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Broken: Cell phone voice mail greetings, by Mark Hurst

Posted in Personal by Will on Monday, June 16th, 2008 ~ 11am

People have been complaining — justly — about this since 2003. Here is the complaint I share, written by Mark Hurst. I wish Sprint and T-Mobile and all the other cell phone carriers would listen to this complaint and get rid of the operator voice:

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.”

Beeeeep.

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.]

And just a note from myself — I find it haughty that the operator voice calls the beep a “tone” rather than deigning to call it a “beep”. If I wanted to hear her snooty perspective, I’d have called her rather than the person I am calling.

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