Voicemail is a waste of time. As Michael Arrington said (a while ago), “[v]oicemail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it.” I have no illusions that voicemail will truly die any time soon, so I have tried a number of ways to make voicemail more efficient in my office.
My main solution is voicemail transcription. I use two transcription services: PhoneTag and Google Voice.
If you don’t mind paying, PhoneTag provides excellent transcription, and it will e-mail you an MP3 file of the message along with the transcription. The web interface is a bit dated, but it works perfectly well, and I rarely use it. I prefer getting voicemails by e-mail.
To use PhoneTag, you simply set your phone to forward the call after a certain number of rings, instead of sending it to voicemail. PhoneTag picks up with your greeting, records the message, and transcribes it. You can always access your e-mails from the web interface, or you can have PhoneTag e-mail you a transcription, an audio file, or both. I prefer the latter.
If you wanted to, you could save every voicemail. I usually just delete the e-mails, but it is nice to know I have them sitting on PhoneTag’s server, if I need them.
We pay less than $20 per month for PhoneTag. The cost varies by the number of messages, but PhoneTag does not charge for hangups or messages so garbled it cannot transcribe them at all.
At least until free services like Google Voice catch up with better transcription quality, PhoneTag is well worth the cost.
I also use Google Voice, a free service. Google Voice is like having a personal switchboard. In addition to using it for voicemail transcription, you get a phone number, which Google will redirect to any other numbers according to your instructions. You can set it to screen all calls, certain calls, only pick up calls from a certain group of contacts between 8 and 5 on weekdays, etc. I use my Google Voice number for my “direct line” for this reason, and I forward voicemail from my cell phone to Google Voice so that they also wind up in my e-mail inbox.
The transcription, however, is horrible. Often, I get no clue what the caller was saying from Google’s transcribed version. I assume it will learn over time, but for now, it borders on useless.
For transcription, PhoneTag is the better option right now. But Google Voice may catch up, and when it does, its other features will make it the best option.