What Is a Digital Answering System?

Digital answering systems are used in both homes and businesses to accept calls and receive messages.
A cordless phone with a digital answering system.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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A digital answering system, also referred to as a digital answering machine, is an electronic device connected to a telephone that accepts incoming messages from callers and stores the information in a digital memory chip rather than on a tape. When someone calls a telephone number, and no one is available to answer, the system will accept the call and allow the user to record a message. That message can later be replayed by the owner of the telephone number. Voicemail is a type of virtual answering system, but is not technically a digital system.

Peole may use digital answering systems at home or at the office. When used at home, they may come as part of the base unit of a cordless or corded phone, or they may be purchased separately. The user can usually record a custom outgoing greeting that callers will hear before they can leave a message, or the answering system will provide a number of standardized greeting choices. Systems for home use often come with a number of handsets with smaller base stations that can be used around the house.


A digital answering system at home may have the capability of creating different mailboxes for different users. For instance, a caller might be instructed to press one to leave a message for Jim or press two to leave a message for Jessica. This type of answering system can be beneficial for large families where members each receive many messages. Some may only be used with one telephone line, but others are able to accept incoming calls from two or more telephone lines.

In the office, the answering system is often called "voice mail" and will likely encompass the entire office, where each employee will have an extension at which a message can be left. Each employee is usually instructed to record his or her own greeting, and to regularly check the messages on the machine. In addition, employees record out of office messages when they are going on vacation or taking a leave of absence.

In each instance, a digital answering system will be able to indicate a new message with a beeping sound, a flashing light, or a number that shows the amount of waiting messages. Many answering systems can be accessed while away from home, simply by calling one's own phone number and entering a code. The system will then play the messages over the phone, while keeping them stored on the machine at home for later access.


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Post 3

My parents really need to get a cordless digital answering system for their home. It's pretty unbelievable, but they are actually still using an answering machine with a tape! They've had the machine for years, and it's definitely on its last leg. However, they just won't give it up!

It's very inconvenient for anyone who wants to call them, because the tape fills up fairly quickly. And then they forget to check their messages and rewind the tape. Maybe one of these days I'll convince them to join the rest of us in the 21st century!

Post 2

@sunnySkys - It sounds like you worked for a pretty disorganized office! Most offices specifically designate someone to check the voicemail for a certain department. It also sounds like your boss made the mailbox system needlessly complicated!

I think it's interesting that cell phone voicemail isn't technically a digital answering system! That's the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of digital answering systems, because I haven't had anything like a cordless phone digital answering system in years! I've been exclusively using my cell phone for quite some time now.

Post 1

We had a pretty complicated digital phone answering system at the last office I worked in. You could leave a message for specific people, for the sales team, or for a customer service representative.

However, it was a small insurance office, so everyone did sales as well as customer service. So no one was ever sure who was supposed to be responding to the voice mail system! Sometimes everyone would check each voice mailbox, and then multiple people would call back the same customer. But sometimes no one would check, and customer would be upset because no one got back to them! It was a mess.

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