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  What Does Your Voice-mail Message Say About You?
Written by Susan Hoekstra   
Following simple best-practices for setting up your voice-mail message can lead to great service experiences on behalf of your callers, and improve your firmís and your personal service brand as well.



The other day I needed to call someone. When no one picked up the phone, I was transferred to voice-mail and heard the following: ‘Sorry I didn’t pick up the phone. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you. ‘ I left a message, and when I didn’t hear back the following day, called and left another message, and yet another message the day after that, only to eventually realize the individual I was trying to reach was out of the office on vacation.
When it comes to service, it's the little things that often trip us up. Although I’m sure the owner of this voice-mail didn’t mean to create client issues, their message lent itself to do exactly that. Listed below are some voice-mail best-practices that if followed can provide our clients and colleagues the best experience possible.
Identify yourself, your company and your department: Let callers know they’ve reached the correct individual, at the correct company, in the correct department. This lets them know that they are connected with the right area, and who is taking responsibility for that message.
Let callers know if you’re not in the office: Because voice-mail messages frequently allow the caller to bypass the message by hitting the # key, let the caller know up front if you’re not going to be in the office: ‘Please listen to this message. You’ve reached … ‘.
Use dates in voice-mail sparingly: Some people like to change their message on a daily basis: “Today is June 14 and I am in the office.” I dissuade people from doing this for two reasons:
  • Firstly, people forget to change their message. On June 20, if your message still says it is June 14, it relegates your message to the inconsequential, creating new service issues.
  • Secondly, even if you do remember to change your message daily, at what time do you do so; tonight at 6pm, or tomorrow at 9am? If I call you before your message is updated, I’m still unsure as to where you are; whether or not you will be in the office responding to calls.
Therefore, only use dates in your message if you’re going to be out of the office for at least one day, and let callers know the date you will be returning to the office. Otherwise make your message generic: ‘I’m in the office but can’t take your call right now …’.
Let people know how often you will be checking messages: If you're out of the office, let people know if you are going to check messages while you’re out, and if yes, how often. If you’re in the office, let people know that you will return their call within 24 hours (or give them an even more aggressive time frame, if you dare).
Give callers an opt out: Let people know what to do in the event they have an urgent issue and need to speak with someone immediately.
Encourage callers to tell you what they want: Avoid playing phone tag with your callers by encouraging them to leave their name, number, and a brief message. In this way, you can research the answer if necessary, and respond with the solution.
Follow-through: Call people back. They’ll be more likely to use your voice-mail in the future if they realize you are responsive when they do leave a message.
Be professional: Your voice-mail message is an extension of your personal service brand, and that of the firm you work. Avoid slang, casual language and background noise. Speak clearly and at an easily understood pace. And after recording your message, listen to it yourself.
Following these simple best-practices for setting up your voice-mail message can lead to great service experiences on behalf of your callers, and improve your firm’s and your personal service brand as well.

Susan Hoekstra is principal consultant of Susan Hoekstra & Associates and author of The Service Journey. She has a proven 25 year history developing customer service strategies and solutions including strategy development, training, presentations, recognition programs, surveys, and contact center CRM technologies.