August 12, 2012
Will UC-Enabled Unified Messaging Change Business Voicemail Systems?
Moving premise-based business communications to Mobile UC is going to be challenging to most organizations that have to rethink their needs for telephone (voice) communications. Not only are there now different ways to communicate, but, with BYOD mobility, the variety of mobile endpoint devices that end users can choose to utilize for both business and person-to-person contacts, requires greater flexibility in all call handling and messaging user interfaces.
This confusion is most evident in how organizations will migrate their old premise-based “telephone answering” needs to exploit the benefits of UC-enabled telephony. These include capabilities such as federated presence management and “click-to-call” connections integrated with all forms of online information and messages. It is not just the new UC capabilities that are of interest, but it’s the old voicemail shortcomings that we have put up with for so long that we can finally get rid of. However, the big challenge is how to migrate from old voicemail systems and culture to the new ways that phone calls can be initiated more efficiently, as well as the way failed call attempts will be dealt with.
In addition to cultural issues and end user education (training), the migration to UC-enabled messaging may require changes in how callers are handled, as well as how call recipients are notified about both incoming calls and messages and their response options. It may very well be that internal users can be trained to do things differently, but external callers (customers, business partners, etc.) will continue initiating phone calls the same way they have always done. Until federated presence is universally available to all end users and they have learned the better ways to initiate person-to-person contacts intelligently and contextually, person-to-person phone calls will remain a staple of business communications. It does take “two to tango!”
The Fundamental Weakness of “Old” Voicemail
Actually, nothing terrible, but it just wasn’t very efficient for end users, especially outside callers.
For openers, in order to leave a voice message, outside callers had to initiate a conversational phone call attempt, wait for the ring count to run down, and then they could leave a voice message. Aside from the cost of the phone call, it was a waste of the caller’s time when all they really wanted to do in the first place was to leave a message, not necessarily have a long conversation. With increasing access to online information, messaging is becoming more practical for all types of users. Internal users, however could access mailboxes directly with no problem. Today, of course, we also have email and texting alternatives.
I remember deliberately making calls late at night as an outside caller, when I knew the call recipient was gone for the day, to leave a message without having a conversation. I thought it was funny when they didn’t bother changing their recorded message on their voice mailbox, which would usually say something like, “I just stepped away from my desk…” Sure!
In some cases, external callers could be given a “backdoor” main number, which would then allow direct access to a recipient’s mailbox for message deposit, but few organizations bothered to do that or even publicize such capabilities to their outside callers.
There have been a number of new voicemail-related service functions that make things better for call recipients, e.g., options for real-time screening of incoming calls that are leaving voicemail messages, with the option to accept the calls immediately, if desired. More practical, however, is the option for the recipient to have voice messages transcribed to text, which can more be efficiently reviewed and managed than voice, and won’t require manual transcription of important items like numbers, names, etc. Even more features can be expected for call recipients, in terms of notifications and response options.
(It never helped that phone calls could not include information about the purpose of the call, like the subject line of a text message.)
Mobile UC and Caller Needs
However, we need to see more options showing up for “callers,” who will now be using multi-modal smartphones and tablets, not just traditional voice/touchtone desktop phones. Now those “callers” will also be increasingly sending a variety of messages, including voice messages, which can be created easier and faster than by typing text. By UC-enabling such messaging, senders will also have a more convenient and flexible form of initiating contacts that can also transition quickly and more efficiently into voice or video conversations when both parties so desire.
While we should look forward to continue having “voice messaging” in the future, it can’t be the old “voicemail jail” of the past. Leading technology providers who specialize in voice messaging, such as AVST, are in an ideal position to help migrate legacy voice mail gracefully to the future of UC-enabled, true unified messaging (UM). Hybrid “cloud” based implementations will also provide a convenient way to facilitate the shift from legacy CPE voicemail systems to support the new world of BYOD and Mobile UC.
I have also commented on what will happen to voicemail in the future in this previous post.