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"I Love My Voice Mail!"
Hints and tips to help you get the most from your voice mail

Voice Mail: a Love-Hate Relationship!

No matter what you do, you probably come into daily contact with voice mail. And whether you've come to love or hate voice mail - or both - more and more companies are using it, including an estimated 75% of North America's largest corporations and an increasing number of small businesses.

A recent industry survey showed that callers prefer to leave a voice mail message. And nearly 80% of all voice mail subscribers or mailbox owners feel voice mail improves their productivity on the job.

The survey also pointed out that the ways voice mail systems are implemented affects how satisfied both subscribers and callers are with voice mail. Although the information provided here is not intended to address all aspects of system implementation, it does address some of the most common problems people encounter when using voice mail.

Whether you're a voice mail subscriber, a caller or someone who manages a voice mail system, the guidelines and tips in the information provided here show you some of the ways you can use voice mail to communicate more effectively.

Voice mail is, after all, designed to help share information. So why not use it to improve how you interact with others.

Some Business Basics!

Having a voice mailbox won't change what you do for a living, but it does mean looking at new ways of doing your job. The standard business etiquette rules haven't changed, just how you apply them to how and when you use your voice mail. Print your direct voice mail telephone number on your business card. Advise your customers that they can reach you anytime through your voice mail and can leave detailed messages. call forward your office telephone or extension and/or your home phone to your voice mailbox by using traditional call forwarding or "Busy/No Answer" transfer call forwarding. Your most important consideration is to help the people who call you feel comfortable leaving messages.

Here are a number of suggestions:

Update your personal greeting regularly: Callers usually feel most comfortable leaving a message when greetings convey the subscriber's status. It's best to record a new greeting on a daily basis, but if you can't do that, record a new greeting every Monday morning, letting callers know your schedule for the week.

"This is Pat Perkins. On Monday, Feb. 3, I will be in meetings from 9 to 1 PM and will return your call by 5 PM."

In your greeting, let callers know when you'll return their calls i.e.: " by 5 PM today" or "within 2 hours" - and stick to it! Include information in your greeting about how callers can reach co-worker who can help them if you're not available. This is especially important at vacation time or if you're away for an extended period.

Call-forward your voice mail to another co-worker

In this case, the colleague should be able to answer your caller's questions as well as you can. Typically, this person should be a colleague with whom you work closely.

"This is Pat Powers. I'll be away from June 6 to June 19. While I'm away, Jack Martin at 777-7777 is available to help you."

Or change your greeting to let callers know that you will be unable to return their call until (date/time). Should they need assistance, direct them to a colleague who is available to take their call.

These are all the important basics to include in your greeting. But there's just one more thing: keep your greeting as short as possible. The last thing callers want to hear is a longwinded greeting that ends with "have a nice day." And remember, voice mail is not a personal answering machine - leave the courtesy stuff for the home phone.

The elements of a good voice mail greeting are:

  • Your name and the name of the company, if you wish.
  • Day of the week or period of time for which your greeting is valid.
  • The name and extension of a colleague who can provide assistance if you're out of the office.
  • Here are theses elements combined into an effective voice mail greeting:
  • "This is Pat Perkins. During the week of Feb. 3, I will not be available Monday morning or Wednesday afternoon, but I will be available the remainder of the week. I'll return your call within 3 hours. If you need to reach someone immediately, please contact Anne Martin."

Other ways to make voice mail work for you:

A good voice mail system can be set up to notify you of incoming messages on your pager, whether you're in the building or out and about. It should also be able to page you on receipt of every message or only those the caller has marked "urgent".

If this is not available, and you don't have an alternate form of message-waiting indication such as a flashing light or stutter dial tone, then you must check in regularly for messages. You don't need to check every half-hour - every 2 or 3 hours is about right, especially if your greeting says you'll return within a certain time frame.

Let callers know about the system and how they can use it to communicate effectively with you. Tell your callers that your company is installing voice mail so they'll be prepared to leave a message when they first reach your mailbox. Some companies even send out mailings to their customers prior to installing voice mail.

Answer your telephone when you're at your desk! Routinely screening calls is never proper business etiquette and having voice mail doesn't make it acceptable.

Use the voice mail system to send and respond to messages from others in your organization. Learn to think of voice mail as an abbreviated form of e-mail or memos - but quicker.

If you need last quarter's sales figures for a presentation a week from now, leave a message for the sales administrator requesting the figures instead of calling his or her telephone directly or going to the office, interrupting both of you for a non-urgent matter.

Use Broadcast Lists to send the same message or information to numerous colleagues with one telephone call.

Use Future Delivery to send yourself or a colleague a reminder in the future.

