A little over a year ago I published an article in various periodicals and online venues like AOL called Leaving Voicemail Messages That Get Returned. Judging from the email I have received in the last year I have come to the recognition that this is a hot topic, so it made sense to me to do a follow-up on the use of voicemail, this time the proactive use of these hated systems in order to field incoming calls.
You see, people have long hated speaking voice-jail because they know darn well they will be banished to digital purgatory, never to have a return to their calls again. He who didn't read my first historic (gimme' some profs) article has become fed-up and won't leave a message, either calling back when he can bug you in person or giving up entirely. But this isn't what you want, is it? You're an expert communicator, not a call screener who hides behind voice-veil. You want the caller to leave a message that gets down to business quickly and makes responding easier than a closest to the pin contest against Tiger Woods.
How do you get it done? Well, there are a ton of tips I can recite to you about just setting up the system itself, but let's narrow our focus to just your outgoing message.
Do this stuff and more people will leave more relevant, easier to understand messages for you that remove the dread of responding.
Your company can sound like you spent a fortune on your outbound messaging, for just $50 per message with David Lawrence. Join AOL, Disney, Volkswagen, Gateway and a little auto glass shop in North Carolina, and make David Lawrence your voice.
1. Brevity is the Soul of a Good Message. When you leave your outgoing message, do you often find that recording time expires before you're finished, so you have to re-try? That is God's way of telling you that you talk too much. Get to your point quickly about who you are and how you would like the caller to best get a hold of you. An excellent idea is to provide an early means for the person to bypass the entire greeting and go right to the "speak after the beep" phase. That helps the caller abbreviate her time even if you are long winded in your message. Just a quick burr in my saddle: they have not reached the desk of your name. The desk doesn't have a personality and take messages. They have reached your voicemail system and need to be made to feel that this is the same as reaching you, at least as effective.
2. Establish Identity. "Hello. You have reached the voicemail of Karl Walinskas, the president of the Speaking Connection." That's not a bad introductory line, because it tells the caller who you are and what you do. If he is looking for the secretary he's got the wrong extension and likely won't leave a message for you. You can enhance your value by providing instructions on how to get elsewhere, based on how often mistaken messages are left for you. You will learn this by trial and error. If you handle all mutual fund issues and someone else handles stock options, yet you continually have messages left for you about stock options, you may want to leave "If your call is concerning stock options, you need to speak with Jim Smith at extensions 123." This can also point to an improvement opportunity in the main corporate system that may have routed the caller to your line.
3. Practice Polite Positivity. There's nothing worse than getting to the actual voice of a voicemail system and recognizing immediately that the person doing the talking would rather be somewhere else and really doesn't want your call. Tell me it hasn't happened to you. When it does, do you leave a message? Probably not, because what you heard put you in a bad frame of mind. So when you leave outgoing messages, write down what you want to say and rehearse it 3 or 4 times so it sounds natural. Sit up in your chair with your head held high and in your most optimistic voice begin the recording, and whatever you do, don't leave your message after an argument or receiving bad news. You won't be able to disguise your attitude.
4. The Human Option. No matter how positive you sound and how distinct and clear your message is, some folks, particularly older people, refuse to speak to an answering system. After you introduce yourself, the first thing you need to do is give them an opportunity to bypass your greeting and get to an entity with a pulse. Yeah, I know, your Admin Assistant will just take down the same message that the caller could leave, but for this group of people it puts them more at ease to hear a live human at the other end of the line.
5. Better Options. Voicemail systems can easily get filled with calls, especially for important people like you. If wading through voicemail messages isn't your idea of fun, you may want to steer the people to other ways to reach you. For example, many people leave their cellular numbers. Great in emergencies, but watch out, because many times you are out of range or your cell phone is off, so the caller gets ANOTHER voicemail system. I try to steer people toward my email address, knowing that I can skim my email far faster than listening to dozens of messages. The caller gets the added benefit of having written documentation so the information is as accurate as he wants it to be. You get the same accuracy benefit and the timesavings.
6. Tell Them What to Do. "You've reached John. When you hear the beep, you know what to do. Bye." Ever heard a version of that? Well, in general terms, they do know what to do, but in specifics-uh uh, doesn't happen. This kind of outgoing message leaves you open for everything from a five minute diatribe to a "This is Sam. Call back." You need to tell in specific terms what you want them to do to be the most effective and timely. I hit them with four instructions:
- Who are you
- What is your purpose and importance
- Should I return your call and when
- How and where should I reach you to reply
This keeps the caller focused and minimizes random soliloquies and rants. If you don't tell them what to do, they have the freedom to do whatever they want to.
7. Give Value. Here's one for the notepad. People are already in a declining frame of mind when they get voicemail because they wanted you in person. Many will walk away even after leaving a message wondering if you will call back, worry about when (if the matter is urgent), and generally have a hollow feeling inside. How about offering an option to get some instant value in the form of information in lieu of getting you? Examples…
"To listen to today's travel forecast, press 1."
"To learn the difference between a fixed rate mortgage and an ARM, press 1."
"For a quick laugh, press 1 for the joke of the day."
Get it? You're not forcing her to listen to this before leaving the message, but if the caller wants, she can access information from you in your absence. You're not just providing the final piece of a painful puzzle; you are now providing a service.
Use of these seven techniques allows you to effectively eliminate wasted time on the phone checking your messages so you get the ones you want without deciphering the whims of disparate voices that may not be relevant to you.