RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When voice mail was developed in the late 1970s, it quickly became an essential tool for businesses, but in the past few years it has been in decline. And as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, some offices have opted to hang up on it altogether.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: After JPMorgan Chase said last week it was canceling voice mail for most of its employees, I sent their public relations department an email. A bit later, there was that familiar red light on my desk phone.
(SOUNDBITE OF VOICE MAIL)
TRISH WEXLER: Hi, Yuki, this is Trish Wexler at Chase. Ironically, I'm leaving you a voice mail about your email about the death of voice mail.
NOGUCHI: Wexler says the bank's chief financial officer was searching for budget cuts that wouldn't hurt too much. Limo services was one. Voice mail, it turned out, cost $10 per person per month and, intuitively, it seemed right for the chopping block.
WEXLER: You didn't even need a survey because that's how the world is changing these days.
NOGUCHI: So in January, JPMorgan offered employees who didn't need voice mail to interact with clients a choice to ditch it.
WEXLER: People started raising their hands. They started volunteering - please take my voice mail away. It's annoying. It's redundant. I never use it anymore.
NOGUCHI: The bank blew past its goal of eliminating half of its voice mail boxes and to date has eliminated about two-thirds. Across the whole bank so far, that's over $8 million in annual savings. Coca-Cola recently made a similar move, and only 6 percent of employees chose to keep voice mail. Voice mail, like the pay phone and pager before it, is on its way out. Sean Hakl is head of new products for Verizon's business division. Before the digital era, he says more than 80 percent of business lines had voice mail. Now, he estimates only a third of office phones have it.
SEAN HAKL: Voice mail's lost its appeal primarily 'cause it's very much tied to the notion of the phone and your communication being tethered to a physical thing or a physical location.
NOGUCHI: That doesn't necessarily mean the telecom giant makes less money. Hakl says businesses are substituting other newer services that they're using instead.
HAKL: You see a lot more people working on sort of collaboration technologies where you can share and exchange information in more social media-like contexts.
NOGUCHI: Paul Blanchard is managing director of an eight-person PR firm based in London. He says his company got rid of voice mail three years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
PAUL BLANCHARD: Hello?
NOGUCHI: Hello. For a minute there I thought maybe I wasn't going to reach you and I wasn't going to get any voice mail.
BLANCHARD: (Laughter) Well, actually that's a fair point.
NOGUCHI: Blanchard says even for a client services business, voice mail seemed unnecessary.
Any backlash to that?
BLANCHARD: Yes, if I'm honest. I mean, we do tell our clients that we don't have voice mail, but our clients forgot. And they said have you gone out of business? What's happening? What's going wrong?
NOGUCHI: He says the experience has been good for his business and not just in terms of saving on the monthly cost of the service. He says checking voice mail, with all the announcements and codes and prompts, took 10 to 15 minutes out of a day, not including the time required to call each person back. Now, with all that push to emails or texts, his workers are more responsive to clients and can reply during or in between meetings.
BLANCHARD: It's been one of the best things that we've ever done really. And I can't - I mean, productivity's gone up and we've just got so much more time.
NOGUCHI: Jessica Sheehan agrees. She heads social media for JPMorgan Chase and was one of the employees opting to get rid of voice mail. Everyone she works with already knows the best way to reach her is on Twitter, Facebook, instant message or text - even her mom.
JESSICA SHEEHAN: If my mom needs to reach me, she'll send a text being like, call me now (laughter) if I don't answer.
NOGUCHI: Sheehan, who is 28, says the demise of voice mail is part of a general shift away from more formal communication in all forms.
SHEEHAN: Even, like, responses have gotten shorter. I was noticing that with, like, some emails, like, from four years ago where I had these very long, like, hello, I hope all is well sort of, like, longer emails to now my - I'm much more blunt (laughter).
NOGUCHI: Frankly, she says, who has the time to spare? Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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