If you are out of the office and have a secretary or receptionist, they should offer the caller the option to leave you a detailed voice message rather than merely jotting down the caller's name and number.

"Thank you for calling Wonder Wool. To reach our sales department, press 1. To reach customer service, press 2. To reach an extension, please enter it now."

Auto Attendants: Blessing or Curse?

Automated attendants are one of the most misunderstood aspects of voice messaging. But they should not be confused with true voice messaging. In fact, the misuse of automated attendants has given the general public a misconception of the value of voice mail. In theory, they allow callers to route their own calls or get information simply by pressing a few keys on their touch-tone keypads. But in practice, they frequently confuse and frustrate callers by offering them too many choices and complicated steps.

Automated attendants are not appropriate for every business use. They should never be used for emergency services or hotlines unless you will be notified of incoming calls by pager and react accordingly. It is very important that you let callers know you're on a pager and will be notified of their messages and react accordingly. They're generally not appropriate in business areas that place a premium on personal interaction such as customer service.

They are helpful, however, in letting callers route themselves to a specific individual or department for routine information such as hours of operation or directions. They can also be used for certain departments or for callers who prefer to route their own calls in departments like engineering, or as a second line for callers who would rather route their own calls instead of going through a switchboard.

Many businesses have found however, that automated attendants are best used for after-hours calls only!

Humanizing Your Auto Attendant

Limit the number of choices you offer callers in a single menu. More that 4 or 5 choices will confuse your callers. And don't force them to wade through six menus before they reach the information they need.

If possible, tell callers how they can easily reach someone "live" if they need assistance. And make sure that number or extension is staffed during normal business hours! After hours, change the greeting if no one is available.

Give callers an option first, followed by instructions on what key to press to take action.

"For information about specific product promotions, press 3".

Let callers know what keys to press to repeat menus or replay information.

Your own system or a service bureau?

Automatically transfer callers who don't respond to prompts to the receptionist or operator. They may have rotary phones or may not understand the instructions.

Point for Consideration Private Bureau
Excellent voice quality Sometimes Yes
Many incoming calls as well as message pick up handled simultaneously? Depends on # of ports and lines leased Yes
High front end hardware and software costs? Yes No
Need to purchase, learn, install software upgrades? Yes No
Need to purchase, learn, install hardware upgrades? Yes No
Budgetable fixed monthly costs? No Yes
Private business phone numbers for mailbox? No Yes
Revert to operator when necessary? Sometimes, business hours only Yes, 24 hours a day
Alert by pager when required? Depends on system Yes
Toll Saver? ??? Yes
Toll-Free Access? ??? Yes

Once you decide voice mail is the way to go for your company, you may buy your own system or use a voice mail service bureau. Here are some comparisons to keep in mind: Voice mail is much more than just a way to get your telephone answered when you're not around. Thousands of small and large businesses use it everyday as an integral part of their sales and marketing programs.

Here are some of the ways you can use voice mail to enhance your company's "bottom line":

Info Lies: Potential customers, calling in response to your advertising, can hear pre-recorded information about your company or services.

1-800 Voice Messaging: Add 1-800 number to your voice mailboxes so that associates, employees, dealers or customers can reach you without incurring long-distance charges.

Voice Forms: Totally automated any "Question & Answer" function. Just record the question you want asked and the system will record callers' responses. Great for employment screening or simple order-taking.

1-800 Order-Taking: Tap into new markets by adding a 1-800 number to your voice mailbox so that callers from outside your immediate area can reach you too-free to order your products or services.

Automated Order Taking: Your sales desk is never closed when you use a voice mailbox to take straightforward orders after-hours.

Literature Request Service: Don't tie up valuable staff time handling routine requests for literature on your products or services. Let callers leave their names, addresses and specific literature requests in a voice mailbox and your staff can retrieve and respond to them as part of their regular routine.

Dealer Locate Service: Don't leave potential customers in the dark. They can call a voice mailbox anytime of day or night to find out where your nearest dealers are located.

Tele-Polling: A great way to conduct simple polls that require no more that 2-4 responses i.e.: "Do you prefer Soft Drink A or Soft Drink B? Call 555-1234 and press 1 for Soft Drink A or 2 for Soft Drink B."

Advertising Hotlines: Get instant responses to your advertising by adding an information hotline on material in the ad or unadvertised specials as a bonus for those who call.

Bulletin Boards: Keep present and potential customers up-to-date on your products and services by creating a company Bulletin Board in a voice mailbox.

Telephone Directory Advertising Expander: Put a voice mailbox number in your yellow page advertisement to help monitor inbound sales calls. This will help you identify how sales leads are being generated so that you can determine the best methods for investing your advertising dollars.

For additional information, check out the Voice Mail page.

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