October 26, 2008

Beware: T-Mobile's Voicemail Paging Trap

Greetings. Longtime users of T-Mobile may already be familiar with this issue that I'm about to describe, but with many persons now moving to T-Mobile from AT&T to get hold of the Google Android G1 phone, lots of these new subscribers may be in for a disappointing surprise, especially if you use your phone for business purposes and rely on a clear and concise outgoing voicemail announcement.

One of the basic rules of human interface design is that you don't want to ever offer callers options that don't actually work as described. T-Mobile violates this concept big time for the overwhelming majority of calls into their voicemail system, and in a manner that could have potentially very serious results.

The problem is essentially simple. All callers who hear your personalized voicemail outgoing message are then offered the opportunity to send a numeric page ("press 5"). Unfortunately, this paging prompt is presented to everyone hearing your voicemail message, even when you have paging turned off -- which is in fact the default state.

This is more than an annoyance to callers who sit through additional verbiage waiting for a beep, it can result in misunderstandings and worse:

I entered my number for a page -- I needed to reach you right away! Why the blazes didn't you call back?

Oh, I have paging turned off.

Then why the hell did the system offer me a page and have me waste my time entering my call back number? Who designed that blasted thing? The Three Stooges?

Actually, that's unfair to Larry, Moe, and Curly -- I'm sure they could have done a better job of voicemail system design than T-Mobile's vendor.

This isn't rocket science. Don't jerk callers around telling them that they can page and then put them through the motions of entering call back numbers in a useless exercise reminiscent of the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland, especially since we can be sure that only a tiny percentage of subscribers ever actually want to use paging at all.

It's notable that AT&T Mobility does this right. You can always configure an AT&T cellular line so that if paging is off, there is no prompting for paging call backs. In fact, AT&T's cellular voicemail system can be configured just to play your outgoing message and beep without any prompting verbiage at all being added onto the end -- which is the ideal situation in most cases.

It's incredible for T-Mobile to operate a voicemail system that makes it impossible for them to avoid confusing callers with false prompting options and actions that are at best ineffectual -- and can easily lead to serious problems indeed when assumed paging actions never actually take place.

Achtung T-Mobile! You pride yourself on your customer service. But this behavior of your voicemail is sloppy, consumer-unfriendly, and in some situations perhaps even dangerous. You can do much better.


Blog Update (November 6, 2008): Official T-Mobile Policy: Tough Luck If You Lose Messages

Posted by Lauren at October 26, 2008 09:38 AM | Permalink
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