The telephone doctor: The five most frustrating voicemail phrasesNancy Friedman phone, etiquette, manners
As with many columns around the country in newspapers and
other newsletters, some favorites are repeated. This article in
particular is an often-requested one to reprint, so it is a worthy
repeat from a few years ago. Enjoy!
Not too many things are as frustrating as voicemail is today.
The following are the five most frustrating voicemail phrases based
on Telephone Doctor surveys:
I'm not at my desk right now.
Duh! That's a hot lot of news. What a boring statement that is.
Live a little. Let your callers know where you are, rather than
where you're not. Say, "I am in the office all this week," or, "I'm
in a sales meeting until 3:00 p.m." Let them know if you do or
don't check messages.
Your call is very important to me.
This 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
I'm sorry I missed your call.
What a dull statement that is. Of course you're sorry. (Although,
there are probably some calls 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, like telling them where you are,
when you will return or who they can call for more information.
I'll call you back as soon as possible.
This is not an interesting or fun phrase, and based on Telephone
Doctor surveys, it is probably not true. The truth is that most
people aren't returning their phone calls in a timely fashion. If
you're telling your callers you'll call them back, make sure you
do. If you think you may not return the call, then try saying, "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, make
sure you 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. (Hopefully, that person won't also be unavailable,
putting your caller into what we call "voicemail 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. (This technique may not apply to cell
Let's talk about voicemail in general. Voicemail has three parts
- the automated attendant, the greeting your callers hear and the
messages they leave.
The automated attendant
Many also refer to it as "the groaner." It's that voice that is a
large part of the frustration, especially when you're not able to
escape the automated system.
Is there anyone reading this right now who would argue against
the fact that the first voice you hear when you call a company sets
the immediate mood, as well as the tone for all future
interactions? Assuming not, then why on earth would you leave a
robotic, monotone, dull voice to greet your callers? The voice (or
digital chip) that came along with your system has a number of
options for you. You can record it yourself, have one of your
upbeat employees do it or hire a professional in your area to
prepare the greeting. The point is that you want a voice that says,
"Hey, we're so glad you called." You want a greeting that is warm
The content of your greeting
Reiterating a point that I made earlier, people want to know where
you are rather than where you're not! It's pretty simple. And
remember to leave an escape for callers by directing them to an
alternate source of the information they're seeking.
As for including today's date in your recording, you might want
to think twice on this. It's not necessarily wrong or bad, but
there are too many ways to slip up and not remember to change your
recording at the start of each day, thereby making your recording
outdated. And an outdated greeting is high on the list of voicemail
no noes! You sound foolish, and the caller wonders what else you
might not be doing if you're not bothering or remembering to update
the greeting. I'd play it safe and not use a day or date.
This leads us to the message that you leave for someone else. It's
your electronic business card, and it needs to be great.
There are three kinds of messages to 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. Give me a call.
Average: Hi. This is Bob at Acme Widgets. Call me
Great: Hi, Nancy. This is Bob Smith at Acme
Widgets. I'd like to get together with you to talk about the plan
for the meeting on the 27th. I'll plan on having lunch brought in
at our office. I'm excited to get together with you on this. I'm at
(314) - that's Central Time, in St. Louis - (314) 555-1012. Again,
that's (314) 555-1012. I'm looking forward to it, Nancy. If I'm not
in, ask for Judy at extension 42 and leave a message with her.
Let's not make it any more difficult than it really is.
Voicemail 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's still a big frustration in the business
world. Make it less frustrating for your callers!
Now that you've read this article, try calling into your own
voicemail system and see how many of these frustrating phrases you
use - then eliminate them. Remember to check your cell phone
voicemail too! Good luck!
Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer
Service Training in St. Louis. For more information, call (314)
291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.