PPG eliminates voicemail at Downtown headquarters

| Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

If your call to PPG Industries Inc. goes unanswered, don't wait for the beep.

The world's largest paint producer has eliminated voicemail from land lines at its Downtown headquarters, joining a small but growing number of companies that are dropping a service that's becoming obsolete in a bid to improve worker productivity and cut costs.

PPG quietly ended voicemail service in October when it switched to an Internet-based phone system. Few of its 800 headquarters employees were using the system, opting instead for more convenient and ubiquitous technology, including email, mobile phones and instant messaging, spokesman Mark Silvey wrote in an email. The company has about 46,000 employees worldwide.

“The company determined there was a very low level of use (of voicemail),” Silvey said. “Many employees primarily rely on other technologies for communications.”

Instead of being prompted to leave a message when no one at PPG picks up, a recording informs callers that the person they are trying to reach is unavailable and that they should call back later or “try an alternative method to correspond.”

Silvey would not say how much money the company was saving by dropping voicemail but said it was “not significant.”

“The main driver was to streamline the work environment,” he said.

Other large corporations have ditched voicemail in recent years. Last summer, Wall Street banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. eliminated the service for workers who don't take calls from consumers. JPMorgan cited costs as a primary reason for the change, estimating it would save $10 per line each month by dropping the service

Large corporations typically own their voicemail systems, but they pay per-line fees to an outside company to maintain and update the technology, said Bern Elliot, a vice president and analyst at technology research firm Gartner.

Soft drink maker Coca-Cola Co. cut voicemail at its headquarters in 2014 in an effort to increase worker productivity.

“The reason is simple,” said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst in Atlanta. “We spend too many hours just returning voicemails and leaving voicemails. It's a zoo; it goes back and forth and back and forth.”

Listening to voicemails has become a waste of time for many workers, who have smartphones that allow them to answer calls, send texts, write emails and instant message while on the go, Kagan said.

“There's a variety of ways of reaching people,” he said. “(Voicemail) takes a lot of time, and it's yesterday's solution.”

Elliot cautioned that companies shouldn't eliminate voicemail systems without first analyzing how the technology is used and how best to replace it.

It might be assumed that workers who deal with customers need voicemail, Elliot said, but more companies are eliminating individual voicemail and sending voice messages to a mailbox monitored by several people.

“You do want to have a customer service mailbox, but that doesn't mean you want customers leaving voicemail for specific people because if they're on vacation or have been let go, the message could go unrecovered,” he said.

Other companies are setting up systems that automatically send land line voicemail messages to mobile phones or convert them to messages that are sent as emails.

“The processes that voicemail used to cover are being served in a variety of ways that are more effective,” Elliot said.

Alex Nixon is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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