Home Technology JPMorgan Chase Deals Latest Blow To A Dying Technology: Voicemail

JPMorgan Chase Deals Latest Blow To A Dying Technology: Voicemail

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One by one the telegraph and fax machine, rolodex and floppy disk have fallen by the wayside as American companies adopted new software to make their offices ever more efficient. Now, it looks like voicemail may be the next to go.

JPMorgan Chase just announced that it would eliminate most of the voicemail systems in its consumer banking division. A spokesman told Bloomberg that employees were given a choice about whether to dismantle the voicemail on their phones. About 65% opted to do so—a move that will save the company about $3.2 million annually.

JPMorgan is not only company to get rid of its voicemail system. Coca-Cola did the same last December in an effort to cut costs and streamline its operations by junking needless office tools. And pundits have been calling for the end of voicemail. In a Harvard Business Review article titled “Time to Hang Up on Voice Mail,” Michael Schrage wrote that keeping it in the office is “wasteful. What’s worse, it signals enterprise laziness and complacency.”

The irony, of course, is that voicemail was originally intended to simplify and speed up office life. According to his New York Times obituary, inventor and businessman Gordon Matthews purportedly came up with the idea for voicemail on a rainy day in the late seventies while standing outside an office, gazing at a pile of soggy pink slips emblazoned with the phrase “While You Were Out.” Matthews decided to create a voicemail tool then and there that would eliminate the paper slips he saw cluttering office desks and dumpsters. Just as telegraphs and fax machines had already done, voicemail, he felt, would revolutionize office environments, keeping messages organized and clutter at a minimum. When he died in 2002, voicemail still reigned over the corporate world. Offices sometimes paid hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to maintain the system.
Today, however, we have a different kind of mail system to organize our messages—email. Text messages have also become ubiquitous, and tools like GoogleVoice have emerged to transcribe voicemail messages, delivering them in parsed, digestible written form.

As email and text messages have gained steam, spurred on by the spread of smartphones and personal computers, voicemail has declined in importance. A study conducted by Vonage during 2012 found that the number of voicemails left by phone users had dropped 8% in one year. People also appeared to be checking their messages less regularly. According to the same Vonage study, the number of messages actually retrieved by users was down 14% during the same period.

The recent decision to dismantle voicemail systems may simply be a sign that corporate overlords recognize, as these statistics suggest, that fewer and fewer people use the technology. It could also be an indicator that company employees dislike using the cumbersome systems, which force users to listen to each, sometimes lengthy message in chronological order.

Yet the move could also show that corporations are placing a greater priority on the needs of their younger customers and employees. This year, for the first time, the millennial generation overtook the baby boomers as the largest living age cohort in the U.S. today. The decision to eliminate voicemail may suit the interests of those millennials, but it may also mean that older customers, still unused to email, are left in the dark.



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