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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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