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Have you noticed that some people take much longer to return your calls than others?  That’s usually caused by one or more of the five fatal voicemail flaws.


The Five Fatal Voicemail Flaws are

1.  You didn’t identify yourself at the beginning of the message.

2.  Your message was longer than 30 seconds.

3.  You didn’t leave your phone number.

4.  You left your return phone number at the end of your message rather than at the beginning.

5.  Your return phone number was either slurred or spoken too quickly for the listener to capture the number.

Bonus Reason:  It’s also possible that you’ve done something that has upset them and they’re either evading you or punishing you, but this isn’t really about the voicemail so much as it’s more about the quality of your relationship.  Look for the blog about Repairing Ruptured Relationships!

The simple solution to all of these flaws is to make it easy for the person you called to get back to you.  The easier you make it for them, the more likely they’re going to return your call in a timely manner.

Let’s address these one at a time.

1.  You didn’t identify yourself at the beginning of the call.

I know! I know! I know!  Of course you have a right to expect that your best friends and clients will automatically recognize your voice so you don’t need to identify yourself.  After all, you talk with them all the time.  And, there’s a good chance that your best friends and clients do recognize your voice. But, what if they don’t?  Leaving the message, “Hi!” “It’s ME!” creates at least temporary confusion!

Think about it.  If you’re like most people you yourself have difficulty recognizing your own recorded voice, but your friends are supposed to do better than you do?  And, granted, one of the reasons it’s difficult to recognize your own recorded voice is because of the way your ear bones vibrate with sound. Whereas your friends and clients hear your voice differently than you do.

But, even with that, doesn’t it make sense to identify yourself at the beginning of the call?  I even suggest to my coaching clients that they include their Surname.  When I leave a message for my friends and clients I begin with “Hi!” “This is Doug Carter!”  It’s simple!  It’s clean!  It makes it easy for my recipient to instantly understand who called!

2.  Your message was longer than 30 seconds.

I realize that you have a lot to say!  And, with “telephone tag” it may be that leaving a longer message is an appropriate way to further the conversation that you’re currently not having (live).  But, have you ever had one of those days when you’re super busy?  When you finally get to check your voice mails you’re still pressed for time.  If someone leaves you a voice mail that seems to go on and on, never quite getting to the point, what do you do with it?  Most of the people that I’ve interviewed either delete it or park it in saved messages.  Sometimes, if you know and like the person you may listen to all of the message, but even then, it’s easier to call the person immediately.  If you can’t return the call, then you still have the rest of your voice mails to check which means that most long messages go into saved messages.

This is a possible solution.  After beginning your message with a greeting and your name, why not just let your recipient know why you’re calling?  As an example, “Hi!” “This is Doug Carter.”  “I’m calling about your request to adjust our appointment time.”  Now your recipient has an instant understanding about why you’re calling.  This helps them identify the importance of your call.

3.  You didn’t leave your phone number.

With the proliferation of smart phones that show caller ID with both the caller’s name and their telephone number it would seem that there isn’t a need to leave your phone number at all.  The underlying assumption is that if you have a smart phone with caller ID then everyone else probably has one also.  But, let’s look at the statistics.

The following chart shows that in the United States, as of 2010, only 33% of young people have a Smartphone!  Granted, there are lots of people age 25 to 60 who have Smartphones, but my understanding is that the youth 15-24 have more Smartphones per capita than any other age group.  Which means that less than half of the population has a Smartphone.  You may think that everyone should have a Smartphone, and it appears that as time goes on eventually

everyone will, but as for now, if our goal is to get our voice mails to be answered then it makes sense that leaving your phone number improves the odds.

#4  You left your phone number at the end of the message rather than at the beginning.

When you leave your phone number at the end of your message rather than at the beginning you dramatically decrease the ease to getting your number.  If your recipient doesn’t have caller ID, and isn’t in a place where your number is easy to retrieve, such as in front of their computer, and if they didn’t happen to get your number written down the first time through your message, then they have to listen to your entire message again.  The longer the message, the less likely they are to listen to it again.  Unless, of course, their Smart phone allows them to skip to the end.  But, no Smart phone, no-can-do!

If your desired outcome is to get them to call you back, then the easier you make it for them the more likely it is they’ll call you back.  Just leave your number at the beginning of the message.

#5  Your return phone number was either slurred or spoken too quickly for the listener to capture the number.

This is actually quite easy to do.  Most people are so used to rattling off their phone number they don’t realize they’re speaking too rapidly for a listener to keep up or even understand the phone number.  It sounds like “Call me back, fuv-tha-o-nun-toosex-tha-te-twa.”  We understand it because it’s our number.  But, unless the listener already knows your number they’re going to be confused!

The simple solution is to slow down when you’re leaving your number, say the numbers distinctly, and repeat the entire number.

The 3 steps for increasing the likelihood of a return call are:

1.     State your name at the beginning of your message.

2.     Provide your telephone number, in clear, concise language, at the beginning of your message.

3.     Keep your voice-mail messages short and to the point.

All of these ideas aren’t going to guarantee that everyone will always call you back in a timely manner, but what they will do is give you some guidelines on how to make returning your call an easy thing to do.

© 2008, Carter Institute, Inc.  all rights reserved.


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