Is Voicemail Dead?
The title of this piece stems from a recent discussion about the future of legacy voicemail on LinkedIn.
Just because business communications start off with a contact initiator, doesn’t mean that the contact recipient(s) don’t have operational needs too. That applies to both real- time (synchronous) contact attempts, as well as the myriad of modes of asynchronous and near-real-time messaging that are increasingly available to all kinds of consumers doing business on the Internet. With social networking, business organizations won’t have the same kind of control over how individual end users will communicate with others.
Until now, business communications has been mainly focused on the contact initiators, because that is where communication activity originates. This is true whether it be a person making a phone call, sending a message, etc., or, increasingly, an automated business application sending information or a message to an end user. In either case, we have been primarily trying to make contact initiation more efficient by dynamically providing contact information and determining what mode of contact might be best for the recipient, thus making the efforts of the contact initiator more productive. I discussed this perspective of what I called "Contextual Contacts" in a white paper I wrote for Microsoft when they were starting to get into UC at the desktop.
With legacy desktop phone systems, this involved guessing about the physical accessibility and location of the recipient, whether at an office extension, a home number, or another location. With increased use of cell phones, the next concern was recipient "availability" to ensure a call attempt would be successful and not result in “voicemail jail.” That's where IM and "presence" information have started to become useful as a prelude to a real-time voice or video conversation, where IM availability could start with chat but then escalate to a voice connection. But, as more forms of messaging information become exploited, including social networking, it is now becoming obvious that selective "notification" management be unified for recipients to optimize their accessibility and time. I guess this would fall under the label of UC-U, which benefits end user productivity.
Notification Screening and Management
I recently signed up to use a “spam blocker” feature on my email service, which filters out “known” spam and also screens out “suspected” email because they originate from contacts not currently in my address list. “Suspects” are notified that their email message has not been delivered (yet) because they are “unknown” (not in my address list), and invited to send a message to identify themselves to me, the recipient. The "spam blocker" notifies me whenever there are “suspects” and also sends any identifying message responses along. I then have options to accept the suspect message and add the address to my list.
This is a simple example of “contextual” information (my current address list) being used for email screening. Clearly, there can be other contextual intelligence factors used to screen all incoming contacts, including:
- Recent communication activity with specific contacts
- “Expected” responses to recent contacts, where I had either sent or left messages or attempted a phone call contact
- Subject of contact attempt, along with “urgency” involved. This is particularly needed with real-time phone calls that only give “Caller ID” that is usually blocked or uninformative.
- The subject matter will often be more of interest, as opposed to the identity of the sender/caller.
Aside from the screening activity that will be needed by recipients, the mode of real-time notification must also be an option that is dynamically controlled by the recipient and dependent on their environment and end point device they have available. This is where mobile multi-modal endpoint devices can provide the basis for flexible recipient control of contact notifications, whether it is a phone call, an IM request, or any form of asynchronous messaging.
With UC-enabled smartphones and tablets, I expect that the old “voicemail” may not be the only alternative to a direct voice connection. A good example of this type of flexibility is the increasing use of “voice messaging-to-text” for callers to leave a voice message that can then be optionally retrieved in text or voice by the recipient. However, just as one can “escalate” a contact from email to chat to a voice or video connection, a voice call attempt can also be shifted to chat or some other form of messaging, not just “voicemail jail.” With increased use of “presence” information as a precursor to a call attempt, the "caller" might easily end up with an alternative messaging action when the recipient is not available to “talk.”
Following in the Footsteps of Call Center Technology
Just as call center agents receive a call with a “screen pop” that shows any contextual information about the caller/customer, so too, will all business contacts provide such information to the recipient. The difference, of course, is that contacts will reflect the individual recipient’s relationship and contextual activities with the contact initiator. And, of course, the contact initiator may well be an automated business process application that is sending a personalized “alert.”
So, what will the recipient actually be “notified” about in real time? Any communication contact activity that they feel is important to them, but not just any phone call or message. The “screening” will have to be dynamic and “contextual” for high priority attention, while all other contacts will be accessible for review whenever the recipient has the time to do so (as they now do).
As we try to simplify and make contact initiation more intelligent, the contact recipients can also be given similar controls and options to help them independently manage their personal time priorities. As communications activity expands with Mobile UC and multi-modal devices, both contact initiators and recipients need to manage their time and productivity better.