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One-way communication.


People generally think of communications as a two-way street. You talk to me, I talk to you.

But at Firestone Synthetic Rubber andLatex, and United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of New York State, communications now is a one-way street.

At both places, they "converse" without ever talking to each other.

The secret is voice mail. Firestone and UCP geared up for voice messaging with no capital investment and no equipment. They bought a service.

Jim Sattler is national sales manager for Firestone, an Akron, Ohio, division of the huge tire company. He was tired of waiting days to get technical support people travelling in one state in touch with sales staff some-place else. It made it difficult to help customers solve problems.

His solution won him Firestone's "Innovation Award" in 1987 and the thanks of his staff ever since.

Sattler contracted with an outside messaging firm as a fast, cost-effective way to kill phone tag and distribute messages without buying a system.

"My boss was skeptical," Sattler says. Four years after the system was put in, he would expect "a revolt" if it were removed.

R. Keith Penman, chief of operations for UCP, wanted instant exchange of

information among UCP's 67 sites scattered throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

Absentee Reports

UCP runs group homes for disabled adults, a labor-intensive operation in which absent workers create problems.

Penman set up a specal mailbox for absentee reports. Any employee who can't make a shift calls into that mailbox an hour before the shift starts. Then, supervisors call into the mailbox, pick up absentee reports, and make adjustments without ever talking directly to the employee.

In the past, Penman's people relied on a 24-hour operator-run beeper service. "Even if it wasn't an emergency, we beeped people for everything," he recalls. That was expensive as well as bothersome. Today that is all changed.

"Say I needed statistics on where clients go for day programs," he says. "I leave a message for the director of that area. He can respond to my question without ever talking to me."

UCP has 110 mailboxes, but kept beeper service for true emergencies.

Sattler can be on his mailbox at 7:30 a.m., leaving questions for salespeople, and have replies by 9 a.m.

"I like the list function best," Sattler says. He can leave messages with a predetermined list of people by pressing a single number. He also appreciates a function that confirms when a message is received.

The parent company liked the idea, too. Firestone now has voice messaging at many of its locations.

Franchised Service

Firestone and UCP use Voice-Tel, a franchised voice mail service with offices around the country.

Typical monthly line rates are $18 to $25, with discounts after 10 lines.

All the CPE required is a touchtone phone. Voice-Tel, using Centigram equipment, allows trunk-to-trunk transfer with the PBX for the mailbox.

Early on, some UCP people didn't see the value of voice messaging, Penman admits. They looked only at their own time, not that of others involved, especially secretaries.

"It also cut down on inter-office memos," Penman says. Now, one call can distribute a memo to 20 or more people, saving time and paper.

Sattler says people on the road are quicker to adopt the system than workers who see each other regularly.

He can't cost-justify messaging for the management group, but sales is a different story. Firestone combines its network with cellular phones and an 800 number to keep salespeople on the move.

Regional people, who rarely saw each other except at annual meetings, now exchange leads, solve problems, and share information on competitors' price increases daily.

Feuer predicts the next expansion will be fax through the voice messaging system. It will digitally store a fax on a disk, and a synthesized voice will "read" the fax over the lines.

The bottom line will be the same: one-way communication, with sender and receiver never actually meeting in person or by phone.
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Title Annotation:voice mail
Author:Harler, Curt
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1990
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