We’re asked a lot how YouMail works.  It’s actually quite simple:

  • Normally, if you don’t answer a call, your carrier forwards it to an access number, where their voicemail answers.
  • With YouMail, your carrier forwards your missed calls to an access number we provide, where YouMail answers.

This is done using a phone network feature called “conditional call forwarding” (CCF). Many people know that when you dial *72 followed by a number, all calls to you go right to that number, without ever ringing your phone. CCF is similar, but rings your phone so you have a chance to answer, then forwards the calls.

Different carriers use different codes to turn on CCF.   YouMail tries to figure out which carrier you’re on and provide the right code for you to dial.  (You can always go to MyPhones to see your carrier, your code, and your access number – and to correct your carrier if YouMail gets it wrong.)

Not super complex, right?   And for most people, everything works smoothly.

However, things can go wrong between the carrier and YouMail before YouMail ever gets the call – and that can make it seem like YouMail isn’t working or has a problem.

First off, carrier issues can “break” forwarding your phone to YouMail.

  • Prepaid Plans. Many carriers don’t let prepaid subscribers use CCF, and they’ll give you funky error messages when you dial the special star code. There are exceptions, though. One of the best that supports YouMail is Red Pocket Mobile, who are definitely worth checking out.
  • Locals Only. Some carriers, like Cricket and Metro PCS, restrict forwarding to local numbers. YouMail’s has only a few, shared access numbers, outside of these carrier’s territories – so the conditional call forwarding will fail. The fix here is your own personal local access number, so the carrier will allow you to forward it.
  • Funky Phones. Some phones, like the Motorola Atrix, don’t let you dial a code to forward, and they instead require you to use menus on the phone instead

Then, once you have the phone forwarded to YouMail, there are a few things that can go wrong on the carrier side.

  • Misbehaving CCF. Sometimes CCF doesn’t work as advertised. Verizon users in some parts of the country, for example, have reported that *71, which is supposed to forward all missed calls, sometimes only forwards some of them. So if you’re on Verizon and you’re having problems, like hearing your voicemail isn’t set up, you’ll need to do the *90 and *92 codes as well, so that all your missed calls go to YouMail.
  • Getting Lost.  When a missed call is forwarded from your carrier to YouMail, the carrier is supposed to provide us with your number – so we know how to answer the call and where to store the voicemail.  But sometimes carriers lose that information – and then YouMail can’t find your mailbox. The fix here is to get your own personal access number, so YouMail knows any call forwarded to that number belongs to you, no matter what.  (This is mostly a problem with Verizon in old Alltel areas,  and with some of the smaller carriers.)
  • Dropped CCF.  Carriers sometimes simply turn off your call forwarding settings. Then the calls go back to their voicemail until you redial the CCF codes. This seems to happen when they do maintenance on their switches or databases.  It’s incredibly annoying.  We’ve seen users report some success by calling their carrier and complaining – though we’re not sure what magic they’re doing.

The gist is, YouMail relies on your carrier to forward calls to us correctly.   If it feels like YouMail is having problems, there’s a very good chance it’s a problem with your carrier.  If you’re one of the unlucky ones with a carrier issue,  treat this post as a troubleshooting guide to figure out what’s going wrong, fix it. and enjoy a very good, trouble-free YouMail experience.