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July 19, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: Voice mail greetings

Here's a user experience that I have grown to dread recently. It seems to get worse every year.

Voice mail in 1995:

"Hi, this is Bob. Leave a message." Beeeeep.

Voice mail in 2005:

"Hi, this is Bob. Leave a message." (pause) (pause)

"At the tone, please begin speaking. When you have finished your message, you may hang up or press one for more options. To send a numeric page, press star. Otherwise, fill out form 1040 and wait for three weeks while we drain all of your cell minutes explaining to you how to do something patently obvious that you figured out with no instruction the first time you ever left a message on an answering machine, what was it, 20 years ago? Anyway, here's the beep."

(pause) (pause) (pause) (pause)

"And just a reminder, you can still press one at any time for more options."

(pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause) (pause)


Of course, by then, I've forgotten what I was calling about and have to say "well, uhh" a few times before I get to my message... thereby making a poor experience for the recipient, too.

I'm not sure how this problem has come about. Is it because carriers want to...

- stuff more features into the voice mail program, and this is the only way they can think to do that?

- increase the average call length, thereby racking up more chargeable minutes?

- play the phone-woman's voice as often as possible?

Regardless, the problem is irritating... especially since we know how good, how easy and fast leaving a voice message *used* to be. There's no worse technology interface than one that gets *worse* in the latest version.

Who's to blame? I'd rather not play the conspiracy theorist, so I'll chalk it up to "just one of those things." But the problem is still there. Who, within user experience at one of the carriers, will take up the charge to bring voice mail back to the golden era of the 80s and early 90s?

- - -

[P.S. If this looks familiar to longtime readers, it's because I originally ran this piece in my Good Experience newsletter a couple of years ago. Oldie but goodie.]


Not gonna say it...

Posted by: first guy at July 19, 2005 12:53 AM


Er, hrm. Yes, well back to the subject now, correct? This same thing happens with my mom's cell phone when I call it.

Here it is exactly

Mom: "Hi, please leave a message."

Phone: "Record your message after the tone. To send a numeric page, press 5. When you are finished recording, hang up, or for delivery options, press 9. (Three seconds later) Beeeeep."

It may not seem that long, but when you want to leave a message with someone, it takes long enough to make you forget. My favorite part is "when you are finished recording, hang up," DUH

Posted by: Second Post at July 19, 2005 01:28 AM

this is hilarious. press * to go back.

Posted by: 4th Post at July 19, 2005 02:50 AM

are we talking bout cell phones? cause i know they wernt around 20 years back. (is everyone really this uptight about their minutes! what, u r.then why are u using a cell phone to begin with?)

Posted by: oblivious at July 19, 2005 03:20 AM

You would think that eventually they would place a "Press 1 to skip this menu" at the beginning. Of course that would be too logical.

Posted by: Metasheep at July 19, 2005 03:39 AM

I don't care about *their* minutes. I care about *my* minutes, and *my* thought processes. I've never used any of those features - stop telling me about them and just let me leave my message!

Posted by: ZorbaTHut at July 19, 2005 05:48 AM

On every system I've encountered, you can

press # at any time to get straight to the beep.

Still broken, but at least there's a (hidden)


Posted by: stan at July 19, 2005 08:04 AM

Ooooo, i'll try that. Of course, you could also say that people who have terribly long answering machine greetings are also broken. I am one of those people.

Posted by: Bob at July 19, 2005 08:37 AM

The worst are the ones that say "Hello, hello.... I'm having trouble hearing you could you speak up please.... Hello?...Fooled you BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Posted by: Joshua Wood at July 19, 2005 09:08 AM

One good thing about answerphones is that generally speaking, pressing # during the message will take you directly to the beep. I use this if I've heard the message before and just want to record. If I haven't, I'll listen anyway in case there's something different.

