Occasionally we all forget to change our voicemail message when leaving or returning to the office. I recently called a supplier only to hear, “I will be out of the office until January 6…” However, it was August! I tried pressing a few buttons on my phone: O for operator got no response, as did #, but * got a response–I was kicked out and had to try again from scratch. This time I listened to all the options, hoping for something that would allow me to reach a live body–no, if I did not know someone already, no one else would speak to me. Frustrated, I called another supplier to hear a long list of options that ended with ‘Press O for operator’. Finally! I would be able to speak to a live person! No such luck–the next message was ‘This mail box is full…’ I was in Voicemail Jail.
Automated attendants were not the origin of voicemail, as that has been a feature of phone systems for many years. Automated attendants are just a refinement of the torture, I mean features, of corporate phone systems. The purpose of the automated attendant is to:
* free a person from the simple task of directing incoming calls
* ensure calls are answered promptly
* provide an informative greeting
* provide options for a caller either to get information from the attendant or to reach a live person.
Unfortunately, too often the automated attendant will cause frustration to your callers.
There are many ways this can happen. Most automated attendants allow you to dial a local number immediately, but others require a particular number before you dial the local. If you are one of those impatient people (like me) who just want to dial a local without waiting for the long automated message, you will get kicked out of the system.
An overloaded system will not respond to the caller’s input. This results in a caller being unable to reach his party or anyone else.
The automated attendant is only as good as the information with which it is provided. If locals change, people leave the company or there is a reorganization, the automated attendant has to be updated.
If you do not know a local or a name and there is no option to reach a person if you do not already know who you need, then you are stuck. Pressing O brings the curt admonition that “You have pressed an incorrect key”.
The automated attendant is just the first hurdle. You have reached your party, but he is not in. If he is like the fellow I mentioned at the start, his message may not only be uninformative, but also long out of date. Some good guidelines for your ‘not in’ message are:
* Dating your message is good, if you are absolutely consistent in updating it. An appropriate daily message can be informative and makes you sound ‘on top’ of your situation. However, nothing makes you sound more foolish than an out-of-date message.
* Think courtesy, not platitudes–what would you say in person?
* Are you in or out? Callers do not want to hear that “You are busy helping other callers…” Just tell them where you are and how soon you can get back to them.
* If they cannot wait for you, give them another number to call. At least if they cannot reach you, they have someone else to call.
Lastly, what about the message the caller leaves–this should follow the same guidelines as the recipient’s message. A good message informs the recipient of who you are, why you called (in detail!) and how to contact you. You should leave sufficient information for the recipient to act upon, whether for a response to you or to proceed with your request.
Following these guidelines will help both you and your callers make more productive use of time. But best of all, you will avoid ‘Voicemail Jail’.
Freelance writer Dan Davies can be reached at [email protected].