Voice Mail - Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It
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If your callers to your company hate your voice mail (although you may not
know they do), you’re not alone. But let’s put the blame where it properly
belongs — on people, not technology. Before you dispute this, have a
moment’s patience and “listen” to the rest of this article.
“I get locked in voice mail jail where my call gets sent around in circles”,
“I can’t get to a real person”, “I can never reach ‘Jane/John’
because they never answer their phone and I know they’re not always away from
their desk.” If these are your frustrations or your callers’, people are the
Voice mail is simply a technology with specific functions. Whether these
functions are turned into benefits or frustrations for the caller is totally
dependent on the people who design the system and those who use it.
The design governing how the voice mail system operates — of how callers
are introduced to it, directed by it, and allowed to interact with it — is all
governed by a person. The goals for the design of voice mail are convenience and
ease of use for both of these callers. Voice mail must be a benefit, not a
source of frustration for everyone.
So what’s the proper design? Here are a few
principles toward creating a system that’s quick, convenient, enjoyable, and
efficient for everyone:
- A caller should be able to press the zero button on tone phones and get to
a person immediately. This button should be able to be pressed immediately
after a message starts playing without waiting until the end of the message.
- At anytime, during any message, a caller should be able to press the zero
button for an attendant.
- In order to get to an attendant, someone must be assigned to be available
at all times to answer these calls.
- If a menu of options are used, the menu item should be described first
followed by the number to press. This is logical but not always done. The
caller needs to hear the description first, in order to know if that’s the
choice they need. If you state the number first, the caller is likely to
forget it by the time the description has finished.
- The first choice in a menu of options should be to press zero for an
- For a menu of options, a maximum of four, maybe five, options are best
with the use of sub-menus rather than having six or more choices to which
the caller must listen. It becomes confusing to try to remember too many
choices at one time. Also, descriptions for menu options can state two items,
or three at the most, for one option. (Look at the example below.)
- Keep the words describing each menu option friendly but to a minimum.
Don’t use unnecessary words such as “please” or “now” as in “for
customer service, please press one now.” In this case, “please” is not
a courtesy, it is a discourtesy. The goals are quickness and convenience to
get to the right person or department. Adding unnecessary words, adds to the
total time to get through the choices, defeating the goals and efficiency of
- If customer service is provided as an option, it should be given as the
first choice. This is a courtesy to your existing customers; they should be
served first. This has the added benefit of showing callers who are
prospects for your products or services, that you emphasize serving your
customers. This will make the caller feel good that you will service them
after the sale.
- Tell the caller how many choices to expect. This tells the caller that the
menu selection will be short and the message won’t be going on forever.
- Ideally, your voice mail system should allow callers to wait in queue if
the extension is busy, tell the caller what number they are in the queue,
and while waiting, give the caller the option of pressing a button to leave
a message if they decide not to continue waiting. This is a very powerful
benefit to the caller. It allows recapturing an option that is often
unavailable in many voice mail systems when switching to voice mail from a
- After getting an individual’s voice mail message that they aren’t
available, the caller should be able to press zero to get to an attendant.
At this point, the caller may want to know if the person is anywhere in the
building or to have the person paged.
Proper Voice Mail
Properly designed and used, your callers will appreciate the quick and
convenient service of voice mail even more than immediately reaching an
attendant. They will still feel in control of their call which will make them
feel at ease with your company and pleased with the efficiency of your
organization. Voice mail may be the first step in establishing efficient and
effective voice processing communications systems for your company.
Note: This is a condensed version of an article that provides even more
design guidelines. For the full article see our web site.
Ed Mass is President of Mass Strategic Communications, Inc., a
telecommunications consulting firm since 1993. Visit http://www.voip-telephone-system.com
for more information. We specialize in Transforming
Telecommunications from a Tactical Tool To a Strategic Business
Resource. We Integrate Business Strategies with Technology
We act as an extension of your staff. We are business strategists
to increase the performance of your company through intelligent and
cost effective use of technology.
Specifically, we consult on IP Telephone System Decisions,
Service Provider Decisions for Voice and Data Services, and Services
Audits to Inventory All Services and Discover Unused Services. We do
all this within a framework of Vendor-Neutral Consulting.
Copyright 2006 Ed Mass and Mass Strategic Communications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this
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