Have you ever had a friend that you’d never dream of introducing to anyone “serious” in your life?
You know, the uni housemate you happily bonded with over FIFA, but lived in mortal terror that he’d be the one who opened the door to your parents in his three day old, pizza-stained boxers. The fun-but-embarrassing drinking buddy you happily hang out with, but would probably push under an oncoming bus if you saw your boss coming the other way.
We all have different personas for different contexts. When you’re there to greet someone yourself, whether in person or over the phone, you can adapt the way you present yourself to the situation. You can put your best, most appropriate, most effective face forward.
But what about all those times you’re not there to speak for yourself?
What happens when an important client or colleague goes through to your voicemail?
Are they being greeted by a persona that shows you in the best light? Or the answerphone equivalent of that housemate in three day old boxers?
It might sound like a small detail, but the quality and tone of your voicemail is important. No one particularly likes talking to a machine – especially when you’re trying to reach someone urgently and are frustrated by the delay. How you shape that experience for callers will make a significant impression about your professionalism and your personality.
So – what are the ingredients of a perfect voicemail message?
First of all, keep it brief. Really brief.
Whoever is calling you wants to impart some information or get an answer out of you as soon as they can. They don’t want to sit through 30 seconds of unnecessary information before they get to say their piece.
And if this is the fourth time they’ve called and left a message today, they sure as hell don’t want to hear another cutesy quirky message recorded by your kids. They want a short, clear, professional message that won’t get on their nerves or waste any more of their time.
Second, shape their response by reminding them what details you need from them in order to follow up.
It’s all too easy to get to the end of leaving a voicemail, hang up and then realise you completely forgot to provide a basic item of information like your full name or your contact number – especially when you’re flustered by unexpectedly getting through to a recording.
Simply saying “please leave your name and contact number” is usually enough to jog a person’s memory and mean you don’t get stuck with incomplete or multiple messages that are little help.
Third, give this person a realistic timeframe for when they can expect to hear back from you. And if you explicitly state that you’ll get back to them within one business day, do it! You don’t want to kick off this conversation with an instant broken promise.
This also means remembering to update your voicemail in the same way that you (presumably!) already do with out-of-office email replies.
If you’re out of the country until the 1st of next month, say that – and give an alternative contact for people to follow up with if it’s urgent. Don’t leave it as “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!” and let that person make 12 unnecessary phone calls over the next two weeks, wondering why on earth you haven’t replied yet.
If, for example, you’re off doing field work every Tuesday and Thursday and can’t take calls on those days, consider switching between voicemail messages so that callers are always fully updated. Give an email address that they can reach you on instead.
Be concise, but be genuinely helpful. Anything you do right now that makes it easier for a client to fix their problem faster will be hugely appreciated.
Lastly, make sure that your voicemail sounds professional. Record it somewhere with no background noise. Decide exactly what you’re going to say, edit out any fluff and read the script at a slow, clear, even pace. Strike a balance between warmth and efficiency. Coming across as bored or irritated will be immediately off-putting to the caller, but equally there’s no need to sound like a children’s entertainer.
Your voicemail is more than just a tool to make sure you don’t miss vital opportunities or information. It’s your stand-in representative when you’re out and about. It’s the version of you that clients will encounter every time you can’t answer your phone. Make sure it’s a persona you’re proud of.