The Fading Away of Voicemail

January 12, 2015

I am old enough to have seen the rise, and now the fall, of voicemail. In 1994 I was the technology specialist at a brand-new middle school in Chapel Hill, and part of my technology orientation for the faculty was teaching them how to set up voicemail on their phone extensions. This was a big deal for us–my previous school had no voicemail system and about four phones for the whole staff to share. I know that technologically, 1994 is eons ago–every student file in that entire school fit on three 1GB servers, and a fourth server ran both the media center catalog and our internal email. Yup, in 1994 we didn’t have Internet email. We could not send messages to another school, or to the central office. We also had to choose whether to buy teacher laptops with color screens or black and white, and whether to buy desktops with or without CD-ROM drives.

Today I read this article about Coca-Cola’s decision to shut down its voicemail system. I first noticed this trend about two years ago. While I was teaching a workshop at a Silicon Valley hard-drive company, a participant mentioned in passing that he got about one voicemail message a week. I asked others in the room if that resonated with their experience, and they all said yes. One manager said, “I’ve gone from 5-10 messages a day, to maybe one or two a week.” The drivers: email, text, and smartphones. By comparison, voicemail is inefficient.

Coke’s decision will probably accelerate this trend, which was impossible to imagine in 1994. The only catch I see is that, unless the company is providing the phone and data package, we’re moving the cost of voicemail accessibility from the company to the employee. But no one will have to figure out how to create and modify the dreaded voicemail message.



  1. The implications for sales professionals are great. I leave 10-15 voicemails per day on average, followed by an email. Is the voicemail a waste of my time?

    Your point about shifting the cost of the technology from the company to the employee is provocative.

  2. Great question, Kristin. I don’t think voicemails get ignored, they just aren’t preferred. And it could be that the people I was talking to aren’t decision makers who’d be contacted by a sales professional. I wonder how you could experiment with this–combining voice and email as ways to get your message out? Starting with one, then going to the other?

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