I listened to them hours if not days after I had already called the person back. So I heard the information twice, only the second time it was not nearly as interesting.

Then, as an employee of a corporation, a voicemail meant bad news. Either it was going to be a request to come in on the weekend, or it was a notification that someone was sick and I was expected to pick up the slack tomorrow, or  a call to let me know (after hours, mind you) that I screwed something up. It was rarely good news.

The real fun began when I became a small business owner. People would call and leave ridiculously long messages about their life story, or talk so fast or so quietly or so incoherently that you can’t hear what they’re saying, or call to ask if I can perform a service that is not even vaguely related to my business. When I return the voicemail, I am still met with surprise, “Oh, you’re a horseback riding stable? Do you groom dogs? Could you pet sit my Bichon? I’ll pay you extra to clip his nails.” Sure, I’ll take your money, and watch your mop-dog, but really?!?! Ah, then there is my mom. On some days, she would leave seven messages telling me to watch Bill Maher that night, and subsequently call and leave messages asking if I heard her last message. Are there really some people who still don’t understand how this works?

Oh! And goodness forbid you miss a day of checking voicemails. Now, I had it back in the day when your voice mailbox topped out at 30 messages. I’m sure the sky is the limit as of now. People get really agitated if they can’t get through, and hear that your voice mailbox is full. They start thinking either you’re a slacker or that you’re dead, and tell you so when they actually do talk with you. They call their friends who they also know are your clients to see if they can get through to you. Then everyone is wondering where you are, and why you haven’t responded to their voicemail, or why your voice mailbox is full. Then, next week, you get to hear it five different times from five different clients, their story about trying to leave a voicemail.

I love when you get your first business cell phone and make the effort to have a professional, clear, enunciated voice mailbox greeting: “You have reached the voice mailbox of Melissa Miko of HorsePlay Santa Barbara. Please leave me your name and number, and I will return your call as soon as possible.” and you get all these messages for the person who used to have your phone! Now I love all people and international callers, but twice I have gotten phone numbers where the old owner of my phone spoke a language other than English. How are you supposed to tell them they’ve got the wrong number? Apparently the fact that my voicemail message is in English and states my name isn’t enough, because they keep calling.

On my old phone, I got calls from both English and Chinese speaking friends of the woman who previously had my number. Over the next two and a half years (yes, two and a half, because they kept calling for that long), I learned that this woman had developed a disease of the throat and could no longer speak on the phone, and had fallen into a depression and deleted her Facebook account and was ignoring friends and relatives. Poor woman! But geez, delegate someone to let your people know what is up.

Currently its been seven months since I got my new Connecticut phone number, and all I get are a ton of collect calls from Mexico and have not found one person that speaks English except for a debt collector. Fabulous. But, there are no voicemails, because I don’t have voicemail! I only get calls I choose to answer and correct, or to reject, from that same stinkin’ collect call number.

For me, it got to the point where I was avoiding business because I hated doing this stupid voicemail dance. It caused me anxiety, heartache, and feelings of malice. Someone recommended a voicemail-to-text application; I tried it, but it was annoying and glitchy and still took too long. I actually took my phone number off my website for a while, leaving only my email contact information. It’s perfectly appropriate to email someone at 4:00 in the morning and that not be bothersome or weird.

However, then it dawned on me. I called Verizon, and asked them to disable my voicemail. They did. That was singularly the best decision I ever did for my sanity and my business.

If you choose to do this too, check and see if your phone will give the caller the message, “The user of this number has not set up a voice mailbox account.” or if the phone will just ring and ring and ring. See if you can choose, and determine if you are OK with the result. I feel the former seems a little unprofessional and unpolished, and the latter leaves the caller with a dazzling sense of mystery. Like in Boiler Room.

On my website, I generously place my email link in strategic locations, as well as have a Contact Form that shoots your message right to my email. On my site and business cards I put “Please Text (860) XXX-XXXX”. That way, this “unusual language” makes it crystal clear that I greatly prefer a text.

So, three reasons why you should cancel your voicemail:

1. Lack of efficiency. It is a waste of effort on both ends. The caller wastes their breath talking one-sidedly to a machine/data inscribing robot who may or may not deliver the message to the receiver. OK, in 99% of cases, voicemail works, but what if you are out of range? What if your phone dies and doesn’t alert you that you have a new voicemail, what if the system is glitchy? Plus, voicemail opens up an excuse for shady people, “Oh, I left you a voicemail. You didn’t get it? Well maybe you phone’s broken.” (I love hearing this excuse, and confirming that a person definitely, without a doubt left me, on my voicemail, a message, then revealing I don’t have voicemail. Boo-yah, mofo!)

Next, it’s called caller-ID. The first thing I see when you call is your number, and if I know you, I see your personal contact information, like your name. I see that it is you who has called, plus your phone number that will presumably still be working by the time I get to you. I will call you back long before I would ever listen to your voicemail.

And if you have a restricted number? I don’t want to talk to you anyways because you’re either an individual with way too much drama in your life or you’re a marking salesperson who wants my money.

I don’t want to forego a free moment in my day when I can actually call you back to see what you need, and instead wait until the end of the day to listen to your schpiel along with all the others and call you back when I’m worn out and tired and just trying to get through my list. The whole production seems like a huge inefficiency: You call, you wait, I wait, I listen to a recording of you, I transcribe it, I read it, you still wait, I finally call you back, hopefully you answer; if not, the cycle perpetuates.

Voicemail perpetuates a cumbersome service that delivers little value. why not take advantage of a free service? Because it stinks!

2. Stress. People have different thresholds of pain. People have different thresholds of stress. For me, stress is very stressful! The “notification ringtone” of a voicemail curdles my blood, and the anticipatory cold sweat that breaks out leaves me shakey until I can find a moment alone, where I am sitting down, pen and paper in hand, to check my voicemails and see what is so wrong and urgent that the caller had to leave me a message in his or her own voice? If it was a casual question, you’d just text me. If it wasn’t urgent, you’d email me. Voicemail is such a tease, as if our lives are so chaotic that we must strain and stretch and just can’t wait to hear every last second of your message before gulping a breath in time to listen to the next one.

For those of you who say I should just accept life as it is, and have a nice voicemail because it seems professional, and it’s what everyone normal and successful does, I am here to shake things up for you. Submitting to a product I hate is submission of power, and this I do not like! I have been successful without voicemail. I promise you, it has and can be done!

And I know, voice-to-text software has improved greatly since I last tried it. However, I just don’t want voicemail because I don’t want it. I don’t want to be like everyone else. Even if I fiddle with voice-to-text for a fraction of a second, I’m going to be complaining. My eyes are on those programs, just waiting for them to screw up. I’m stubborn. I want to be the successful business owner who is successful despite not even having voicemail! Let’s call it my cause.

I’m sure in this article you can find endless sub-reasons to eschew voicemail, and probably think of some of your own. Whether you decide to banish voicemail from your life here and now, or mildly consider it, or even decide life can’t go on without it, consider not only the output of effort it requires, but also the potential for it to be a stressor in your life. We should aspire to live a life that flows as smoothly as possible.

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