(This article also appeared in the July 2004 issue of the St. Louis Small Business Monthly)
Among all the media through which we communicate, voicemail always gets treated like the redheaded stepchild:
‘Hi this is Randy. Leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you.’
Gee, thanks Randy. It’s great to know you value my call. Oh, and I appreciate you sounding so enthusiastic and willing get back to me.
This is an example of a typical outgoing message that makes callers feel like they really are talking to a machine. Now, we all hear this cookie cutter message about a dozen times daily. And it doesn’t necessarily make a voicemail message bad; but it does mean the voicemail is not being fully leveraged.
So just because it’s a 20 second recording on your machine doesn’t mean it can’t be used to your advantage. And by your advantage I mean your caller’s advantage. Here are five techniques that will leverage boring, robotic voicemail into an engaging, fun and personable medium of communication. These tips will maximize the effectiveness of your voicemail so people will hang up the phone feeling glad that they called you.
Have you ever left a message on someone’s voicemail who obviously recorded their greeting in a car?
‘Hi you’ve reached the voicemail of (HONK!) I’m away from my (HEY WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOIN LADY!) but I’ll call you back as soon as I (SCREEEEECH!) Thank you.’
Messages like these will make your callers feel unimportant. Messages like these will show your callers that you don’t care enough about them to spend 10 lousy minutes recording a clear message. Therefore, the first rule of transforming your voicemail is: get rid of the noise.
When you go into your office or home – shut the doors, turn the music and TV off, and record your message in absolute silence. Not unlike conversation, your voicemail is a medium of communication. And like any medium – robotic or otherwise – noise is a barrier.
Now that you’ve locked yourself in the closet with your phone, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to say. What’s more, how you’re going to say it. So think of your business cards, website, letterhead and promotional materials: what makes you stand out? Is it the slogan? The phrases? The company name?
Great example: I used to sell furniture at a family-owned store called City Liquidators. Every week, the owner would rerecord a new voicemail with one or two items that were an amazing deal. She did this so her customers – even without walking into the store – knew their prices were the lowest in town.
Unfortunately when it comes to voicemail, people just seem to go through the motions. They throw some generic message together and it stands out like a needle in a stack of needles. But remember: everyone has voicemail. Everyone. So what are you going to record that will allow your callers differentiate you from all those other ‘I’m away from my desk’ people out there?
Why can’t voicemail messages be fun? In search of an answer I recently consulted my Sprint PCS handbook. I found the following instructions under the section called ‘How to Record Your Outgoing Message’:
‘When recording outgoing voicemail message, remember to sound as unfriendly, boring and bland as possible to guarantee maximum robotic presence in the minds of your callers.’
Not bloody likely.
I have a friend whose greeting says, ‘Hey this is Jeffery. Leave me your 16 digit American Express Card number and I’ll get back to you soon. Thanks!’ Believe it or not – at least three people a day actually leave their credit card numbers for him! In fact, the first time I called him I gave him my card number too! Guess that explains the $2,000 bill on my statement.
But the advantage to a message like this is that it shows your true colors. And people love that. So, unless you actually are a robot – in which case I’d love to meet you – don’t sound like one. Sound like you. People like and want you.
If you call either of my phone lines, this is what you’ll hear:
‘Hello, my name is Scott – and you have reached Front Porch Productions. Sorry I missed you; but leave me a message and IF you tell me your favorite cereal, I promise to call you back! Thanks, and we’ll talk soon.’
Now, I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to record a voicemail message about cereal. But to my surprise, my callers’ responses immediately transformed in regard to their level of engagement.
Some people told me about their favorite cereals, others discussed breakfast as a whole. Some callers said they didn’t care for cereal, while others reminisced about childhood memories of delicious treats that are longer available on the market.
This showed me that voicemail messages aren’t that different from conversation. People are still more willing to open up when they are asked a question that is open ended, fun and universally easy to relate to. What’s more, once personal preferences are revealed via self disclosure – trust, rapport and common points of interest will develop in the relationship. Not to mention, it’s easy to leverage someone’s message as a great ice breaker when you return their call!
Once you’re ready to rerecord your voicemail, there’s only one thing left to do: smile. I know, it sounds so simple. So cliché. So Dale Carnegie. But say the following sentence aloud: ‘I’ll get back with you in 24 hours.’
Ok, now…say the following sentence WITH A SMILE: ‘I’ll get back with you in 24 hours!’
Did that make you feel silly? Maybe.
Did that sound totally different? Probably.
But will that make your callers actually feel your smile through the phone? You better believe it.
There are two reasons to record your outgoing message with a smile. First, it will sound like you actually took the time to record your message instead of quickly spurting out a few words while merging onto the interstate. What’s more, people will sense that you do care about their call.
Secondly, you never know who’s going to call for the first time. Imagine getting a phone call from a new referral that has potential to generate a lot of business. She leaves a message and awaits your follow up. Now, odds are if you met them for the first time in person, you’d be smiling so much your ears would get crowded. Likewise, if your voicemail is the first time they hear your voice, speaking your smile is a great way to make a first impression. Even if you’re not there!
Your voicemail is a communication tool that has untapped potential. If you take the time to rerecord an outgoing message that is different, fun, engaging, friendly and consistent with you or your business’s personality, here’s what will happen:
YOUR CALLERS WILL…smile as they leave a message.
YOUR CALLERS WILL…be able to separate your voicemail from the other 1000 they call every week.
YOUR CALLERS WILL…tell their friends about your voicemail.
YOUR CALLERS WILL…hang up feeling glad they called you.
YOUR CALLERS WILL…feel a connection with you because their interaction – even if it was with your voicemail – made them feel comfortable and engaged.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Who’s got the best voicemail you’ve ever heard?