Voicemail Etiquette 101:
Tips for Managing Your Messages
By Kate Zabriskie
times has one of the following happened to you?
You call someone and get his voicemail telling you that
he will be out of the office until July 6th. The only
problem is it’s September 8th when you place the call.
You call a big organization but still can’t get in
touch with a living, breathing person no matter what combination of
buttons you push, and you’ve already left three messages and
received no returned phone call.
Someone leaves you a message, but you can’t clearly
hear her name or number. The only part of the message that is really
understandable is that the call is urgent.
thought up the idea of voicemail in the late 1970s, inventor Gordon
Matthews probably never imagined that more than two decades later
people would still be abusing and misusing his would-be office
types of encounters are annoying, frustrating, and a total waste of
time you probably don’t have. The worst part is they happen by the
millions every day and show no signs of stopping.
use a telephone at work, chances are you’ve been to voicemail hell.
It’s a horrible place, and unfortunately most of us know it well.
The good news is there are some steps you can take to stay out of this
Read the Book: First and foremost take a look at the book that came
with your voicemail system. Over the course of a year, you may waste a
few hours repeating whole messages if you don’t know the simple
commands for forwarding and rewinding calls. What? You’ve lost the
book, or they never gave you one? No excuse: Google it online. Search
for your phone model, and you will probably find the manual. No time
to read it? Bring it with you to meetings, on airplanes, the grocery
store – find a minute here or there to pick up a new tip.
the Quality of Your Outgoing Messages: If you give people
information that can help them help themselves, you will get them what
they need faster and save yourself time as well.
1. Identify your name, organization, and telephone number
in your outgoing message. Example:
“Hi, this is Karen Smith with Adcomine at 212-555-1234.”
State that you are not available and any other
important information. Example:
“I’m out of the office today, January 3rd.
I will be returning January 5th.
I will not check voicemail until I am back.
If this is an emergency or you need immediate assistance,
please call Bill Withers at 917-555-6543.”
Tell people how to leave an appropriate message.
That’s right: if you want good information, ask for it.
Example: “Please leave
a brief message stating how
I can help you, along with your phone number, and I will call you
4. If you prefer email, offer that as an option to
callers. If you have an unusual name or company name, spell out the
email address. Example:
“You may want to email me at...”
5. To cut down on repeat calls if you work in a high-volume
call area, state that you will return calls within 24 hours or
whatever time period your organization’s policy on return calls
If you update your message when you go out of town,
don’t forget to update it again when you get back.
If your system allows callers to bypass your message by
hitting the pound key, tell them that, especially if you have an
unusually long message.
Top of Your Messages: What frustrates callers isn’t always the
fact that they have had to leave a voicemail but that their calls were
not answered “promptly.” The number of times you check voicemail
each day will vary depending on your job function and industry.
However, if you have not told people differently, at a minimum you
should check messages once a day and return those calls. Here are some
other guidelines for making the most out of your message-checking
1. Have a pen and paper ready when you begin dialing.
2. Listen to all of the messages before you start returning
3. Remember that you don’t have to return them in the
order in which they were received.
4. Sometimes it’s easier to return calls when you are
pretty sure the recipients won’t pick up the telephone.
You can answer their questions on their voicemail and move on
with your day.
5. If you are super busy and have the luxury of an
assistant or some other kind soul, ask this person to return some of
your phone calls. This is especially good if it is going to take an
unusually long time for you to get back with someone.
6. Don’t save messages you really don’t need. If you
wrote down the information from the call, most of the time there is no
reason to save the original recording. After all, do you really want
your box so full no one can leave a message? That’s embarrassing and
Perpetuate the Problem: Are you tired of long-winded, difficult to
understand voicemails? Stop the cycle by leaving concise and
understandable voicemails. When recording a message, have mercy on
your listeners and do the following:
1. Speak slowly and leave your phone number at the
beginning and the end of the message.
2. Limit your comments to one or two subjects. Voicemail is
not a one-person show.
3. If you are rambling, for the sake of others and your
reputation, stop yourself and rerecord.
4. If you need action of some sort, state what you need.
Voicemails that simply say, “call me” are irritating at best.
5. If the recipient of your messages tends to fall into the
trap listed in the previous point, tell him or her, “When you return
my call, please leave a message on my voicemail to let me know the
status of the project if I’m not able to pick up the phone.”
6. If you are using a group distribution list that lists
everyone’s name on the message, read the manual for your phone
system and put the list at the end.
If people want to listen to it, they can.
careful planning and attention can free your time and help you view
voicemail as the useful tool that it is rather than the purgatory it
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