Posted by: Ciaran at July 19, 2005 09:28 AM

I could not agree more...this is so irritating! As if we had somehow forgotten how to leave a message or what to do when we are done:

"Ok, I know when to leave a message now, I know what to do if I want to page the person..I know how to check for more options...BUT WHAT DO I DO WHEN I'M DONE LEAVING MY MESSAGE?"

"...when you are finished recording, you can hang up or press * for more options..."

"OOOOH! hang UP! Thankfully they said something or I might have been here all day."

It's like they think we are stupid. And I DO care about my minutes as well. Especially when they are wasted on stupid crap like these recordings.

Posted by: Faolan at July 19, 2005 10:08 AM

yeah gonna agree with everyone who complained, What I love is for hanging up I have an option when I'm done I can either hang up or press ound, you know in case there are other things I need to do on the system.

//Misses the simple days of answering machines

Posted by: Vic at July 19, 2005 10:15 AM

Some service providers do allow the pre-beep instructions to be removed. Of course, it requires quite a bit of navigation in the "personal options" section. I have Sprint, and my voicemail is of the good ol' sans-instructions type. But my friend called his service provider (T-Mobile, I believe), and they do not allow for removal of the phone lady's voice. So if it's worth it to you to spend 30 minutes on hold to figure out whether this plan's viable, go for it ...

Posted by: Just the beep at July 19, 2005 11:14 AM

When you press # when calling my (Verizon) phone, it asks you for the password to get into the voicemail system. AFAIK, there is no shortcut key to skip all that garbage.

Posted by: John B at July 19, 2005 11:29 AM

# does the same on my Cingular phone.

Posted by: Ashley D at July 19, 2005 05:42 PM

BOTTOM LINE.....CELL PHONES SUCK...yes i am a proude owner of a cell phone..yes it is cheaper now adays to have a cell then a house phone...with all those long distance charges and all that extra crap that you are charged for like call waiting, *69, caller id,voice mail, and all that other crap the phone companies like to charge people for...but there are many draw backs to owning a celly

so this is the only reason why i own a cell phone, i would be dumb not caller id, free voice mail, free this and free that..and it is all inclued in my plan...

here are a few draw back to all this free problem with owning a cell phone...some can get a hold of me at any time...( thank god for the free caller id..), then of course there is tyhat danm text messaging thing...( ever try to read or even send a text message when your driving...) might as well grab a beer and go for a drive thats what the cop thats going to pull your ass over will not to mention ther fact that when you have a cell phone in the club or the bar make a person more apt to make those annoying drunk phone calls, to friends and family members that really do not want to know about how drunk you are or give you that advise about taking that toothless wounder at the end of the bar home but these are just some of the small things that annoy me about cell phones....

the thing that really pisses me that now adays all cell phones are equiped with a gps tracking system now...did any body now that???

big brother tells you that it is in case you get in to some sort of accedent in some strange spot where you should not of been in the frist place...they even sell a program now that can track your cell phone over the computer agin big brother gives a lame ass excuse for this program like it is for tracking your teenage can even tell how fast the cell phone is if your in a car going really fast ( witch should not done but by trained professionals..)but not only can the tracker see how fast your going, but they also know where you are...uhmmmm sounds like a great way for these lazy ass cops who just sit on the conner waiting for you to go speeding by, to catch you doing even ezer...

any way let me get to the point my rant raving..wasting your minutes on those realy long voice mail messages...are the last thing you should worry about...just ask your self who tracking you....????

Posted by: DJDAN420FL69 at July 19, 2005 08:22 PM

Mabye the New World Order? Or perhaps 911 when you call them after your car gets hit.

Posted by: cheeseman at July 19, 2005 08:43 PM

A most timely rant. I press *10 for a top grade.

In some Verizon areas (but not all, unfortunately) pressing 1 skips the menu for a Verizon phone.

I believe these long, unneeded addenda are a holdover from the time when only business customers used cell phones (those businesses including drug dealers and covert operatives, I guess) and so the phone companies wanted to simulate an "office experience", but have never modernized the options (except for Sprint) despite the changing demographic of cellular telephony. Now this notion is quite out of date, and ironically out of sync with the gestalt of the Verizon ads which emphasize the individual over of the cubical-dwelling office cog.

