The four most frustrating voice mail phrasesNancy Friedmanvoice mail, phone etiquette, professionalism
Voice mail remains a large frustration in this busy business
world, but it's not the only culprit. The automated attendant is
also on the list. In an effort to help reduce voice mail
frustration, here are the four most frustrating phrases that your
callers don't want to hear. These tips also apply to your cell
phone voice mail.
1. "I'm not at my desk right now."
Duh! That's a hot lot of news. What a boring statementlive a
little! Let your callers know where you are, not where you're not.
Tell them, "I am in the office all this week" or "I'm in a sales
meeting until 3:00 p.m." Let them know whether you check messages
2. "Your call is very important to me."
This phrase is a big time-waster. The caller is thinking, "Well, if
I'm so darn important, where the heck are you?" Then again, think
about it. Maybe the call isn't so important to you. You just don't
need this phrase.
3. "I'm sorry I missed your call."
How dullof course you are! (Although, there are probably some that
you're not sorry to have missed.) Leave this phrase out; it's a
given. Use the time and space for something more valuable, such as
where you are, when you will return, or who else they can call for
4. "I'll call you back as soon as
This phrase is not interesting, not fun, and based on Telephone
Doctor surveys, probably not true. The truth is, most people aren't
returning their phone calls in a timely fashion. If you are telling
your callers you'll call them back, make sure you do. If you think
you may not return the call, then try this: "Go ahead and leave
your phone number and I'll decide if I'll call you back or not."
(Just kidding!) Unreturned phone calls rank high on the frustration
list. "As soon as possible" is not an effective phrase. All you
need to say is, "I will call you back." (Then do it or have it
returned on your behalf.)
Remember to tell callers to hit "zero" for the operator if they
need more information. Or better yet, give them another name and
extension, even though that voice mail may come on also. (Then
you're into what we call voice mail jail"!) The main point here is
to offer an alternative if you're not there. Plus, you've bought
back some time to say something more interesting or helpful to the
caller. (Escape may not apply to cell phones.)
Let's talk about voice mail in general. Voice mail has three
parts: the automated attendant, the greeting your callers hear, and
the message you leave for someone on their voice mail.
The automated attendant
Although many refer to it as "the groaner," the automated attendant
is the voice that is a large part of caller frustration, especially
when you're not able to get out of the system (i.e. no escape).
Is there anyone reading this article right now who would argue
against the fact that the first voice you hear when you call a
company sets the mood and tone for all future interactions? Then
why on earth would you leave a robotic, monotone, dull voice to
greet your callers? The voice (or digital chip) that came with your
system has a number of options for you. You can record it yourself
or have one of your employees with a great upbeat voice record it.
Or you can find a local professional who will be happy to help. The
point is that you want a voice that says, "Hey, we're so glad you
called." You want a greeting that is warm and friendly.
The greeting on your voice mail
A reminder: People want to know where you are, not where you're
not! It's pretty simple: Leave an escape for the callersome place
they can get information if needed.
As for "dating" your recording with the day and date, you might
want to think twice on this. I don't say it's wrong or bad, but
there are too many ways to slip up and not record each day, thereby
making your recording outdated. And an outdated greeting was high
on the list of voice mail no-nos! You sound foolish and the caller
wonders what else you might not be doing if you're not updating the
greeting. I'd play it safe and not use a day and date.
Which leads us to the message that you leave for someone. It's
your electronic business card and it needs to be great.
Messages you leave for others
There are three kinds of messages you can leave: poor, average and
great. The message you leave for someone needs to be great. Here's
a sample of each. Which one are you?
•Poor: "Hi, this is Bob. Gimme a
•Average:"Hi, this is Bob at Acme Widgets.
Call me at 291-1012 ... " (said way too fastyou know exactly what
I'm talking about).
•Great:"Hi, Nancy. This is Bob Smith at Acme
Widgets. I'd like to get together to talk about the plan for the
meeting on the 27th. I'll plan on having lunch brought to our
office. I'm excited to get with you on this. I'm at 314that's
central time in St. Louis(314) 291-1012. Again, that's (314)
291-1012. Look forward to it, Nancy. If I'm not in, ask for Judy at
extension 42 and leave a message with her for me there.
Let's not make it any more difficult than it really is. Voice
mail can and should be a productivity enhancer. The automated
attendant was not installed to replace people. It was installed to
answer on the first ring and expedite a phone call. And it does do
both. That being said, it is still a big frustration in the
business world. Make it less frustrating for your callers!
Now that you've read this article, try calling your own voice
mail system and see how many of these frustrating phrases you use
... then eliminate them. Remember, check your cell phone voice mail
too! Good luck!
Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer
Service Training in St. Louis and will be an IndyMac Bank-sponsored
featured speaker at the NAMB 2005 Annual Convention and Exposition
in Minneapolis (see www.namb.org for details). For more
information, call (314) 291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.