'Wired' Households Pick Bell Atlantic Home Voice Mail Over Low-Tech Answering Machines

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'Wired' Households Pick Bell Atlantic Home Voice Mail Over Low-Tech Answering Machines

Surveys Find Online, Hectic Households Value Busy Line Answering Feature, Multiple Mailboxes and Worry-Free Service

September 22, 1999


Jim Smith,

NEW YORK - Answering machines are like Univacs in an era of Pentiums.

They can't answer a call when the line is busy. They can't deliver reminders to tell you "it's 4 o'clock -- pick up Johnny at soccer" or "it's 5 a.m. - time to get up and catch that plane." And they can't send a message to other phone numbers.

Most don't have multiple mailboxes for families or roommates, so keeping messages private is impossible.

So, in the hectic '90s, Bell Atlantic customers are trading up from plug-and-play boxes to network-based Home Voice Mail.

Ten years after its market introduction, Home Voice Mail service is proving most popular with families coping with hectic lifestyles and those that are early adopters of technology, according to surveys conducted by Bell Atlantic.

And while answering machines remain a formidable competitor, according to the data, the advantages of Home Voice Mail appeal to customers who rely on call-management technology most heavily - households that are "wired" in terms of both lifestyle and Internet communications.

Among customers surveyed, 82 percent have some kind of call-answering product, with nearly one in five opting for Home Voice Mail. Ninety-five percent of Bell Atlantic's Home Voice Mail customers report being satisfied or highly satisfied with the service.

But about two thirds of the total market still uses traditional answering machines, according to the survey.

"The high satisfaction rate of our existing customers contrasted with the purchasing decisions being made each day suggest that our potential customers may not be aware of some of the features that make Home Voice Mail a superior product," said Rich McCusker, director of Consumer Messaging Services for Bell Atlantic.

"The biggest benefit according to our current customers is the fact that Home Voice Mail takes messages even when you're on the phone. This is very important to families with hectic lifestyles, those using online services that tie up the line, households with more than one adult and families with high-school students," he said.

Reliability is another key feature of Bell Atlantic's Home Voice Mail. Because the message system is built into Bell Atlantic's switching system, Home Voice Mail works even when customers are without electric power, or when their phone lines are out of service due to storms or technical problems. Customers also appreciate that with Home Voice Mail there is no equipment to maintain.

McCusker said many customers opt for answering machines so they can screen calls as they come in, listening to the caller's message. But by using Bell Atlantic's Caller ID and Call Waiting ID, customers can quickly and easily determine who is calling without answering the incoming call.

"We also know some customers have both Home Voice Mail and an answering machine," he said. "When they want to screen calls, they plug in the machine and set it to pick up before Home Voice Mail does so they can hear the caller."

According to the recent survey of Bell Atlantic customers in New England by Market Research, Inc., lifestyle is a key factor in the

Home Voice Mail purchase decision. Those families most likely to purchase Home Voice Mail include:

  • Families with hectic lifestyles
  • Families that have moved three or more times in the past five years
  • Heavy users of telecommunications services, including long distance and calling features such as Caller ID, Call Waiting and *69
  • Early adopters of technology, including computer users and subscribers to online and Internet services

The survey also confirmed that the work-at-home market segment is more likely to purchase Home Voice Mail, including:

  • Telecommuters, representing 5.2 percent of the population base surveyed
  • Corporate home-workers, representing 23 percent of households
  • Self-employed persons who work at home.

Demographics indicate that families most likely to purchase Home Voice Mail are:

  • Headed by young adults age 18-24, family-formers aged 25-35, and trailing-edge Baby Boomers aged 26-44
  • In the middle and upper middle income ranges, earning from $30,000 to $100,000
  • More educated.
  • Have children present in the home, with the use increasing when the oldest children are high school-aged
  • Have three or more adults in the home.

According to McCusker, Home Voice Mail satisfies the last two categories because its multiple mailbox function allows callers to leave private messages for up to 4 or 9 people, depending on the service provided in your area. "This can be a key factor for roommates, live-in elders and families with teens," he said. "It also lets home workers direct calls to a business mailbox."

The mailbox function is also valuable to small business owners who order voice messaging for their lines. Simply by setting up mailboxes and a greeting, they can partition calls to "accounting," "ordering," "administration" or wherever to be answered later by the appropriate employee.

The surveys verified that cost is a factor in some consumers' purchase decision.

"Some customers ignore the benefits of our network-based product because they'd rather not pay a monthly fee, despite the convenience and reliability of Home Voice Mail," McCusker said. "While many people opt instead for a $20 answering machine, our surveys indicate that overall 26 percent of first-time purchasers are choosing Home Voice Mail, up 3 percent since 1996. This indicates that Home Voice Mail itself is expanding the market for call answering and is gaining on answering machines among first-time buyers."

Features of Home Voice Mail include:

  • The ability to send yourself wake-up calls or a reminder message for delivery at a specific time
  • T-Mail Messaging that allows you to send a message to the mailboxes of one or more Bell Atlantic Home Voice Mail customers
  • The ability to be alerted at another phone number when you receive a new message in your mailbox and are away from home
  • The ability to have your calls forwarded to your pager. Feature availability may differ by location.

Each customer receives an instruction sheet on how to use the features, and they can hear how to use them when they access their Home Voice Mail menu.

There also is pent-up demand, he said, with some potential subscribers apparently waiting to order Home Voice Mail when certain advanced features are available. These include introduction of a "universal mailbox" that would take, store and deliver phone, fax and e-mail messages that are forwarded to the mailbox. Bell Atlantic currently is developing this feature for introduction next year.

Bell Atlantic offers Home Voice Mail in 13 Northeast states and the District of Columbia. Prices vary by state. Standard Home Voice Mail services range from $5.95 to $6.50 per month and multiple mailbox Home Voice Mail services range from $7.45 to $10 per month. ( There are additional charges for features such as T-Mail Messaging.

Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With more than 43 million telephone access lines and nearly 10 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 23 countries.


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