Another thing Verizon does that seems to be a great, if perhaps (but not likely) accidental, minute sink is the following when one checks their voice mail:

"one unheard message. The following message has not been heard. First unheard message".

It may seem like a little additional time, but with something like 50% saturation of USA phone users with cellphones, and what, 1/5 of those or more Verizons, that's got to add up. Smart, to be so repetitive. And redundant. And reiterative.

Posted by: Randyyh at July 19, 2005 08:45 PM

All your voicemail are belong to us.

Posted by: Tricky at July 19, 2005 10:02 PM

ALL YOUR CELLS ARE BELONG TO US......................................................................................................................................................................................


Posted by: 420guy at July 20, 2005 01:19 AM

I wish the companies could come up with a standard for SKIPPING over the message itself!

For some companies is the * key while the # key allows the caller to access the voice mail system and get messages...

For other companies its opposite. I HATE thinking I am skipping the message to leave a message and instead end up in the voice mail system. Just means I have to hang up and call BACK again!

Posted by: Send513 at July 20, 2005 10:13 AM

Send513: Heck, just standardizing the button to play the message would be nice. I've used systems where it plays automatically, as well as a variety of systems where you had to press a number to hear the message-- and of course, the number wasn't consistent between systems.

Same thing goes for deleting messages. Some services automatically delete the message unless you specify otherwise. Others require you to press a certain key combination to delete it. Except that no two systems use the same key codes.


Posted by: codeman38 at July 20, 2005 12:53 PM

Randyyh: YES! It's mildly frustrating to leave someone a voicemail message, but it's INCREDIBLY frustrating to try to check my own voicemail.

You call, and are read a synopsis of how many messages you have in each account. It seems to play things in the most broken order first: deleted messages, old messages, and THEN your new message.

Just wait until you're really rushed for whatever reason, and trying to see what the latest voicemail says.

Posted by: Matt at July 22, 2005 05:06 PM

DJDAN420FL69 wrote: "all that extra crap that you are charged for like call waiting, *69, caller id,voice mail, and all that other crap the phone companies like to charge people for"

I don't pay for any of those things on my landline.

Posted by: D.F. Manno at July 24, 2005 06:36 PM


I am your father.

Posted by: Darth Vader at July 24, 2005 07:30 PM

"Hi, this is Bob. Leave a message." Beeeeep.

Posted by: Bob at July 25, 2005 08:17 PM

"On every system I've encountered, you can

press # at any time to get straight to the beep."

yeah, because usually on every system you enter #{p-word) to access your voicemail

Posted by: Lyoko is Cool at July 25, 2005 08:30 PM

Wow, yeah, that really ticks me off too. Nothing like waiting 30 seconds for the opportunity to leave a 5 second message. Most of the time I don't bother. I figure anybody that doesn't have caller id doesn't deserve to know that I called.

Another huge problem I have is that I can't skip / delete a voicemail in the middle of listening to it (Cingular). Actually, I *can* if I check my voicemail from a landline touch-tone phone. Only if I check my cell phone voicemail from (gasp) my cell phone can I not skip / delete. This is a real pain in the butt if someone leaves a long message, or if you already know the content of the message because you called them back based upon your caller id. (I rarely check my voicemail anymore - I just call back based upon my missed call log).

Posted by: Michael at July 26, 2005 03:09 PM

in hong kong its like, when you have finished recording yourr message press the pound key(hash) or (pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)(pause)

just hang up

Posted by: kip at July 27, 2005 08:22 AM

The Voicemail greeting on T-mobile can be skipped by pressing the # key in 95% of cases. This is applicable to individual accounts. Corporate accounts may not have such a facility.

Hope that helps :-)

Posted by: Ricky at August 11, 2005 12:38 PM

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