How Voice Mail Works

Voice Mail vs. Answering Machines

answering machines
Voice mail offers many more user-friendly options than answering machines.
Photographer: Pablo Eder | Agency: Dreamstime

Voice mail offers many communications advantages over answering machines, including the ability for users to check their messages remotely.

With the traditional answering machine, the user must be in the same place -- often literally standing nearby -- at the machine to retrieve their messages. The machine replays an analog or digital recording of a message, to which the user can listen by pressing a button.


Voice mail users, however, can listen to their messages anywhere using any phone -- landline or cell -- by calling a central number that lets them access their account. After calling the number, the user can enter their numeric access code to gain entry to their messages.

The advantages of voice mail over answering machines don't stop there, however. Voice mail also offers better security and privacy because of the numeric access code. Without the code, you can't listen to voice mail messages. With an answering machine, you need only push a button.

Also, voice mail offers more options for managing messages by using simple keypad commands to access various functions. For instance, a user can forward messages, sending a copy to one or more additional voice mail boxes operated by those who also might need to hear the message. Often, voice mail communications systems allow the primary recipient to record an introductory message when forwarding other messages, allowing the user to set up the context of the incoming message for the additional recipients.

Voice mail users can easily save, delete and archive messages, again using simple keypad entries. Voice mail systems often also incorporate caller ID features, such as the number from which the message originated, as well as the date and time of the call. In some cases, users can then choose to instantly reply to a message, especially if the person who left the message has a voice mail box on the same system as the recipient. Some voice mail systems also offer callers the option of paging the message recipient or delivering a message with an "urgent" protocol, both of which help the user receive important information faster.

Whether it's for business, home or cell phones, it's easy to see the many advantages voice mail offers for digital communications over the answering machine.

On the next page, we'll talk about the future of voice mail.