Coca-Cola Ends Voice Mail; Handwritten Notes Next?

Look for the Coca-Cola Company to stop allowing employees to communicate through handwriting. Vendors who sell legal pads, white boards, pens, pencils or dry-erase markers beware: The company started cost-cutting by eliminating verbal communication. The handwritten word could be next.

Flickr Photo by taurussun

In November, the company announced it would shut down its voice mail system to, “simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to a Bloomberg story. Employees believe it’s part of a plan to cut $3 billion in expenses by 2019, according to the story. Workforce reductions normally accompany that type of cost cutting, so employees are naturally fearful of layoffs.

A spokesperson told Bloomberg the savings from eliminating voice mail would be $100,000 annually. That amount isn’t even a rounding error for a company with a market capitalization of $188 billion.

Losing More Than Money

The value of the spoken word seems to be declining. Businesses and society are demanding and creating a world that’s faster and more efficient. But the basics of human communication remain unchanged. Three elements are required: a sender, a message and a receiver.

We’ve all experienced poor voice mail messages. They can be too long and lack clarity or focus. But we’ve also benefited from excellent communication via voice mail. Coca-Cola employees and others will soon realize what they’ll lose by eliminating voice mail.

The tone of voice, speed of the spoken word and volume can provide essential information and insights from the message sender. Anxiety, joy, anger, excitement and other intense or subtle emotions are more easily understood from a voice—not text.

Sorry, but emoticons do not compare to the essence of emotion in a voice message.

Some Voice Mail Perspective

An executive director of a large nonprofit hated the idea of voice mail when it became a standard business tool in the 1990s. The president of the nonprofit’s board of directors was the chief executive officer of a regional telecommunications company. At a staff dinner, attended by the board president, the executive director pounded the podium to emphasize the organization’s customer service would be hampered because voice mail would allow or enable employees to not promptly return calls. If the executive director walked by your desk or mailbox at 4 p.m. and saw a one pink-colored message slip, he believed it was proof the staff member wasn’t doing their job.

Flickr Photo by Silas216

A few months later—after the CEO of the telecommunications company had a long lunch with the executive director—the organization decided to implement a voice mail system. Everyone wondered how would the executive director react if he walked into the office at 4 p.m. and saw a sea of blinking message lights showing voice mail messages that hadn’t been listened to or answered. The answer: Don’t enable the message light function and train employees to check the voice mail several times per day.

Today, the executive director would be overwhelmed by the type and volume of today’s communication. What would he think if he looked over the shoulder of one of today’s employees and counted 50 unread emails, dozens of texts, Facebook and Twitter posts and voice mail?

Today’s leaders must help employees improve how communication and information is processed.

Processing, Communicating Efficiently

Your best employees utilize many communications methods to be successful. Chances are they continually evaluate and use the most effective and efficient ways to communicate. Technology and data can reduce time spent on voice mail.

Technology: Google Voice and other free or low-priced software services will transcribe voice mail messages into text and send them via email. Reading the transcribed message can be faster than listening to the message. It provides some enhanced efficiency as the receiver can determine the appropriate response or action without listening to the message. However, the system allows you to access the voice mail if the receiver desires to listen for any nuances in the message.

Flickr Photo by DennisSylvesterHurd

Data: Most phones provide the length of time of phone calls. Employees can’t help but notice the amount of time spent listening to a voice message or time spent listening to a voice mail greeting and then leaving a message. The time adds up. Employees with good communication and time management skills will quickly evaluate if an email or text message would be faster and more efficient in the future.

Vonage, an Internet phone company, reported in 2012 an 8% decline in voice mail messages left on user accounts compared to the previous year, according to a USA Today story. Retrieved voice mail messages decreased 14% in the same period.

Remember the concept of the paperless office? It never really happened. People are still printing emails, memos and letters. However, technological improvements seem to be eliminating the fear of not possessing the paper document and increasing the ability to more quickly and efficiently retrieve the document.

The Challenge Question

The new calendar year brings an opportunity to review how your organization communicates with all audiences. Engage in a healthy and rigorous discussion of the quantity and quality of communication within your organization. Make it part of a staff meeting or a breakout session.

How can improved communication help your employees better serve your customers and enable better teamwork?

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