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Ubiquitous Voicemail is Still a Turn-Off

by Alf Nucifora

Unquestionably voicemail is one of the most effective communication tools of all time. Even though email has become the new communications weapon of, voicemail often remains the first point of contact between buyer and seller, prospect and marketer. It's where first impressions are often made.

Good Voicemail Demands Good Etiquette

According to the Voice Messaging Educational Committee, an industry group of leading voice messaging manufacturers and service providers, there are a number of simple suggestions that will help the caller feel comfortable about leaving a message:

  • Update Daily - Update your personal greeting regularly, preferably on a daily basis. If you can't do that, record a new greeting every Monday morning, letting callers know your schedule for the week.
  • Call Return - Let callers know when you'll return their call. For example, "by 5 pm today" or "within two hours"... and stick to it.
  • Going Live - Tell your callers how they can easily reach someone "live" if their call is urgent. "If you need to reach someone immediately, dial zero." Make sure an operator or receptionist answers the line during standard business hours. Callers transfer to a receptionist for a reason - they should not be shunted into a second voicemail box!
  • Lengthy Absence - If you'll be away from the office on business or on vacation and not checking messages, let callers know and tell them how to reach a colleague who is covering for you. "This is Alf Nucifora. I'll be on vacation from September the 2nd through September the 18th and will not be checking messages. While I'm away, John Doe at extension 1234 can help you."
  • Regular Check - Check for voice messages regularly, especially if you're out of the office and don't have a flashing light or message waiting tone to remind you. Never let the mailbox get full.
  • Answer the Phone - Whenever possible, answer your telephone when you're at your desk. Routinely screening calls is never proper business etiquette and having a voicemail box doesn't make it acceptable.
  • Messaging - Use the voicemail system to send and respond to messages from others in your organization. Learn to think of voicemail as an additive to e-mail or the memo. The beauty of voicemail is that it allows you to convey the tone of the message, something that's harder to do with the written word.
  • Learn the System - Learn how to transfer callers into someone else's mail box, or at minimum, ring their extension. When you receive a call that's meant for someone else in your company, transfer the call and stay on the line until the phone is answered.

Tips for the caller

  • Keep it Simple - Keep your message succinct and to the point. Repetition, rambling messages and small talk is infuriating to the recipient.
  • Leave Details - Let the person you've called know when it's convenient to call you back, a valuable courtesy for those callers who are traveling or always in meetings (don't forget to take different time zones into consideration).
  • Speak Slowly - When leaving your message provide all the necessary detail. Speak slowly because someone has to transcribe the message. Don't rush the information...particularly phone numbers. And, always spell out your name.
  • Don't Be Shy - If you'd rather leave a voice message instead of a message with a third party, but are not offered the option, ask. It's one less communication filter.
  • Voicemail continues to bear the brunt of much complaint. But, if used effectively (and proper etiquette is applied), it can provide immeasurable benefit to most small businesses. Unfortunately, most companies and their employees use voicemail as a means of intentionally or unintentionally shielding themselves from the customer. Instead, they should view it as a means of enhancing communications, a way to dialogue with customers and employees so that time is compressed, information is shared and everybody wins.

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