Why does voicemail think we’re stupid?

I’ve been having problems with my phone system and am looking for a voicemail systems that lets me receive voice and fax messages by email, web, or phone. I’ve been trying different services and marveling at how uniformly they present a lousy experience for the caller.

The best I’ve found so far is one I’ve been trying for the last few days. Here’s how it sounds to get my voicemail:


My voice: “Hi, This is Stever. Please leave a message.”
Pleasant voice cuts in: “To leave a message, press 1. To leave a fax, press the send button on the fax machine. To end this call, hang up.”

If you then wait, assuming you can leave a voicemail by waiting, instead it goes right into a FAX receive and starts squealing in your ear.

If you press 1 to leave a voice message, you hear:
Pleasant voice: “Begin recording after the tone. When finished, hang up or press pound for more options.”


Now let’s think about this for a moment.

First off, the prompts are dumb. Anyone calling me can tell the difference between me and voicemail. If not, I want to know! After all, if my voicemail system seems more alive than I do, my therapist should give me a refund. So let’s not tell people to press 1 to leave a message. Let’s just give them a beep. If they don’t know the beep means “start speaking,” they probably aren’t someone I want to talk to. After all, as a liberal elitist New England intellectual, I have my standards.

Astonishingly enough, four out of five of my callers also know that to end a call, they can hang up. Yet the system feels obliged to mention this twice. Did the founder have an early life tragedy, where a beloved Aunt starved to death on the phone, not able to figure out how to end the call? If so, maybe they should donate 10% of MaxEmail’s profits to education. Fix the problem at the source… that’s my motto!

Remember mechanical answering machines? By the early 90s, no one said “leave a message at the tone any more.” In fact, “You know what to do!” followed by the beep worked quite nicely.

Somehow, when voicemail come into being, the creators decided we’d all turned stupid. Wrong-o. We know how to speak after the tone. And if anything’s stupid, it’s a machine that requires me to press 1 so it can tell the difference between a fax tone and a human being; I can buy a $5 plastic doo-hicky at Radio Shack that can do that!

If you know of a voicemail system that takes phone and fax messages, delivers them via phone and email, and lets me have a short, simple recording, please let me know. It should be child’s play for a company that understanding how people use their system.

Why does voicemail think we’re stupid?

read time: 2 min
0