Pulp and Paper Canada

Voicemail Jail

November 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Upon occasion, we have all forgotten to change our voicemail message when leaving or returning to the office. I recently called a supplier only to hear, “I will be out of the office until January 6th….

Upon occasion, we have all forgotten to change our voicemail message when leaving or returning to the office. I recently called a supplier only to hear, “I will be out of the office until January 6th…” However, it was August! Trying to reach someone else, I tried pressing a few buttons on my phone: “0” for operator got no response, as did “#”, but “*” got a response — I was kicked out of the system and had to try again from scratch. This time I listened to all the options, hoping for something that would allow me to reach a live body — no, if I did not know someone already, no one else would speak to me. Frustrated, I called another supplier to hear a long list of options that ended with ‘Press “0” for operator’. Finally! I would be able to speak to a live body! No such luck — the next message was ‘This mail box is full…’

I was in Voicemail Jail.


Automated attendants are not the origin of voicemail, as that has been a feature of phone systems for many years. Automated attendants are just a refinement of the torture, I mean features, that are available for corporate phone systems. The purpose of the automated attendant is to:

* Free a person from the simple task of directing incoming calls.

* Ensure that calls are answered promptly.

* Provide an informative greeting to callers.

* Provide options for a caller either to get information from the attendant or to reach a live person.

Unfortunately, all too often, the automated attendant will cause frustration and annoyance to your callers. There are many ways in which this can happen, but the chief culprits are:


Most automated attendants allow you to dial a local number immediately, however some require you to enter a particular number before you dial the local. If you are one of those impatient people (like me) who just want to dial a local without waiting for the long automated message, you will get kicked out of the system.

Unresponsive system: An overloaded system will not respond to the caller’s input. This results in a caller unable to reach his party or anyone else.


The automated attendant is only as good as the information with which it is provided. If locals change, people leave the company or there is a reorganization, the automated attendant has to be updated. Unlike a human attendant, the automated attendant does not hear rumours or receive memos.


You do not know a local or a name, you just need help to find the correct person — but there is no option to reach a person if you do not already know who you need. Pressing “0” brings the admonition that “You have pressed an incorrect key,” in a curt tone.

Even if all is good with the automated attendant, that is just the first hurdle. You have reached your party, but he is not in. If he is like the fellow I mentioned at the start, his message may not only be uninformative, but also long out of date. Some good guidelines for your ‘not in’ message are:


Good, if you are absolutely consistent in updating it. An appropriate daily message can be informative and makes you sound ‘on top’ of your situation. However, nothing makes you sound more foolish than an out-of-date message.


Think courtesy, not platitudes — what would you say in person?


Are you in or out? Callers do not want to hear that “You are busy helping other callers…” Just tell them where you are and how soon you can get back to them.


If they cannot wait, give them another number to call. At least if they cannot reach you, they have someone else to call and will feel they have made progress.

Lastly, what about the message the caller leaves — this should follow the same guidelines as the recipient’s message.

“Hi, this is Bob” is remarkably uninformative to a person who knows five “Bobs” and cannot place your voice. State your full name.

Reciting your phone number at high speed over a crackly phone line can leave the recipient repeatedly playing your message attempting to decipher the string of numbers. Slow down and speak clearly.

Saying “Call me” with no other information, is a good way to start a rousing game of telephone tag. This is a series of calls in which each caller leaves a ‘non-message’ for the other asking him to call. The caller who actually reaches the other person loses the game — fun, but not terribly productive, nor a good use of time.

A good message informs the recipient of who you are, why you called (in detail!) and how to contact you. You should leave sufficient information for the recipient to act upon, whether for a response to you or to proceed with your request.

Following these guidelines will help both you and your callers make more productive use of time. But best of all, you will avoid ‘Voicemail Jail’.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com

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