I used to hate Voicemails. Everything about them. I’d return from a meeting where my phone was either off, or on silent, only to be greeted by a flashing light on my phone telling me that I had several people trying to get hold of me. I’d then have to find the time to retrieve the messages, work out when I’d be able to call them back. I slowly found myself begrudging the time I was actually spending retrieving the messages.
I thought there could be better, more valuable ways of spending my time, especially given the number of urgent tasks I used to find myself committed to.
That’s of course when I remembered to listen to the message in the first place. Back in those heady days, productivity management was not an important part of my life so I certainly wasn’t making notes or reminders that I had calls and actions to deal with. The more voicemails I found myself receiving, the more I would miss and this portayed a very unprofessional approach to both customers and colleagues.
Leaving messages on voicemail systems for people was even worse! The mere notion of talking to a machine used to leave me tongue-tied and I would end up conveying a completely different message to the one that I had originally intended! Also, I’d find that when trying to get in contact with a company during office hours about a product or potential sale, I’d find myself put through to an answering machine and I generally wouldn’t leave a message. I guess in the back of my mind I was worried there was somebody like me on the other end who wouldn’t get to the message, or it would be accidentally deleted!
No, Voicemails used to be a problem for me. However, I realised that they weren't going to be going away any time soon so needed to find a way of being able to use them to my advantage.
Well, I did it.
Firstly, I realised that Voicemails are an entirely one-way conversation, which means you have a fantastic opportunity to condense a lot of information into one small, 90-second soundbite, without the fear of interruption and straying off-topic. This is actually a really productive use of your time.
So when I feel that I would genuinely like to talk to someone about a particular issue rather than send impersonal emails (I will ALWAYS talk rather than type. People are nice, why not converse with them properly?), I always have a prompt sheet in front of me, acting as a form of guide that ensures I cover all of the points I intended to make. This way, if I find myself directed to leaving a voicemail, I’ve got a script that will stop me from getting tongue-tied.
As far as my own personal voicemail greeting goes, I change the message on a regular basis to ensure that people know when I am available if they wish to talk about something in person. In general, people I speak with know that I check my emails two or three times a day and if something is urgent, then by all means phone me, leave a message and I will get back as soon as I can.
However there will be times when I just can’t, so I think it’s both productive and polite to explain this in my Voicemail greeting. I say that I am unavailable (sometimes even why - seems more personable and the caller knows that it isn’t an impersonal, stock message) and give an indication as how to progress if they desperately need to get hold of me. Either leave a message and I will reply with x hours or at a given time of the day. I also leave other contact information for non-urgent matters, which reduces the number of messages I have left. The more detail I can give in my Voicemail greeting will help reduce the number of messages I have to wade through, as well as making me look a lot more professional to my customers.
Another advantage that Voicemail can give you is the power of preparation. When somebody leaves a message and, more importantly, gives you details as to WHY they are trying to get hold of you, it gives you plenty of time to be able to formulate a response if required. This can come in very handy. All too often, I can find myself in a conversation with someone, only for the call to conclude with me having to phone them back anyway because I don’t have all of the information required. This is especially true when you are trying to provide a service to someone. Information is knowledge and the more information you can get from your voicemail, the better prepared for the conversation that will ensue.
I also batch times when I will process my voicemails and ensure I am sat in front of OmniFocus, (failing that, pen and paper, but I HAVE to record the information being given) where I create a task with a TextExpander snippet (xxcall expands to Return Voicemail Call from xxxxxx) and I input the name, with the number details etc in the Notes section, as well as any other information that may be relevant.
So Voicemail can be a very powerful productivity tool if you use it in an organised, structured manner. I’ve changed my workflows to embrace it and when the day comes where the final message is left after the beep, I may even be quite sad.