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It was only thought just a few years ago that an offering such as

voice messaging (or voice mail) would never be accepted because

it was missing the "human touch", or a live voice at the other end of

the telephone. Yet voice messaging has proliferated into a major

Telecommunications industry trend, setting standards in how

business and consumers do business.

Most people know voice messaging for the most basic feature it

offers: taking messages. Yet voice messaging can offer so much

more. For example, voice messaging to a remote pager is offered

on most systems today - should you be expecting an important

call, you have an option in the voice messaging system to notify

you via pager that you received a message.

The technology in this arena is moving faster than most users can respond with applications. And users are creating more demands on how much voice messaging is used, redefining the terms light, medium, and heavy users.

Basic voice messaging features include:

  • Basic voice messaging, or message taking

  • Auto attendant, or having the system lead the customer through a series of prompts, i.e., "press 1 for _____. 2 for ______"

  • Distribution lists, allowing you to send one message to a predefined list of individuals.


Keys To Remember When Purchasing


There are several keys to remember when considering purchasing a new voice messaging system:

  • Keep the overall design of your system simple to the audience you are catering to. Always allow your incoming callers an option to get a "warm body" by dialing "0". 

  • When using auto attendant, never give the user more than 3 - 4 prompt choices which causes only confusion. And try not to go beyond 3 layers deep with choices before the user can get the information they want, which will only cause user frustration beyond this.

  • Size/configure your system for ports and hour capacities to accommodate user needs and new applications short and long term. Voice messaging systems, like most other hardware, "cap" out at specific sizes. Ensure that the system you choose has the capability of growing "modularly", that is, having the capability of growth and new features, but only having to pay for it when you need it.

  • Buy a system from a vendor that has at least some marketshare. Like other industries, shake outs are occurring in the voice messaging business; not all vendors around today will still be around just a few years from now. By selecting a vendor with at least some marketshare, you will insure that parts and service availability will not be a problem 5 to 7 years from now. Selecting such a vendor can also assure the vendor will most likely stay abreast of new features and trends becoming available in the industry as a whole.

 Some significant features are available. They include:

  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) - Interactive Voice Response (IVR), or the ability to have a voice messaging system interact with a host computer, holds significant market share in specific industry segments. Banks and other financial institutions are using IVR for account balance information and other data vital to users. Compatibility/integration with the selected host is essential to the successful implementation of such a feature.

  • Fax Integration - Fax integration allows the customer to receive fax information through the voice messaging system. For example, a customer can dial a voice messaging system, hear a series of prompts for the information they are looking for, and the voice messaging system will ask for the customer's fax number. The customer will be placed in a queue, and, within a few minutes, will receive a fax from the voice messaging system with the information they are looking for. This feature can also be used for order confirmation of a purchase the customer made using Interactive Voice Response just a few minutes prior. Just think about the possibilities...

  • Text-to-voice message - The customer again, can be led through a series of prompts, and a computer voice at the other end can confirm the input via computer voice back to the customer.


Utilizing Your System


Here are just a few suggestions on more efficiently utilizing your voice messaging system:

  • Silent Prompt - take advantage of utilizing a "silent prompt" feature on the auto attendant. When listening to a choice of prompts, i.e., "Press 1 for ______ or 2 for ______", have preferred customers press their own prompt number that is only known to them, i.e., give them a "5" to press but don't make this part of your announcement. If the information you are providing the user is proprietary and security is an issue, then add a password after the silent prompt.

  • Distribution Lists - take advantage of distribution lists which will save you much memo writing and multiple user announcements when you need to send the message to several individuals in a department, or in a division. 

  • Replace Direct-Inward-Dial (DID) - in some applications, the auto attendant feature can be used in lieu of Direct-Inward-Dialing, saving substantial DID trunk charges from most local telephone companies. Your auto attendant announcement could sound like this: "If you know your party's extension, please dial it now".

  • Use Auto-Attendant/Fax Integration For Meeting, Schedule, or Class Confirmation - You can set up announcements that will allow users to check on schedules that change or get updated too quickly for traditional mail to be effective.


In Summary


Remember, you can make you and your firm available to the client and user communities available 24 hours, 7 days a week with voice messaging. Think about ways which you can better serve your customer community being available around the clock.

The only element holding us back from utilizing voice messaging, therefore, is our means of being creative. Don't be shy about using voice mail as a strategic weapon for you and your business. What have you got to lose?

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