With small businesses with less than 5 employees increasing from less than 15 million in the early nineties, to over 25 million today, the small business environment has never been more competitive. And, with 80% of callers that are sent to voice mail hanging up (Fortune 2006), small businesses that continue to depend on it are committing suicide. Even USA TODAY, last year reported the first ever decline in voice mail. Vonage, who conducted the study, suggests the exodus is being led by younger users, tired with the voice mail prompt experience, instead opting for a text message when someone doesn’t answer.
This doesn’t quite work as well for small businesses. When a potential customer calls your business, that means they are ready to potentially purchase your product or engage your services and they want to talk with someone, not get a voice mail. In today’s digital world, they are more likely to call the next company in the search engine results page (SERP), if they are sent to voice mail.
Small businesses have been somewhat reluctant to embrace answering services because of cost and reputation. Phone answering services in general have a bad reputation and rightly so as they require a human interaction with, until now, complex telecommunications systems. With the end of the public telephone circuit switch network in site, new entrants in the answering service industry are appearing, that are less expensive and have functionality not previously available with answering services that built their systems on top of the legacy public phone system. These new companies have built their platforms on top of the new voice over Internet protocol or VOIP network that is slated to completely replace the legacy public phone system by 2018. These next generation answering service companies have mobile apps where you can update your availability to receive transferred calls in real time and they can sync with your online calendar so it appears as though the receptionist is in your office when they answer the phone. Many are offering their service for less money than your monthly cellular bill.
It is easy to envision a tipping point in the near future where no small business that is serious about surviving, uses voice mail.