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Have a Coke, But Don’t Leave a Message

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You’re welcome to dial up Coca-Cola world headquarters in Atlanta, but don’t plan on leaving a voicemail. That service has been disabled by management.

The company has a lot to be proud of. They hold the #1 and the #2 spot for most popular soft drink (Coca-Cola and Diet Coke, respectively) and employ well over half a million people worldwide throughout the Coca-Cola system. Add one new innovation to their list: turning off voice messaging. A Bloomberg story has more:

Office voice mail at the world’s largest soft-drink maker was shut down “to simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to an internal memo from Chief Information Officer Ed Steinike. The change went into effect this month, and a standard outgoing message now throws up an electronic stiff arm, telling callers to try later or use “an alternative method” to contact the person.

Voicemail Button

© Flickr user Salim Fadhley

The beverage giant is the first major company to make this announcement, but it’s been long predicted. Back in 2012, a CNet editorial asked Is this the death of voicemail?. And way back in 2008, a TechCrunch piece urged people to stop using it.

We’ve noted that voicemail has it’s troubles before here on The Methodology Blog. We’ve also complained about voicemail’s heir apparent: text messaging (though mostly on regard to best etiquette practices for texting.) Should voicemail become extinct?

A better question is this: is voicemail a good form of communication?

Good Communication is Clear

It’s technically possible to leave a voicemail where every word is crisp and your intent is unmistakable. But I don’t think that’s happened in years.

This is hard because the medium of the telephone is designed for two-way simultaneous communication, not for making recordings. If I don’t hear what you said (or I need you to say it a different way) I can jump in and ask you to repeat yourself. But a voicemail doesn’t have that. At most you can review your message, but who wants to hear the sound of their own voice?

Good Communication is Efficient

Life is short. If it takes 30 seconds for me to tell you something urgent on the phone, you’re spending the exact same period of time gaining that knowledge. In fact that’s one of the reasons that the world has been so dramatically changed in the past few hundred years by telecommunications. When something happens anywhere in the world, we can learn about it instantly.

When you leave a voicemail you create a delay between when you send the information and when it’s received. But even though they may not pick up the message for hours, days, or weeks, they are still required to spend the same amount of time listening as you spent making the recording. Plus, there is the overhead of using their voicemail system and then deciding how to best to communicate back with you.

You know that voicemails are inefficient because you so often think “come on, get to the point” whenever you listen to someone else’s message. If someone doesn’t answer, it’s probably better to hang up and text them rather than giving them the “gift” of your voice.

According to an article from The New York Times:

There’s also the understandable matter of efficiency. A missed-call notification on a cellphone can be its own request for a call back. A “Call me” text will likely be read more quickly than a voice mail message will be heard, and if the matter is urgent, multiple missed calls may declare that most vociferously.

Good Communication is Respectful

I wrote before that “good communication is clear” and also “efficient” but in essence here’s the best way to say both of these: the best communication is about respecting others.

That’s why you don’t want to have any spelling mistakes in your writing. That’s why you don’t want to interrupt other people when they are speaking. Is a voicemail a respectful way to deliver a message to someone who didn’t take your call?

To answer that question, back up. Why are you making a call in the first place? Chances are that you want to relay some information but you don’t have a scheduled meeting. You could type the details into an email, but it’s more convenient for you dial a number and hope the other person is available.

Making a phone call with no warning is in effect saying: “No matter what you are doing right now, stop it and talk to me.” It is potentially disrespectful. If they weren’t available in the first place, leaving a voicemail adds insult to injury. You’re practically forcing someone to hear your voice when they opted not to do that when you originally made the call.

What to do Instead

Only leave voicemails if the tone of your voice is at least equally important to the content of your message. I like to leave people birthday greetings (since it’s nice to hear a voice for that) or other messages of congratulations. And if there’s something personal or sensitive to discuss, I’ll leave a message that asks them to call back using the right volume and cadence for the situation.

As far as whether or not to have an icy, refreshing Coca-Cola, that’s a personal decision. But it’s certainly one company that deserves a toast.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


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