The great joy of doing a consumer-oriented start up is talking with users.    That often leads to big improvements we never would have thought of.

The latest one of those is “voicemail receipts” – a smart version of the “reply by txt” feature found in many voicemail services.

The idea is pretty simple:

  1. Someone leaves you a voicemail.
  2. Your YouMail account replies to them on your behalf with a customized txt  (like “Thx for calling – can’t respond until 5pm”) and a link to their voicemail and caller ID.
  3. They can then play the voicemail to ensure it’s not garbled or confusing, share it (“Yes, dear, I did call the kid’s karate instructor – here’s a copy of the message I left”), and even update their caller ID for future calls, so you’ll know it’s them.

We thought this idea was really cool.  But before rolling it out, we really wanted to know what users thought.

So we started testing in January to a steadily growing set of users.   And we’ve gotten almost universally positive feedback, with many users telling us it should be the default YouMail behavior (as well as providing us a long list of ways to improve it).  We also received great feedback from callers – with a huge number of them choosing to “Always get receipts”.   In fact, our test was so positively received that the main complaints were users asking why their friends had them and they didn’t.

And the biggest surprise?   We’re now seeing callers tweeting their receipts!

As a result, we’re now steadily rolling receipts out to all our YouMail users, and making it a default feature of YouMail.   Of course, we’re also sending an e-mail to each user explaining it and providing an easy one click way to customize receipts or turn them off.

As you might imagine, even though our terms of service let us change YouMail from time to time, we’re pretty cautious about modifying the basic service (the behaviors users get by default).

Take “smart greetings”, for example, which greets callers by name.   That’s now YouMail’s default greeting,  but it wasn’t always that way.   We started with them as an optional feature, but based on positive user feedback turned them on for everyone (after notifying our users).  We had a few users who thought it violated their privacy since YouMail said their name, and left YouMail, even though they could turn it off any time and had full control.  The lesson learned: you can’t please everyone But it’s pretty clear that was the right decision, given that’s now one of our most popular features.

And so it goes with receipts.  During testing, we’ve had a very small percentage of users asking us never to send receipts (a request that is easy to satisfy and we absolutely honor).  But 99%+ of our users and their amazed and pleased callers have spoken: YouMail’s voicemail receipts have real value and should be the default.

So enjoy!   And tell us what you think – we never know where the next great idea will come from.