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Infiltrating Voice Mail

MyBusiness Magazine
September, 2001

By Dave Donelson

Press one to speak to sales…two for service…three to hear this message again…or press four if you just like to hear little beeping sounds. Welcome to the voice mail battleground.

That is where small business owners fight to communicate with their customers, vendors, and even their own employees. Voice mail irritates many of us, but those business owners who have learned to infiltrate it improve their personal efficiency and effectiveness.

These skills are growing more important every day. In a recent informal test, we found that 68% of our calls were transferred to a voice mail box, 24% required a message left with a live operator, and only 8% went through to the person we were calling. What’s worse, less than a third of our message recipients returned the call!

How do you improve those odds? With preparation and attitude. Here are some tactics to try:

Punch “0” in an attempt to reach a live operator. If you get one, don’t just leave your name and number. Ask if they know when your target will be available. Do they have another number? Find out if anyone else in that department can handle your call right now. When you’re infiltrating enemy lines, information is key.

Don’t overlook other phone numbers the company may have—especially direct ones.

Try calling during non-business hours. This can particularly effective when using direct-dial numbers since many people will answer their own phone when the switchboard is closed.

Assume you’re going to leave a message and jot down some notes (or a complete script) before you start dialing. This prevents overlooking something and helps you make the best possible impression.

In addition to your name and number (both repeated twice, slowly), give the recipient a reason to call you back. If you’re selling, briefly describe a benefit you deliver or mention another company that uses your product. If you’re buying, tell them you want to discuss a potential order. In other words, offer the recipient a reward for returning your call. Ask the live operator to write this on your message slip, too.

Let the recipient know how they can reach you and what you need from them. Tell them you’ll be waiting for their call at a certain time—then be there to take it. If you’re trying to set a meeting, leave two specific dates and times and ask the target to either choose one or suggest another. Or list the information you need and ask them to leave it on your voice mailbox. Avoid voice mail “tag” by keeping your messages specific.

Before you hang up, try pressing the pound key “#” to replay your message and re-record it if necessary. Not all systems have this feature (or make it readily known), but it’s worth the effort. You may also be given some other options like marking your message as “urgent” or transferring to another number or person.

Don’t run from the voice mail battleground. With a little preparation and a positive attitude, you can win!