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Change Your Voice Mail Once and for All
by David & Lorrie Goldsmith

We love and hate voice mail.

We love it because it enables people to communicate with others even when one party isn’t available. Often times, getting voicemail is even more productive than talking directly to the person you’re calling, especially when you have to deliver a detailed list of issues or when you’re pressed for time.

You have the luxury of delivering a message that the recipient can replay whenever they want. They can also forward the message to groups or individuals involved in the project or activities.

If you’re making the call, you benefit from being able to shorten your on-the-phone time significantly. This is a real convenience if you’re running through an airport or on your way to a meeting.

What we hate about voice mails are the messages people use to tell the world about their lives. Do any of these sound familiar to you…familiar because they ARE you?
  1. This is Michael Lubrano. It's January 28th and I'm away from my desk or on the phone. Please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible. (Soon enough to please the caller?)
  2. This is Yoko Jung. Although I'm in the office today, I will be in and out of meetings all day. So please leave a message. (Thanks for sharing, Susie.)
  3. This is Kevin Cord, and I will be traveling for the next week so please leave a message, and I will get back with you. (Doubt it.)
  4. This is Sanjay Suri. Please leave a message or if this is an emergency please press zero to talk to my secretary, Jane. (So reassuring when neither ever seem to be in.)
All of these outgoing messages are blatantly wrong in execution. Callers don’t know when or if their messages will actually be answered. What happens on their end if they need your response before they can move forward on a project or to meet a client’s deadline?

The second problem with most outgoing voice messages is that people waste too much time recording them. Have you figured out how much time people waste changing their messages? By the time people are done thinking about what they want to say, have taken a practice run or two, and finally get back to some productive work, 5 minutes pass. That 5 minutes a day translates to 25 minutes a week, 100 minutes a month, and 1300 minutes per year…almost 3 full working days wasted just changing a message!

Here's the big question. Does anyone care what you are doing? Do others really need an update on the reason why you can’t pick up the phone? NO.

When someone calls you, they don't care if you're in and out of the office? They don't care if you're in meetings all day. They don't care that your pet alligator ate your prize stamp collection. Unless your whereabouts affect how and when you will return the call, THEY DON'T CARE, period!

All that callers care about is what they called you for in the first place.

Say that you need Maria to send the financials to you. When you call Maria, you just want to know that she's going to send the documents to you. You call Onder so that you can discuss an upcoming acquisition. All you care about is the specific element in the transaction. All the rest is, well, too much information.

And what about our third voice mail peeve, the vague promise of a reasonable call back time…

When someone’s outgoing message says, "I will get back to you by the end of the business day," does that mean today if it's 4:59 PM? Does that mean Eastern Standard Time, Pacific Time or CET time (Central European Time)?

We all know that the odds of this person returning the call that day are slim, even if the call comes in at 4:21 PM. And who do people think they’re kidding with the "24-hours" thing? Do Saturdays and Sundays count?

Callers are really let down when they get one of those "I'm-in-and-out-of-the-office-today" messages. When will this call be returned? Who knows? People want to know when they’re going to get a call back. Period.

Here's the solution.

Generate one good outgoing message that clearly satisfies callers’ needs for a desired outcome within a reasonable time frame. Then leave it alone. Don't change your voice mail every day; it's a waste of your life. "This is David Goldsmith. I return most phone calls within 3 hours. Please leave message and a phone number where you can be reached within this time frame."

Keep your promise. If three hours is unrealistic for your work day, determine what works for you and stick to it. Just be sure that you follow through on your promise.

Have a back up plan for times when you can’t meet the time frame. In our office, if David is on a plane flight for more than three hours, Lorrie will check voice-mail messages, provide what callers want and/or give them a time when David will personally get back to them.

Decide how to handle odd times. Will you check voice mail at 8 PM from home? Maybe it makes more sense for you add, "Any calls received on this voice mail after 4:30 PM EST will be returned by 11 AM the following business-day."

Leave out the garbage. Nobody wants to know you’re at your son’s kindergarten graduation. Nobody cares that you’re so important that you’re in meetings all day. Keep is short, to the point, and include only that information that tells the caller you can be counted on to return the call in a timely fashion.

Once you get used to using this method, you’ll find that in addition to controlling your time better...
  • Most people don't need anything in such a rush that three hours (or your promised time frame) is too long.
  • Callers will honor your time more knowing that you will get back with them.
  • You've saved a ton of wasted thought, time, and energy changing your voice mail.
  • Reliable back-up people in your office can satisfy most calls and will leave a message that the client has been taken care of…getting you off the hook.
  • Your work day will run more smoothly without all the interruptions since three hours means you can check your messages at near 11 AM, 2 PM and 5 PM without working too hard.
  • Your credibility with business peers will improve, because you’re telling people they’re important by being reliable about getting back to them.
  • You can eliminate playing slave to cell-phone interruptions while away from your desk by (not giving out the number as well as) directing people to in-office land lines and getting back to them as promised
Using voice mail can be a pain when those creating messages don't put themselves in the shoes of the caller. Show others that you are on top of everything by using voice mail more efficiently. You tell others that you value working with them and boost their confidence in working with you long term.

Copyright David and Lorrie Goldsmith. All Rights Reserved.

David and Lorrie Goldsmith are managing partners of their own consulting group. Their firm offers consulting and speaking services internationally. David was named by Successful Meetings Magazine as one of the "26 Hottest Speakers in the Industry." Jeff Gitomer say’s "David Goldsmith is unique in that he can see a 30,000 feet view of business and then delivers the hand-to-hand tools for combat."

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