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After The Beep November 16, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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There was a time, many years ago, when telephone answering machines were state-of-the-art technology.  They used little cassette tapes to hold both your incoming and outgoing messages.  Fancy ones could count how many messages you had; cheaper machines just blinked to get your attention.

The first time you ever set one up, you were instructed, when recording your outgoing message, to include instructions for the caller.  What should they do after the beep?  Leave a message, of course, and you’ll call them right back.

Many years have come and gone, and physical answering machines have evolved into voice mail stored on some remote server in the ether.  Every single person in every developed country on Earth has both sent and received voice messages.  Yet we persist in including those same instructions when we record our message in the voicemail system.

Why are we beholden to instructions that are absolutely useless?  How much time is wasted as people wait for the message to play before being able to record their message?  Even with the shortest message possible (“Not here. beep“) everyone would know exactly what to do.

Perhaps the worst possible offenders are those voice mail systems that tack on additional instructions, in a smooth female voice, after your message.  You’ve heard it a thousand times:

Leave your message after the beep.  When you are finished, you may hang up, or stay on the line for more options.

Is anyone unclear as to the next step after leaving their message?  Has anyone ever “stayed on the line for more options?”

Of course, many people are fairly gregarious when leaving a message, in a sort of karmic revenge for the long outgoing message.  There is nothing more frustrating than listening to some lengthy explanation in a voice mail when all you really want is a name and a number.  People ramble on and on, going into all sorts of detail that, truth be told, you are ignoring as you anxiously await the crucial data they might spring on you at any moment.

And when they get to that part?  They rattle off their number faster than anyone could ever transcribe it, mumble their name, and hang up.  You know what’s worse than listening to a long, tedious message?  Listening twice to check the name and number at the end.

I propose that we establish a new set of voice mail rules that will save everyone time and frustration:

  • Outgoing messages need to be short and sweet. No extraneous instructions; we know what to do.
  • Incoming messages need to be short and sweet. You get no more than twenty seconds to give a reason why you need a return call.  State your name and number slowly.  Pause and repeat it.  Hang up.

Get the message?  Together, we can change the world, one beep at a time!

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1. Michelle - November 16, 2009

Of course I would NEVER disagree with you, since I am still grateful that you created the IMDB but IMO it’s not that easy or clear cut.

Plenty of times you can save time, and skip a whole conversation later if you leave detail, or track down an answer to a question the caller asks before you get back to them.

Just my two cents in defense of being a blabbermouth.

2. Lynn M - November 16, 2009

I agree Chuck. Short and sweet (or relevant!) is probably a good rule for many things that are important but already understood in our society. It can even be the difference between employment and unemployment! Just like voice mail messages which we hear everyday, a hiring manager will read resume upon resume. Resumes all serve the same purpose and need to contain expected information. However, if you don’t have it organized in a simplistic fashion so the reader can get to what he/she wants to see, it’ll likely get tossed aside. Concise, relevant information gets attention!

The best voicemail of all time? “Jerry, it’s Frank Costanza! Mr Steinbrenner’s here, George is dead, call me back.” – Seinfeld (definitely got Jerry’s attention).

3. Bill Petro - November 16, 2009

There is a movement afoot to get the large telcos to stop adding all their OWN commentary around your voicemail greeting. Have you seen it. I think David Pogue is driving it.

4. Karie S - November 16, 2009

Many voice mails today have the option of hitting the number one to skip to the beep. Though, you dont always know that the first time you call, and most don’t bother to mention it in their message. I “stayed on the line” once and learned one of the options is coding your message as urgent. The urgent status places your voice mail ahead of all others and keeps it there until it has been listened to. Quite a convenient really. Although you do have to wait until the very end to go to the front of the line.

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