We all know how frustrating it is to listen to a message that has been left on our voicemail but that doesn’t give us the information we need. We may re-listen to it and still have to call the person (if they even left the number clearly) to determine what action to take. We need to DESIGN our out-going messages (the ones our callers hear) and the messages we leave for others on their voicemail for optimum productivity. As a professional, this is essential.
Here are some thoughts on this topic (and believe me, it will increase your productivity if you take action on one or more of these):
- Your outgoing business phone should have a business message. Period. Make it clear you’re a professional. Note: If you use the same phone for your work and for your personal calls, which is not uncommon at this point, would you rather that your friends and family thought you were too formal and measured or would you rather have your customers, clients, students, community members think you’re too _________ (whatever your personal vibe is).
- Briefly (BRIEFLY!) tell the callers what to do. (i.e., “Please say your phone number clearly, identify the purpose of your call, and clarify the level of urgency.”) In the past, it was professional to indicate how quickly calls would be returned. In this day and age, given the number of ridiculous calls we all get, either don’t include the information on the time frame for returning the call, or indicate, “All legitimate phone calls are returned ASAR (As Soon As Reasonable).”
- If a person has an urgent message, can you or a colleague be reached at a secondary number immediately? Give the particulars if this is an option. Be very careful about this one, especially if you are giving out your personal cell phone number through your business phone.
- Tell how often you check your messages and approximately how soon the person can expect a response. Do not overestimate your efficiency. On my voice mail outgoing message, I use the phrase: “…As soon as is reasonable.”
- End with a brief closing such as “Thank you” or “As always, sending hopeful thoughts.”
When you are leaving messages for others, follow these protocols:
- Avoid leaving personal messages on a business phone. If you must, make your message as professional as possible. In this day and age, it is very possible you only have one number for a person and that is their cell number. Even if your message is personal, recognize that the person could be playing it back in public or where it could be overheard. “Use your head” (a phrase I heard often from my parents) when leaving the message.
- Identify yourself (“Hello, this is Mary Johnson from Oklahoma City” vs. “It’s me” or “Hi, it’s Mary.”) Explain briefly why you called and the level of urgency.
- Leave numbers where you can be reached and when it’s convenient for the person to return your call (or another way they could communicate with you). It’s especially helpful if you say your phone number at the beginning of your message, and again at the end of your message.
- Don’t demand to have your message answered immediately. If your message is clear, they’ll get back to you as soon as is reasonable.
- End with a brief closing, and remember to repeat your name and phone number (or email if that’s a better way to contact you).
One other idea to consider is this one: Mobile devices are fabulous, but if the coverage from where you are calling is poor, then your message may break up although you don’t even realize it. Assume that if someone hasn’t called you back, it’s possible your message was garbled. Then, go ahead and call the person again. It happens. I’m a fiend about returning voice mails, but if I can’t tell who called or what the message or number is, then I can’t return the call. I’m relieved and appreciative when the person calls me back (assuming it’s a legitimate call, of course!)
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