No one uses voicemail in India and the concept of missed calls

As you might have read, cell phones are being adopted at an incredible pace in India. My own observation: everyone has a cell phone and is always using it. One thing I realized very soon after getting to India was that no one has voice mail for their cell phone. And people don’t even get the concept of voicemail and its advantages. After vigorously evangelizing voicemail for a few days, I started getting used to not having voicemail, and even appreciating the advantages of not having voicemail.

Gleaned from my various discussions about voicemail, the Indian point of view seems to be:

-You can always send a SMS instead of a voicemail.
-SMS is less intrusive, people can respond if and when they want to. Or not respond.
-When people make a call, they want to talk to you directly – they are looking for synchronous voice communication. Voicemail does not help with that – even a long, chatty message does not. You might as well SMS and set up a time to talk.

What this means. When you get a call, you know that someone chose to call instead of SMS. So people take calls in the middle of conversations or at times when it would be considered rude to do so in the US. What this also means: you are not having to go through a voice message backlog multiple times a day – no navigating long phone menus.

And then there is the whole concept of “missed calls“. Missed calls are when you call someone you know, you let it ring only once or twice, and then cut the call. This is generally between people who talk regularly and a missed call conveys a pre-set message. For example, a wife might give her husband a missed call at the end of the work-day to convey that she is heading home and that its time to meet up. Or someone might give a missed call to a friend they commute with indicating that its time to pick him up. Or a student might give a missed call to her parents – so that the parents can call back (that way the parents incur the cell phone charges). People evolve elaborate signals through missed calls: one ring might mean they are heading home, two rings might mean they are running late.

Sitting at the Uzanto Delhi offices, I would often hear a ring or two on someone’s phone, they would look at the phone and then continue what they were doing. In many ways its a brilliant system: its communication without explicit communication. What the missed call means seems to depend on who it is from, time of day, and number of rings. I wonder if cell phone providers can build some type of an offering that facilitates this?

14 thoughts on “No one uses voicemail in India and the concept of missed calls

  1. Yes, this is so india voicemail did not really take up…I had riends who setup their voicemail…first it ws v expensive, u pay evrytime to retrieve a messgae (that was how it cost the..i don’t know now)…and most people wre nt comfortable leaving their voice messages see people do not use answering machines half of them never recorded their messages…rather they wud tell later..hey called is easier to send sms to pass ur message. it is usual to get messages like…hey call me wen u see this message. It is urgent. :)

    Professionalism is setting in gradually..people do not know take calls in middle of meetings or conversation..rather sum of them stealthily message back..i m in a meeting..will get back back to you soon…:)

  2. Incoming calls are free in India.

    Voicemail is very expensive. First, you pay to receive the message, then to hear the message and finally you have to call back.

    There are also technical reasons why voicemail is not popular. As soon as voicemail is activated one starts ‘missing’ lots of regular calls when they should not be. Calls get routed to your voicemail box and you have to pay to get the messages.

    Voicemail is very profitable for telecom companies. Telecom companies get to charge you for calls that would otherwise be free. Voicemail frees up their network bandwidth to carry paid outgoing calls and this triples their peak hour revenues.

    My wife activated voicemail once for a few months. I had to call 3-4 times to get across to her. Both our cell phone bills skyrocketed. Once started it is very difficult to stop these services – “you have to come to our office and fill up some forms”. Finally we just switched service providers.

    I will resist using voicemail as long as I can.

  3. Well I actually came across this post when I googled (haha I still get a spell check underline on googled) “Indians don’t use voice mail”.
    I was thinking, even in office where voicemail is set up for everyone, no one leaves messages. If you think about it even answering machines did not take off in India. So I don’t think its just the cost. There might be some interesting cultural aspect that we are missing out.
    But I was also thinking about rural India, do you think the trend might be different there? Considering a large subset of them are illiterate and thus don’t have the option of SMS.

  4. Wel i wud just lyk to say. I thnk we indians are diffrent from the entire world with our tastes and prefrences, i am a marketing students and i have come acros many cases where mnc’s had to adjust to indian tastes and they are earning millions. A few examples are when in 1991 pepsi and coke came to india and itroduced the famous soft drinks and lays. They had to name it leher pepsi so that people were comfortable with it and thougt it was an indian brand. Another very important example is mc donalds. When mc donalds came to india the hadnt researchd the indian marke which resultd in heavy loses, so they had to re-analise and make special burgerz for india like aloo tikki burger. Etc india is the only country ul get these kinda burgerz at such a cheap rate. Cuz of ths policy they turnd india in the no1 mc donalds market earng the max profit. There are a lot of points.
    Wel my point is until a difrent aproch is taken up for indian market acording to our taste, nd heavy marketing is done. Voice mail wil never be successful

  5. Nice reading the blog… on this voice mail. I am currently thinking of marketing Voice Mail and Answering Machine products in India. I think there is a great potential.

    Just wondering how to create a need.

  6. Really interesting comments on why Voice mail service has not picked up in India which is a norm in west.

  7. It is very good and clear topic, I too had questions on why not voice messages in indoa. now this posting and its comments made me clear.

  8. Hi, can you tell me what is voice mail box as i called my frnd in aruba island i always got voice mailbox & dedute money same as call cost…..anyone expalin about voice mail box its people set voice mail box if he or she dont want to pick sm calls or its automatic set if we cant reach that no. etc..

  9. I personally find missed calls very rude . Also one more reason for voicemail not being popular is how complex is in India. In some countries you have just to press one button and you will receive voicemail messages which will play one after another . It’s simple. Here for example I am using airtel you have call one number and then it will give you lots of number to dial to retrive voice mail . It’s so irritating.

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