Voicemail Hell and How to Break Out
I read a report that really surprised me, but when I thought about it, the numbers made perfect sense. A study had been done on voicemail habits and it found that 80% of the calls being made in the workplace today go to voicemail. 80%. The stat is for office phone numbers only and not cell phones.
I talk about this stat in my Talk Like a Leader presentations and I tell the group I’m speaking to that if somebody was to guarantee that in every horse race there would be one grey horse and the grey horse would win 80% of the time, I’d bet the grey and get rich because I knew the odds were in my favour.
Why is then when people call somebody and get voicemail, they’re surprised and aren’t prepared to leave a message that will make their call worthwhile to themselves and the person they’re calling?
Here are a few simple, but effective things to remember when using voicemail.
Using Voicemail as a Crutch
Let me say right up front that a big part of voicemail use today is that people in the workplace have learned how to use it as a screening device. They leave it on almost all the time and even when they’re in their office and not involved in something important, they still let the call roll over to voicemail and then make the decision when they’ll return the call, if at all.
There are some who will call this effective time management because it allows the person receiving the call to focus on a particular task and then return calls when it’s the best time for them. I get it, but I also think it’s rude to the person making the call not to take it when given the opportunity. It’s also a highly ineffective form of communication. If the person took the call and dealt with whatever issue the person on the other end wanted to discuss, then at least something positive would have been accomplished. If the person in the office lets the call go to voicemail and then calls back later in the day, chances are they’ll get also get voicemail. The vicious cycle of getting little accomplished will continue.
If I had people working for me I would tell them to take calls every time they have the opportunity. It shows anyone making the call that the employee and the organization are responsive and normally results in things getting done a lot quicker.
We all know people however who rarely seem to take a call in their office. I don’t think we can do anything to change them so find another way to communicate, perhaps through email or text. Keep calling though and leave a quick voicemail to let them know you’ll send details by email and would like a response by a certain time. Then send a quick email with a few details.
Like a Girl Scout – Be Prepared
Let’s now deal with the 80% of calls that go to voicemail. The most important thing to understand is, there’s an eight in ten chance you will have to leave a message, so prepare what you want to say BEFORE you pick up the phone. That’s right before.
If 80% of calls go to voicemail why is it that people seem so surprised to get it? You’ve heard the message that starts like this “Ahhhhhhhh, hi it’s Bill…..ahhhhh…….look I would….I would like to set up a ………..” You get the idea.
Before you pick up the phone think about the message you want to leave if (and maybe when) you get voicemail. If you’ve never met the person you’re calling they will form an immediate opinion of you based on your voicemail. Changing your voice is difficult, but you can change your delivery, pacing and content of your message with some preparation. If you’re hoping to get a meeting with somebody you’ve never met and stumble through your message, good luck getting that appointment. However, if you leave a really effective voicemail you stand a better chance.
Let’s face it, we all make opinions of people through voicemail messages, including people we’ve met and perhaps have known for years. A voicemail is a form of communication and the way we communicate shapes opinions, especially when people have no picture of what we look like as we leave the message, because they only have the audio to listen to.
This is How We Do It
The next time you pick up the phone to make a business call, here are five things to remember:
Before you make the call, think about the message you want to leave if you get voicemail. A study I saw said the best length of time for a voicemail message was around 14 seconds – just long enough to leave critical information and not too long to bore anyone. There’s nothing wrong with practicing before you make the call to ensure you have it right.
Now that you know your message should be around 14 seconds, don’t cramp 30 seconds of information into that 14 seconds. Clearly give your name, organization and phone number. After the basic information let the person know why you’re calling and any action they need to take. Wrap up with your name and phone number again. Of course, if you know the person well, you can drop some of this info.
It’s Not About You
I shake my head when I hear somebody leave a message that includes the line “I’m going to be in your area next week.” When I hear that I think, well that’s great for you, but what about me? Leave anything about “you” out. A far more effective way of trying to set up a meeting would be “We just got a new product in and I know it will save you a lot of money. I would like to set up a meeting next week.” That’s a far cry from “I’m going to be in your area next week.”
Do Things to Save Time
Make it easy for the other person to respond, so make it clear what you’re calling about and give the person the freedom to leave a message if you’re not there. Here’s an example, “I’m looking for your approval to the proof I sent yesterday by 4pm today. If you get my voicemail when you call back, just leave your thoughts.”
Try to Have a Smile in Your Voice
This is an old radio trick and takes a little practice but can be really effective. I used to work with a radio announcer a long time ago who always sounded like he had a smile in his voice. It wasn’t a forced “jock talk” sound, but rather a nice smile and he did it by actually smiling as he talked. He would turn on his mic, smile and then start to speak. I saw him do it for years. Give it a try and practice your message as you smile and see what it sounds like.
The bottom line is, even if you’ve left a great voicemail, if somebody doesn’t want to call you back they won’t. However, an effective voicemail will increase your chances of getting the action you want, leaving a better impression, and improving your communication skills.
Isn’t that worth a few seconds to practice before you pick up the phone?
Need to make your people communicate better? Check out my Talk Like a Leader workshop.