11% of the inbound calls to agencies that TrustedChoice.com monitored in the past 5 months hang up before 5 seconds elapse.*

What was once new is now old.

I was reminded of this saying the other day when I pulled a project from almost two and a half decades ago out of the back of my workshop. It was a radio-controlled airplane that I had built but never successfully flown.

I’ve recently regressed to my youth.

It has been stored in a plywood case, so it was in really good shape, but it still shows the signs of age, having faded in spots like an old photograph. In retrospect, it’s as dated as a Nehru jacket. I’ve got some work ahead of me, but it will fly, hopefully right after the 4th of July.

Technology Solves a Problem

Prior to the invention of the telephone a 125 years ago, any communication other than face to face was asynchronous.

That is a fancy way of saying one person’s thoughts were captured start to finish, and then time elapsed before the other party could respond.

As an example, think of sending letters back and forth, or even the telegraph.

Along comes the telephone, and with the lag time eliminated, communication blossoms.  However, compared with a letter, phones had one major drawback.

If the phone didn’t get answered, the message didn’t get delivered.

In hindsight, the concept of leaving a message seems blindingly obvious, but it took 70 years before answering machines were commonplace, and another 20 years for a patent to be granted for the concept of centralized voicemail for office environments.

Over time, the utility of voicemail spawned all sorts of labor-saving and customer service improvements in offices around the world.

That new marketplace drove creativity and innovation as providers rushed to address demand and justify the expense of a newer, bigger, faster system.

One of the simplest and most pernicious ways to justify the costs of a new voicemail system was the development of interactive voice response systems (Think phone trees). The return on investment calculation was simple:

  1. Buy the system;
  2. Retire the receptionist.

The promise of ‘better service’ was too good to pass up.

SEE ALSO: How Can Independent Agents Improve Customer Experience?

The Changing Nature of Messaging

It’s no secret that today’s world is fast paced, and getting more so all the time.  Not only have consumer preferences changed, but so to has technology.

We call it the “New Normal.”

New tools allow us all to get more done in a shorter amount of time than ever before. What was once considered the height of productivity is now antiquated.

Remember the fax machine?

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none” inject=”#insuretech”]What was once new is now old.[/tweet_box]

Today we pay a bill with our phone and deposit a check by taking a picture and sending it to our bank.

If I want a new kitchen gadget, I can be on Amazon and it will be on my doorstep the following day; two tops.  Even better if I want a book. Download it to my tablet in seconds.  We have been conditioned to get an immediate response.

Compare that immediate response with a phone tree supported by voicemail.

First, you had to figure out whether they were going to give you an option for your destination, or whether you were going to have to dial by last name.

Woe be unto you if you get caught in phone tree hell.

If successful, you leave a message. But how long will it take to get delivered? Even more pertinent, how long before it is acted upon?

JP Morgan Chase recently eliminated voice mail for over two-thirds of its employees.

Coca Cola offered to kill voice mail for its employees.

Only SIX PERCENT chose to keep it.

Verizon indicates that 80% of their business lines used to subscribe to voicemail, but that number has dropped to a third.

So what’s up with this trend away from voicemail?

There are a number of reasons that voice mail use is down.

One that we covered above is that voicemail just isn’t timely, and service is questionable.

Millennials as a group just don’t leave messages.  More surprising, those same millennials don’t like to listen to voice mail either.

It takes up lots of time to review voice mail messages too, even before you get around to returning the call.

Time is of the essence.  Get it done now is the mantra of the day.

People just assume that if you want them, you will connect in another way.

I don’t listen to my voice mails anymore. Do you?

At least not from my desk phone.

Even technology companies are working the problem. My voice mail from my office phone automatically is forwarded to my email with the voice message attached.

In the big picture, voice mail is based upon a paradigm that no longer exists:

When phones were stationary, if you weren’t where your phone was, you couldn’t receive the call. That dependency has been smashed. Not only because of the mobility of phones, but also because of the malleability of communication.

You leave me a voicemail. I might respond via email, or if I’ve got your digits, via text or on a social platform.

SEE ALSO: My Scarlet Letter: 5 Lessons Learned on Customer Experience

Long Story Short

Imagine a board meeting of a new startup and you are the CEO. If you stressed that your new company was focused on customer experience and that you were going to implement a phone tree, how long do you think it would be before your high-powered board hired a new CEO?

Why is it ok for an existing service business to use the same tired old idea?

Your customers might be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt.

They’ve grown to trust you and your staff, to believe that if they leave a message, their request will be handled.

New prospects don’t know you. They are skeptical. If they don’t get a hold of somebody who can help now, they aren’t going to wait.

Your voicemail phone tree just might be telling new prospects and clients, “We don’t care.”

Our statistics* tell us that 11% aren’t willing to wait more than 5 seconds.

The clock starts now.

Good Selling,

Marty Agather

*38,231 calls to independent agents between January 1, 2016  and  June 2, 2016

image credit: giphy.

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