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Voicemail messages that work

Strictly speaking, ‘voicemail’ is a computer-based system which allows you to have a conversation with someone through recorded voice messages. It was invented in the 1980s. In practice, few of us have conversations that way; voicemail has become a synonym for a telephone answering machine service, which isn’t really meant to be part of a conversation. This goes back to the 1930s, so it might seem strange to be discussing it now. However, many people don’t use it effectively in business – we can all confirm that from the messages we get. Here are a few obvious pointers.

Start off by introducing yourself clearly. If the message is for a stranger, it can even be a courtesy to spell out your name. And don’t make any assumptions about who you represent. “Hello, this is John Smyth (with a ‘y’) from The Blue Widget Company, the widget specialist in this area”.

Offer a value proposition. In sales, that’s obvious, but even in a routine business call, it makes sense to assure the recipient that listening to your message (and to your subsequent call) is not wasting their time. Some messages don’t even say what they were about, which really isn’t good. Think: can I phrase this so that they’ll look forward to my return call?

Don’t put the responsibility on the recipient to continue the conversation. Even if the conversation might provide more of a benefit to the recipient, it’s simply rude to make an unsolicited approach to someone and then make them feel bad for not returning the effort. So always say you will call back, and preferably when.

Not leaving your contact details. That might seem odd if you’re offering to call back, but the recipient should at least have the opportunity to respond. “If you want to call me first, my number is…”