As part of your Customer Service, your team must pay attention to the voice mail messages of your customers. Almost all of us have answering machines or voice mail capabilities on our home phones, office phones, and cellular phones. And we all leave some kind of outgoing message on those systems, sometimes humorous, sometimes dull and stilted, most often direct and giving the basic facts: you have reached *name*, leave a message after the tone and we’ll call you back.

Now here’s the question. When you place the call and are connected to voice mail, how often do you tune out the message while waiting for the tone? There’s the point. For many of us, the voice mail’s greeting message is so routine we ignore it completely. And there we show our disrespect for our customers. And in doing so, harm our own businesses.

As an example, not too long ago we received a message on our home voice mail. It was from a lawyer, we’ll call him Mr. A. Turney. Mr. A. Turney was leaving a message for Mr. Cheung about a current legal issue, and needed Mr. Cheung to return his call right away. To me this was an obvious miskeying of the phone number. I figured Mr. A. Turney would call Mr. Cheung the next day when he hadn’t heard from him.

The next day we had another message from Mr. A. Turney, telling Mr. Cheung, in a slightly irritated voice, to return his call right away. Now, this was kind of funny, since at that time, I was in the habit of telling jokes on our outgoing message, and my voice has a rather slight Pacific Northwest accent, with minor hints of my Upper Midwest Scandinavian background. And to tell the truth, I doubt very much that Mr. Cheung would be telling jokes on his business phone voice mail.

The third day came, and to my surprise Mr. A. Turney left us another message. He was getting quite exasperated. I can just see him, sitting at his desk, pressing redial on his phone, and busily multi-tasking, writing his torts and retorts, while cluelessly ignoring my joke for the third time. Now, I was getting a little irritated myself. So that evening I called Mr. A. Turney’s office and told HIS voice mail that he’d been leaving messages for Mr. Cheung at the wrong phone number all week. Then I changed our outgoing message to tell a somewhat unflattering lawyer joke. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Mr. Cheung’s number, or I would have called him to let him know that his lawyer was severely lacking in attention to detail.

Thursday night we returned home, and sure enough Mr. A. Turney had left yet another message for Mr. Cheung. Obviously he didn’t listen to our message with the ribald lawyer joke, or at least he didn’t deign to mention it, nor had he listened to his OWN voice mail messages, telling him he was barking up the wrong telephone pole. But wouldn’t you have thought he’d have figured out that something was wrong after almost a week of unreturned calls about a pending legal issue?

Here are a few things to consider in your Customer Service contacts with VoiceMail:

  • If you are a business, use a business-like outgoing greeting on your voice mail, including your business name.
  • When you, a Customer Care Team member, call someone and you get sent to voice mail, listen to the message. Don’t dismiss the message content out of hand. There is good information there. You might find that the person you want is out of the office for a week. Or that they have moved or left the company. You might find a different number to call. Or you might discover you are calling the wrong number.
  • If you promised you would return a call to a customer, follow through on that promise. Your customer is waiting for your call. Leave the pertinent information on their voice mail, and if possible, call them back, later, to confirm that they got your message.
  • If the voice mail greeting you encounter is a non sequitur, it should be a clear hint that perhaps you have miskeyed the number, or perhaps been given an incorrect number by your customer. In that case you should put in a little extra effort to contact them by email, or look them up in the phone book.
  • If you persist in leaving messages on an incorrect voice mail you disserve your current customer, and you’re almost certain to alienate a potential new customer. I know that I won’t be going to Mr. A. Turney for my legal work. He didn’t listen to me before when he thought I was his client…why would I believe he’d listen to me if I truly was?

Show your customers that you respect them, and value your communications with them. Listen to what they have to say.

p.s. I’ve not received a voice mail from Mr. A. Turney recently. Probably Mr. Cheung hired a new lawyer since Mr. A. Turney was obviously ignoring his legal needs because Mr. A. Turney never called him back.