Please Leave A Message After The Tone…

Automated answering and voicemail have long been a part of our world. We all prefer to talk to a real person with the hope they have the knowledge to answer our question or solve a problem. With unemployment at an all time low, finding qualified staff (or any staff for that matter) is becoming more challenging. For small businesses it may not be economically feasible to hire a full time person to answer phones. Today’s technology allows employers to cover some jobs people used to handle, and phone communication is one of them.

Voicemail is a necessary evil that many of us hate, but since it isn’t going away these tips may reduce your frustration.

Most of my frustrations involve a) large corporations whose “customer service” (CS) reps are call centers located outside the US, and b) any business that has no means of leaving a voicemail or “XYZ’s mailbox is full”. I have no easy remedy for b), except to remind everyone to clear out your mailbox once in a while and if you are a business, periodically check to make sure your system is working. And for those overseas call centers, well, that is probably fodder for a separate blog!

Today we are talking Voicemail and what to keep in mind when making those calls to customer service or to schedule a service person to come out. Some of my advice is specific to Voicemail, while others can be applied to conversations with LIVE people.

Having been both the “customer” making the call and also the service provider, I can actually speak from both sides. For the majority of my career I have been heavily involved with the telephone – from making collection calls when I was 16 to answering the main phone line for a municipality to tracking down furniture orders. I think the only times my job wasn’t tied to a phone were the eight years I spent in the IT field.

So here goes!

Be Prepared! Before you pick up the phone make sure you have any information you could possibly need to assist the person answering the call. I’ve developed a handy checklist that you can download from my site.

  • Order number
  • Date order was placed
  • Item ordered
  • Any account numbers
  • Any confirmation numbers, reference numbers, etc.
  • If you talked to someone previously or were referred by someone, that person’s name
  • A pen and paper (or if you prefer entering it into you electronic device have it ready)

Okay, you are now prepared to make the call.

  • WAIT! Before you pick up the phone, keep in mind that often today’s phones pick up background noises very well. Is the TV on? If you can turn it off, if not, see if you can move to another spot that is not as close. Is the dog barking, the parrot squawking, the baby crying? See what you can do to make the atmosphere quieter. This will help both you and the CSR by providing less distraction.
  • NOW pick up the phone.
  • Note the date and the number you called on the piece of paper
  • If a person answers, be sure to get their name and ask if they have a direct line you can call them on. Note all these things. Why? Because the likelihood is you may need to follow up with them to make sure they did what they said they would do or to check status.
  • If they are able to help you right away, thank them.
  • If they have to “check and get back to you”, get a commitment from them on when you can expect to hear back. Note it on your paper.
  • If they transfer you to another department, write it down. If they mention the name of the person in that department, note that also.
  • If they give you reference numbers, confirmation numbers, return authorizations, etc., note them AND ask if they could send an email confirming it. This serves two purposes: it is now in writing and you can double check to make sure all the information is correct. It also may not be a bad idea to try and get their email address so you can document the conversation in an email.
  • If they are getting back to you, follow up close to the date they gave you. I always try to give them some leeway of about a day, especially if it is not an urgent matter. If Sally says, “I’ll get back to you on Thursday”, I wait until Friday to follow up because… life happens.

What if you end up getting Voicemail instead of the Real Person?

  • Leave a message – don’t just leave your name and phone number. Give some details regarding the reason for your call and if you have any order or reference numbers (which you should if you prepared) include those in your message. This may seem useless because you are “talking to a machine” but most likely the CS rep will appreciate knowing your order number and/or why you are making the call. This allows the rep to gather information before they pick up the phone to return your call. They can be prepared for your questions. If you are calling to get a ship date or order status, they can give you the answer quickly when they return the call without putting you on hold while they check with the shipping department or returns department, etc.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate.
  • Repeat your contact number
  • If an email response will work for you, tell them and leave your email address. If you have an email address like one of mine, with lots of e’s, c’s, and t’s, make sure it is clear (t as in Tom, d as in dog, etc).
  • Allow them time to return the call. If the call isn’t an emergency, and I don’t use that term lightly, I allow 24 hours for call back. This allows for research on their end, the fact they may be in meetings that day, etc.
  • Mark your calendar to follow up and DO IT!

If you spend a great deal of time making calls to CS as part of your job, as I used to, I suggest downloading my form and modifying it to serve your needs. You can even use is as log to document your calls just in case you need to escalate to a higher level.

If you have a good experience and the call was relatively painless, please let the rep know. I recently had to call American Airlines to make some flight changes. I was dreading the experience, but I had all my information in front of me and the young man at AA was pleasant and appreciated my efforts. At the end of the call I thanked him for his ability to turn what might have been a horrid experience into one that was pleasant.

Between the tips in this blog and the checklist, I hope your next phone experience, whether with a person or voicemail, is a little less stressful. Do you have any tips for voicemail or calls to Customer Service you would like to share? I’d love to hear them, email me at

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