Voicemail Becomes Contextual

26 Sep 2017

It’s the end of the road for voicemail as we know it. By now you’ve heard about companies that have eliminated their voicemail systems for some of their workers or locations. This has caused other businesses to question the value of voicemail for their employees, and there’s been an increase in the number of organizations looking to eliminate their voicemail systems. However, for most companies, voicemail is still an important part of today’s business communications. Over the years, voicemail has evolved from a standalone solution to becoming the key element of unified messaging systems.

Clearly a large percentage of people are dissatisfied with voicemail. Recipients don’t want to spend time calling into their voicemail boxes, entering their passwords, and listening to long messages. It can be time-consuming and a waste of valuable time. Many individuals don’t bother checking their messages, and the average response time has gone from hours to days. In fact, according to research from Nuance, it’s at least eight hours before most voicemail messages are heard. This has serious repercussions, as when important calls end up going to voicemail and it may take hours, days, or even weeks before the recipient listens to the message, and that means time-sensitive messages are often missed, or deadlines are passed. In addition, Forbes magazine statistics show that 80 percent of callers sent to voicemail do not leave messages because they don't think the messages will be heard.

However, getting rid of voicemail isn’t – or shouldn’t be – the answer to the problem. Rather than eliminating what can be a useful communication tool, doesn’t it make more sense to find ways to improve the voicemail experience?

I recently spoke with Mutare, which specializes in messaging, mobile apps, self-service IVR, and notification systems. Mutare recently introduced SAM – Smart Assist by Mutare - which they call, “A disruptive new technology solution that replaces voicemail with a modern digital call completion solution.” SAM isn’t voicemail, but rather a call completion application that eliminates the voice mailbox while still enabling callers who want to leave a message to do so. When a call is made but not answered, SAM intercepts the missed call, lets the caller leave a voice memo, and delivers a notification to the recipient’s channel of choice, providing caller ID, timestamp, audio file, and text transcription of the message. Notification can be sent via email, SMS text, Skype for Business Instant Message, or through Mutare’s secure client.

SAM integrates with the organization’s CRM application and attaches information related to the caller ID to the message delivery, such as name, title, company, email address, account numbers etc. This makes voicemail more contextual and part of the business workflow, providing the message recipient with information about not just the message, but also the caller. If the caller chooses not to record a voice memo or simply hangs up, SAM still delivers the caller ID with any related information from the company CRM.

SAM was developed to provide the functionality that people use in the 21st century and in the age of text, but at a much lower cost than traditional voicemail. Mutare notes that 80% of what goes into voicemail code is for functions that most people don’t use, such as broadcast delivery, which requires lots of overhead but provides little value for most businesses.

Users can set up SAM to send them messages and notifications in the way that’s most convenient for them – whether through a text message on their mobile device, email, or IM. SAM can be synchronized with an Active Directory so that user information is automatically integrated.

When I started speaking with the folks at Mutare, I was somewhat skeptical – are they simply replacing one type of voicemail message for another? After getting a demo and trying out the service myself, I better understood the benefits and value of SAM. It was very simple to set up, and took only about a minute. When a call came in that I wasn’t able to answer, SAM intercepted the call, played the caller a prerecorded greeting, and then sent me an email and a text message that showed information on the caller, plus a text transcription of the voicemail message. It also provided data on the audio clarity of the message and the sentiment (which was positive). The .wav file of the original message was also attached to the email so I could listen to the message, but the transcription was accurate enough that I didn’t need to.

There are some interesting use cases for SAM. For example, it can work on customer service overflow mailboxes, enabling a customer calling into a busy contact center to leave a message for an agent, who can then view the speech-to-text transcriptions and then prioritize, route, and respond more quickly and efficiently. What’s interesting about this use case is that once you convert an analog voicemail message to its digital equivalent, you can add information from the CRM database, look for key words, and even do a trend analysis to see what issues or topics people are calling about.

Another, although not very common, use case is for situations where someone can’t use their phone but can read emails, such as an attorney in a courtroom. The attorney can’t use his/her cell phone, but can view the text or email with the message transcription and then can respond or forward the message to someone who can take action on the message.

Mutare notes that while SAM was initially seen as a way of getting rid of voicemail and the associated costs, it has evolved to be more contextual based on the CRM integration. For example, a large manufacturing customer is using SAM for outside sales. The sales people don't have extensions on the company PBX and use their iPhones for making and receiving calls. When the sales people miss a call on their iPhone, SAM intercepts the call, gets data from the company’s Salesforce CRM, and sends Caller ID, the message transcription, and the audio file of the message to the sales person via email, IM and/or text message. The company retains the information on the call and the caller, and SAM even updates the customer’s CRM record.

Mutare notes that savings from improved workflow and reduced administration pays for SAM in a short time and, with the elimination of much of the overhead expense associated with traditional voicemail systems, those cost benefits are ongoing. Workers can save time, as it generally takes less time to read a message than to listen to one, so the speech-to-text transcription of messages helps make users more productive.

As I mentioned, I was initially somewhat skeptical about SAM, but after using it for a few days I’ve experienced the value it provides. I was on a conference call on my laptop the other day and wasn’t able to answer a couple incoming calls on my mobile phone. However, I was able to read the text transcription of the calls and immediately respond via a quick email while on the conference call, which probably surprised and delighted the caller. Since I’ve starting using SAM, I’ve found it to be very convenient, especially the ability to get a text message notification when I get a voice message and read the transcription, and even find out who’s tried to call but hung up before leaving a message. When I initially started using SAM, I assumed that I would try it out for a week or so as part of my analyst research and then turn it off. Instead, I’ve been using it on a regular basis, and rely on it for message notification and access.

While most of us have a love-hate relationship with voicemail, it is still a necessary element of business communications. Eliminating voicemail is not practical, as people still want to leave messages if they can’t reach someone. Before you get rid of your voicemail system, I encourage you to see what options are available for improving the voicemail experience for both the caller and the message recipient. We’re now experiencing the next evolution of voicemail as it becomes contextual and part of the business workflow. 


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